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Careers Centre


Sector Overview

This page has been written by Liz Batterham, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Liz, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Providing jobs for around three million people, the retail sector is the UK's largest private employer. Retail isn’t just about what happens on the shop floor, it covers everything from buying, merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing and PR, to human resource management, accountancy and IT.

The retail industry is undergoing a dramatic shift: Consumers can now choose how they shop – in stores, on the internet, via mail order, via the TV and increasingly using mobile phones (m-commerce) or through E-commerce, which is capturing a larger share of sales than ever before. E-commerce (electronic commerce or EC) is the buying and selling of goods and services, or the transmitting of funds or data, over an electronic network, primarily the Internet. The biggest players in the UK’s online retail market are Amazon (16 percent market share), followed by Tesco (9%) and eBay (8%). Other big online retailers are Asos, Argos,, Next and John Lewis. (Source:Ecommerce News).

According to Planet Retail, in recent years, the UK retail industry has embraced online shopping and has seen ‘click & collect’ come to the fore as a leading method of fulfilment. From Amazon to John Lewis, Tesco to Next, the country's retail leaders are refining and enhancing their respective strategies. Research shows that the number of UK shoppers using click & collect is poised to more than double by 2017.

Also, with a rise in ‘click and collect’ services, the need for large warehouse stocks and inventories is increasing and with that comes a need for staff; from operations staff managing stock, to warehouse managers and customer service representatives, plenty of roles still exist in retail, even although some of the well-known high streets have closed. Recent studies have shown that, as people come to collect their online purchases from shops such as Next, they make use of other high street stores in the process. (Source:RetailWeek).


Retailing attributes/skills profiles


Key attributes/skills needed for the role Where you could develop these skills or attributes
Excellent communication and interpersonal skills This is most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies and work experience.
Analytical skills
Ability to work under pressure and to tight deadlines
Evidence of leadership and management qualities

CAPOD regularly runs courses covering these skills within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Using the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies or getting relevant experience in a retail setting will certainly help with future applications (in some cases it is essential) and will also help you to decide if this is the right path for you. Volunteer in your local charity shop or any other setting offering customer service.
Team work
Good levels of numeracy and IT
Negotiation and persuasive skills
Drive and enthusiasm for retailing
Well developed commercial awareness
Organisational skills

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Strong customer focus
  • A willingness to work unsociable hours and to be mobile ( especially for retail programmes)
  • Specific roles (or retailers) may seek additional skills so please check their requirements in detail before applying.


Nature of sector or roles

There are few other industries with as many different areas to explore as retail, not only in terms of the vast array of products out there. Potential employers include fashion outlets; consumer electronics specialists; department stores; restaurant chains; supermarkets; online, TV and catalogue retailers - so you can take your pick from a huge choice of working environments.

The retail sector divides into two main areas of work. These are roles at store level (known as store operations) and a wide range of head office functions. There are also a number of specialist disciplines, including product development, engineering, property and law.

The Prospects website has detailed information on job roles in the retailing sector, together with skills required for each role.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Harrods, Aldi and Rigby & Peller. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

This is an area where it shouldn't be too difficult to get work experience, but the key is to make the most out of it. Why not work ‘on the shop floor’ yourself for a while and take the opportunity to speak to more senior staff about their roles while you are there? Have a look at our Job Shop for part time work in St Andrews and do as much as you can to expand your role and get involved (this might be easier in smaller shops).

The following websites include listings of internship opportunities:

How to get a (graduate) job

Retailing is a popular choice among graduates, especially those who want early responsibility and quick promotion. Although many retail graduate recruiters look for applicants with a 2.1, some employers accept graduates with a 2.2 degree on to their graduate schemes – or entry-level jobs. TARGETjobs provides a list of retail employers who may accept a 2.2.

Applications are normally accepted from any discipline for a wide variety of retail functions, but companies who run schemes for buying or merchandising look for commercial awareness and some may prefer economics or business related degrees. Languages can also be required or useful.

While careers in retail have not traditionally attracted IT graduates or computer-skilled workers, today, a variety of roles exist - from programmers and technicians to researchers and consultants. Many employers, including large chains like Tesco, Morrisons and John Lewis, are even offering graduate schemes targeted specifically at IT-skilled candidates.

Many of the larger retail organisations are well represented worldwide, which opens up opportunities for an international retailing career. For example, Boots operates in 15 countries; Tesco in 14 countries. Asda and George are part of the Walmart company and so have a ready-made network in both the UK and USA. The US retailer, Abercrombie and Fitch, recruits St Andrews graduates for its Leadership Development Programs based at A&F's Home Office campus in Columbus, OH, USA.

Starting salaries

Graduate salaries can vary greatly depending on the company, scheme and location, but a graduate can expect to start on around £20,000 - £30,000 a year. TARGETjobs has taken a snapshot of the starting salaries on offer from top retail graduate employers.

Graduate recruitment schemes

Retailing is one of the UK's largest sources of graduate vacancies. Many large retail companies in the UK run Graduate Trainee Schemes or Programmes, eg:

Most graduate schemes will open at the beginning of the academic year and fill up quickly so it makes sense to apply as soon as they open. Check the individual retailer graduate careers page for details.

Job search websites

There are many job search websites which specialise in retailing jobs, eg

Additional resources

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

The application process for retail jobs may vary according to which company you are applying. For instance, Boots, Marks & Spencer, Lidl, and Abercrombie and Fitch are just some of the large retail employers who ask you to upload a CV as part of their graduate application form. It’s vital that you research the company prior to an interview and to understand the skills and competencies they are looking for. Also check the employer’s website as many provide details on their recruitment and selection processes.

Making applications


Assessment Centres

Relevant Postgraduate Study

Postgraduate courses are available in Retail Management, but are not essential for entry into the Retailing sector. None of the major retailers normally advertise any vacancies specifically for postgraduate students and there is no mention of a higher salary for postgraduates either. Contact your preferred company to get their views on postgraduate study before committing yourself to considerable expense. Read TARGETjobs Postgraduate study in retail: what’s available and do undergraduates need it?

For further information on researching and planning for a postgraduate qualification, please visit the postgraduate study page.

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:




Related Careers A-Z page

General retail careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines


USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.