The retail sector is a big and multifaceted business and with most companies now trading globally & online, there are many different career avenues to explore. As a constantly growing business, you will need to stay on top of upcoming trends and consumer demands, and be aware of your competitors. 

Many organisations offer fast-track management training schemes, with most offering one to two year graduate programmes, so graduates can advance very quickly up the career ladder.  

Career Prospects

Depending on what sector you’d like to work in many graduates tend to have fashion, business or marketing backgrounds. There is a vast array of sectors to work within in retail. They tend to fall into the following categories:

  • Buying
  • Customer Service
  • Finance & Administration
  • HR
  • IT
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Merchandising

Work experience can prove to be highly beneficial against competitors as the retail market is notoriously popular. 


Buying is one of the most highly sought after areas to work in within retail, so competition is fierce. As a buyer, you will be responsible for selecting and purchasing items for your company that will prove successful, so you will need to be able to predict oncoming trends and ensure that price, quality and availability meet customer demand. 

Expect to travel, whether it is to meet clients in Swansea or sourcing new products in Marrakech. Buyers need to stay ahead of the competition, so staying on top of consumer demand and being able to predict future trends are key in succeeding. You will need to build good relations with suppliers and be a skilful negotiator. You will also find yourself working with various departments and clients, so strong communication and people skills are essential.

You will also find yourself dealing with budgets, so you will need to have a level of numerical competency, be an accomplished data analyst and have excellent IT skills.

Expect to be researching current trends and new products often, whether that is travelling to trade shows, visiting competitor’s stores or scouring the Internet for consumer trends and new products. Above all, buyers need to stay informed and work well under pressure.


Merchandisers make sure that the right products appear at the right place and at the right time. Merchandisers aim to maximise profit by keeping a close eye sales figures and customer opinion. They liaise closely with buying and operations teams to make sure the stock is properly monitored and available. 
This is a job for those with excellent project management and organisational skills, who are competent at maths and can multitask several jobs at once without being overwhelmed by the pressure.

You will be analysing sales trends, monitoring deliveries and work closely with different teams to predict how well certain items will sell and how many you will need, ensuring stock satisfies demand.

You’ll need good analytical skills, passion, commercial knowledge, great communication and organisational skills as well as retail shop floor experience and an analytical or business related degree due to the numerical and statistical requirements of the role.

As Merchandising and Buying are often linked, you may find yourself shifting between the two.

What are employers looking for?

As with most jobs, appearance is important, though nobody expects you to dress as though you are on the runway everyday. Punctuality is always crucial as you may be regularly meeting with important clients or prospective brands. 

They will be looking for passionate and enthusiastic individuals with good analytical and communication skills, capable of hitting targets and be willing to work long hours. They will be looking for individuals with the ability to build strong relationships and be able to motivate others. 

Is it the right career for you?

No specific degree is required, although those with a background in business, marketing or fashion will have an upper hand. Any retail experience also helps, so working on the shop floor is a good place to start. Being self-motivated and dynamic are desirable traits, and you will need to be strategic and analytical. The job can involve long hours and lots of travelling.

You need to be able to communicate effectively and have good negotiation skills. Days are usually very busy, so you may find you are taking on several tasks at once so being able to prioritise your workload and work well under pressure are essential. Creativity and being forward-thinking in terms of consumer trends are also crucial in succeeding in retail.


Salary (general): 
Estimated graduate starting salary: £17,000 - £26,000

Typical salary after training: £30,000 - £45,000+

Salary (merchandising): 
Estimated graduate starting salary: £20,000 - £40,000

Typical salary after training: : £20,000 - £40,000*

Salary (buying): 
Estimated graduate starting salary: £19,000 - £25,000

Typical salary after training: £27,000 - £55,000


Key articles for graduates entering the retail sector

Recruiters in this sector:

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Atomic Live

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Avara Foods

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Co-Operative Group, The

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Dixons Carphone

Dixons Carphone is Europe’s number one electrical and telecommunications retailer and services company, with more than 40,000 colleagues across nine countries, including the UK and Ireland.


Farmfoods is a friendly, family run business with a real passion for our products, our customers and our people.

Freddie's Flowers

We deliver stunning flower arrangements with a bit of a wild side to about 11,000 beautiful homes every week.


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Kraft Heinz

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As a large international retailer, opportunities with Lidl are endless.

P&G (Procter & Gamble)

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Philip Morris International (PMI)

At Philip Morris International, we’re dedicated to doing something very dramatic – replacing cigarettes with the smoke-free products that we’re developing and selling.

Revolution Beauty

REVOLUTION BEAUTY is a market disrupter. As the Sunday Times' 3rd fastest growing beauty brand in the UK, we are bringing the concept of “fast beauty” to life.

Sports Direct

Sports Direct is the UK’s leading sports retailer by revenue and operating profit, and the owner of a significant number of internationally recognised sports and leisure brands.


As well as being the U's number one retailer, Tesco is also Britain's largest private sector employer and provides fantastic graduate opportunities.

TK Maxx / HomeSense, part of TJX Europe

You might not have heard of TJX Europe, but you’ve probably heard of our brands – TK Maxx and Homesense.

Triumph Motorcycles

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William Jackson Food Group

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