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Retail & Sales careers

Retail: Department Stores

What is working in a department store actually like?

If you’ve been watching the 70s and 80s British sitcom, Are You Being Served?, you might be excused for thinking that careers in department stores are all about flouncing around the ladies’ clothing department, mistaking people’s identities and uttering endless sexual innuendos.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Department stores are some of the most complex retail establishments in the industry. Consequently, a dedicated team of professionals are required to make sure every department is run smoothly.

Department stores, such as John Lewis and Debenhams, cater for a wide range of their customers’ different retail needs, while simultaneously providing them with a considerable amount of choice.

What career opportunities does a department store job provide?

Evidently, these stores have an assortment of different specialist ‘departments’ all under one roof. These individual departments might sell a wide range of things, including cameras, clothes, luggage, televisions, cosmetics, toys, jewellery, and food and drink.

These larger, more complex stores offer a much bigger challenge for aspiring store managers, visual merchandisers, buyers and merchandisers. There is also an opportunity for sales assistants and shop floor staff to work in different departments at various points throughout their career.

Department stores in the UK tend to have a reputation for selling quality, and often luxurious, products. Consequently, these stores can take massive profits and often their worldwide reputation can turn them into tourist attractions in their own right. For instance, Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nicholls in London are visited by tons of tourists every single day.

What does a senior department store manager do?

Senior department store managers tend to have a much bigger challenge on their hands than your usual store managers. These guys might eventually become the director of an entire store, but are likely to start off in charge of all the customer-facing areas (i.e. sales, catering and customer service) or all the operational areas (i.e. administration and supply chain) of a store.

Senior department store managers have full strategic responsibility at a local level and are in charge of championing customer service within their own store. People who work at this senior level are more likely to directly manage department managers and section managers, rather than sales assistants.

What does a department manager do?

Department managers are understandably responsible for managing a specific store department (e.g. men’s fashion). These guys are supported by section managers and together they are responsible for managing all shop floor staff and operations within their department. They manage sales assistants and support staff, promote the importance of customer service and are in charge of monitoring stock, profits, and sales targets within their department.

People often start their department store careers in sales assistant and support roles. Sales assistants are likely to be processing transactions and offering advice and guidance to the customers. From this level, there may be opportunities to progress into supervisor and store manager positions.

What other roles make up a department store’s team?

People working in support positions might work in stock-handling, administration and loss prevention. Without these guys, the sales activity would not be able thrive and function effectively.

Most chain department stores have head offices, where enterprise-wide operations are managed, implemented and administered. This is where buyers, merchandisersvisual merchandisers, and marketing, financial, human resources, administration, distribution and I.T. teams are likely to be based.

How do I get into a career in department store retail?

Some of the larger department stores, such as John Lewis and Debenhams, offer graduate schemes for enthusiastic graduates with an interest in retail and a desire to develop quickly into store management and various head office careers.

Department stores really are an amazing thing that we often take for granted – there’s just about everything you could want under one building! You could even sleep there if you hide in the beds, and take all your meals in the café!

Seriously, though, careers in department stores can be as numerous as the departments themselves, and there are tons of opportunities for progression.