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Career Tracks in Retail

Bagging items at checkout.

Was salesclerk your first real job title? Many retail jobs are attainable without specialized education or training. But for people with formal preparation, the retail industry offers more challenging opportunities and higher earning potential.

Various Career Ladders

The store operations ladder, which traditionally means going from selling on the sales floor to overseeing a department to managing one or more stores, is just one possibility for college graduates.

Other paths include:

  • Merchandising: Merchandise professionals decide what products to sell, where they'll sell them, for how long and at what price. The is the most common position in this area. Many retailers prefer business program graduates, especially those with solid foundations in finance and marketing.
  • Operations Management: Operations or logistics personnel maintain a store's physical plant and provide customer services. They manage receiving, ticketing, warehousing and distribution of a store's inventory, as well as buying and maintaining store operating equipment. Some common job titles are warehouse manager, maintenance supervisor, customer service manager and receiving supervisor.
  • Promotions, Advertising and Marketing: According to the International Mass Retail Association (IMRA), retail creative departments anticipate what kinds of products consumers will buy and how much they will pay for them. Then they stimulate the targeted consumer to buy from their store. Opportunities exist in public relations, advertising, visual merchandising and special events coordination.
  • Information Systems: Computer information systems, or information technology, affect almost every aspect of retail. Data mining and application managing systems, quick response inventory systems, point-of-sale systems and electronic data interchange all ensure retailers' efficient merchandise flow. IS professionals also administer computer networks, personnel and product database systems, and Internet and intranet sites.
  • Loss Prevention: Loss-prevention professionals, specializing in law enforcement and security, work to control inventory shrinkage through shoplifting prevention and other means. They ensure employee and customer safety and respond to emergencies.
  • Store Planning and Design: A store's design, location and layout are critical to its success. Subtle elements, including lighting, aisle width and color coordination strongly impact a store's appeal and sales. Talented, creative people with training and education in business, architecture, art and related fields have many opportunities in this track.
  • Human Resources: Human resources professionals develop, implement and maintain organizational planning and development, recruiting and hiring, employee training and development, employee relations, compensation and benefits, payroll and other employee services. The HR staff ensures consistency of employee policies and practices in support of the company's goals and objectives. HR also oversees compliance to all federal and state labor laws.
  • Finance: Most retailers operate on a tight profit margin. Finance professionals count the beans and control expenditures. They provide forecasting and planning, economic trend analysis, budgeting, shortage control and internal audit. They calculate gross and net profit and manage accounts payable to vendors and accounts receivable from customers.
  • Visit the Retail Career Center to find retail job opportunities.

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