Careers Service Occupations

Retail, Buying and Selling

Retail, Buying and Selling

About

Retail and sales are competitive markets. Customer service is a key focus to help drive sales and create success for companies.

The retail sector is one of the UK’s largest employers, employing 2.8 million people within 319,000 businesses in 2017.

Buying online is still on the increase, in January 2008 internet sales accounted for 5% of retail sales. In August 2018, internet sales accounted for 18% of all retail sales. Retail sector in the UK, The House of Commons Library (PDF: 853 KB)

Careers advice

Guardian Careers articles

Retail

Sales

Industry news

Professional bodies

These represent people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates. They also provide development for people already working in the sector. Follow them on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.

The main professional associations for this sector include:

Retail

Buying and selling

Find professional bodies outside of the UK on GoinGlobal by selecting ‘Professional and Personal Networking’ on each of the individual country guides.

Making contacts 

Making contacts is helpful for success in this sector. Many jobs in this field come through networking and speculative applications. You could start with:

  • Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn – find out what they did after graduation and contact them for advice
  • NCL Spark – our online mentoring platform, with graduates happy to give you advice about the kind of work they do

Social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, is useful for making contacts, finding employers and opportunities. Find out more about how to use social media for your career and subscribe to our Retailbuying and selling twitter list.

Events

Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other sector events give valuable insights and the opportunity to make useful contacts. 

For events for this sector see Careers Service events or External Events.

Related sectors

You may also be interested in Logistics and Supply Chain Management and Project Management or see our other Explore Occupations pages for more options.

Roles & Skills

There are a variety of different roles available in these sectors and opportunities can be found across the UK.

Jobs in retail can typically be found in the following areas:

  • retail management
  • visual merchandising
  • merchandising and loss prevention
  • online sales
  • buying
  • supply chain, logistics and warehouse based roles
  • customer service and sales

In addition, opportunities are available to work in human resources, IT, administration, finance, project management and marketing.

Opportunities in sales can be found in areas such as:

  • business to business (B2B)
  • business to consumer (B2C)
  • medical/pharmaceutical sales
  • fast moving consumer goods (FMCG)
  • technology and communications
  • online sales
  • property
  • customer service and retail

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies.

For logistics role profiles see logistics and supply chain management.

Retail

Retail manager

Retail merchandiser

Visual merchandiser

Warehouse manager

Bookseller

Call centre manager

Customer service manager

Antique dealer

Commercial art gallery manager

Stylist

Buying

Retail buyer

Fashion buyer

Industrial buyer

Buyer/Procurement executive

  • CIPS iBuy - case studies of graduates working in procurement

Purchasing manager

Selling

Sales executive

Sales manager

Sales representative

Medical sales representative

Skills employers look for

  • commercial awareness and an understanding of what makes customers buy products
  • customer-centred with effective communication skills
  • adaptive, flexible and collaborative
  • accountability and the ability to motivate and manage people effectively
  • creativity and design skills
  • technical and IT skills

See also targetjobs: Discover the skills and qualities needed for buying and merchandising

Gaining Experience

Gaining work experience in customer service or sales is essential when looking to start a career in this sector.

Several major supermarkets and high street chains, such as Aldi, Boots and John Lewis, offer students paid summer internships or placement years in retail.

Applications for large companies start to open in September, the year before the internship or placement year will take place. They start to close between November and February. Some companies recruit all year round, but it is best to start looking as early as possible.

Work experience with smaller employers is not always advertised. You may need to contact these companies with a speculative approach.

Targetjobs has information and advice on finding experience in merchandising and fashion design. Prospects has information on how to get into buying and merchandising, what's available and how to get it.

Professional bodies also advertise opportunities. See About for a list of organisations

Finding work experience

Internships and placements

Undertaking an internship or placement year is a great way to gain in-depth experience in your chosen field.

Penultimate year undergraduate students can opt to take a 9-12 month placement, extending your degree programme by one year. For more information, or to register your interest, see Careers Service Placement Year.

Use these resources to find advertised work experience:

Work experience in auction houses:

  • Bonhams - internships in London and the US
  • Christie's - internships in London, Amsterdam, Asia and the US
  • Sotheby's - unpaid internships in the UK and overseas

Specialist recruitment agencies

See also Internships, placements & shadowing for more sources of opportunities.

Finding companies

Not all opportunities are advertised. You could also approach organisations or find work through networking in the industry.

Find organisations that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

Try the following sites to find organisations to approach:

In the North East

UK wide

See Researching Employers for more ways to source and research companies.

Other ways to gain experience

  • part-time work is common in the retail and sales. A part-time job in a supermarket or shop is a great way to increase knowledge of the sector and see if it's for you. See finding a part-time job for vacancy sources
  • voluntary work in a charity shop is helpful experience for the retail sector. Voluntary work as a fundraiser would also be helpful for a career in sales.
  • gain the ncl+ Advanced Award in leadership or business and develop vital skills needed in the sector
  • enter related competitions, see external competitions 
  • get involved in student societies to develop relevant skills and demonstrate your interest in the sector, eg the Fashion Society for fashion retail or buying

Finding Jobs

Competition is strong, especially for entry-level positions. Use these resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

Many large employers offer graduate schemes in this sector. Applications usually open around September and can close as early as October - December, for roles starting the following September.

You can also find graduate jobs in this sector advertised all year round. 

Professional bodies also advertise graduate positions. See About for a list of organisations.

Use the following resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

Vacancy sites

In the North East

UK Wide

Graduate schemes & entry level jobs

See Graduate jobs for more vacancy sources.

Find jobs and additional vacancy source websites for outside of the UK on GoinGlobal.

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies often advertise graduate and entry-level positions. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge.

Finding companies

Not all opportunities are advertised. You could also approach organisations or find work through networking in the industry.

Find organisations that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

Try the following sites to find organisations to approach:

In the North East

UK wide

See Researching Employers for more ways to source and research companies.

Self-employment

Being self-employed is common in the retail sector.

Many large companies offer retail business opportunities in the form of franchises. In the UK, franchising is regulated by the British Franchise Association. The BFA website offers in-depth information and advice for those thinking of joining a franchise.

If you’re an international student, on a Tier 4 visa you are unable to be self-employed or work as a freelancer. For more information visit the Visa team website. 

START UP provides information on activities and support available to eligible Newcastle students and graduates interested in self-employment.

COBRA provides factsheets and reports on starting up and running a business. COBRA can only be accessed through a University computer on the Newcastle campus.   

For more information and advice on self-employment, visit Work for Yourself.