Sales are at the very heart of business. Every business is involved in selling either a product, or a service. Retail is part of the chain of production that includes manufacturing, supply, distribution and consumption.
Retail is the aspect of sales that is directed at people (consumers) through on street shopfronts and department stores. It includes a wide range of goods from Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) i.e. products that are sold quickly and at relatively low cost (e.g. non-durable goods such as soft drinks, toiletries, and grocery items), to clothes, shoes, books, furniture, flooring and electrical goods, to hardware, gifts, jewellery and cars.
Some businesses are involved in selling to other companies. This could be in the form of supplying them parts for the product they are manufacturing. It may involve selling a service needed by the business, such as marketing or advertising expertise, a cleaning service, training services or computer backup services.
While the last decade has seen an increased presence of international ownership and many larger sized retail outlets have opened here, Ireland's retail sector is predominantly made up of small, indigenous companies. There are approximately 44,000 active wholesale and retail enterprises, and with sales of €23 billion, the retail sector accounts for over 10% of Ireland's GDP.
Retail generates over €5 billion in taxes every year and pays €8 billion in wages. It is also Ireland's largest employer bar none, with over 275,000 people working in the area, representing almost 15% of the total workforce. 90% of retail businesses are Irish-owned, with 77% family-owned. A similar number have an annual turnover of less than €1 million, with many employing less than 10 people - 75% of all retail jobs are located outside of Dublin. (Source: IBEC/Retail Ireland, 'Strategy for Retail 2014-2016', Dec. 2013)
Today, the sales, retail and purchasing sector is highly technology intensive. It makes significant use of information, communications and other technologies to optimise the flow of goods from producers to consumers.
Careers in Retail - Video illustrating the breadth of career opportunities across the retail sector.
CAREERS IN RETAIL
The breadth of career opportunities available across the retail sector is extensive - from entry level store assistant roles, to a broad range of business support occupations.
Sales occupations include sales or store assistants, retail cash desk and check-out operators, as well as petrol pump forecourt attendants. People working in these occupations interact directly with the customer. They are the people who make the sale happen.
More than half of employment in all sales related occupations is accounted for by sales assistants. With an employment level of 118,000, this is the single most populated occupation in the economy. These positions are typically entry point jobs into careers in retail, though some workers choose to spend their professional lives here, particularly in high-end, commission-based sales areas like jewellery, appliances, and others. Frontline sales experience is highly valued and many retailers promote from within.
The level of skills required varies by individual employers but at its core, people working in sales need to have a pleasant personality, lots of patience, good selling skills and a good knowledge of their products.
Getting into Sales
Training for a career in sales and retailing is generally provided through work experience and training on the job. FAS provide a range of courses from Level 3 or 4 to Level 6, to train people in the role of sales representative and retail sales. Most business studies courses focus on aspects of sales and marketing. A number of VECs provide various awards at Level 5. The IT colleges around the country offer more specialised courses in retail sales and management at Level 6 upwards.
Retail sales jobs often form part of a career extending into Management - e.g. Customer Care, Store Supervisor, Trainee Manager, Store/Department Manager, Regional Manager.
The retail store manager or management team has responsibility ranging from running a department within a store, to running the overall establishment. Managers at all levels supervise and assist sales assistants and other employees. Additional responsibilities, depending on store/company size and management level, include opening and closing the store, staffing, administration, and financial functions.
Getting into Sales Management
Promotions to management positions can be earned through experience, or a college-degree may provide direct entry to a management trainee programme. Many graduate training programmes offer the opportunity to experience different aspects of the business before deciding on the most suitable career path for you. A number of colleges around the country provide certified education and training programmes aimed at people working as retail managers. Explore the course menus on the right of this page for detailed information.
RETAIL BUSINESS SUPPORT ROLES
Retail success is based on having the right products, in the right places, at the right price. There is a wide of Business support functions in the retail sector dedicated to ensuring that this is the case, including such diverse areas as Buying, Supply Chain Management, Logistics, IT, Human Resources (HR), Marketing, Data Mining, Finance and Legal roles.
Purchasing and Buying
Just as businesses depend on sales to survive they are also involved in purchasing. A Purchasing Manager is an employee within a company, business or other organisation who is responsible at some level for buying the goods and services needed by the company - either for production, general supplies for offices and facilities, equipment, retail stock or construction contracts. In larger companies, the Purchasing Manager often supervises a team of purchasing agents and buyers, but in small companies the Purchasing Manager may also be the purchasing agent or buyer.
Responsibilities may include:
- seeking reliable vendors or suppliers to provide quality goods at reasonable prices
- negotiating prices and contracts
- reviewing technical specifications for raw materials, components, equipment or buildings
- determining quantity and timing of deliveries (more commonly in small companies)
Supply Chain Management
A major trend in retail and wholesale has been ever more effective and efficient management of supply chains. Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) is an approach to improving supply chain management so as to get the goods in front of the consumer in a highly efficient manner, and without waste. ECR relies heavily on information and communications technology, and in many cases, on the physical redesign of the supply chain. Consequently, most goods are now delivered in large quantities to central distribution centres by manufacturers, where they were previously delivered directly to stores in smaller quantities.
The supply chain manager is engaged in every facet of the business process – planning, purchasing, production, transportation, storage, distribution, customer service, and more. The supply chain manager is responsible for ensuring that every step happens flawlessly, so the company can make the maximum profit from the sale of products.
Logistics links the whole process of getting a product to the consumer, from obtaining the raw materials, through to delivering the finished goods to the supplier. Logistics management is recognised today as one of the most important factors in making companies efficient and competitive.
Logistics and Transport managers are typically responsible for overseeing the execution, direction, and coordination of all transportation related items within the organisation. This may include budget management, organising and scheduling routes, fleet safety, meeting any legal requirements for transport vehicles, ensuring that drivers are aware of their duties. The wider Transport and Logistics Sector is presented in detail here.
Human Resources (HR)
The recruitment, development and retention of staff is vital in the overall performance of a business. Most large organisations, including retail chains, employ a HR Manger or HR Managment Team. The role stretches into a wide range of staff related areas including: recruitment and training of staff; policies and procedures; career development; remuneration and benefits; employee and industrial relations; employment law and compliance; disciplinary and grievance issues; and such areas as redundancy. The HR Manager must keep up to date with any changes in employment law, and related policy areas, that may effect the company.
Getting into HR
Typical entry routes normally require a Degree, although a wide variety of degree types are acceptable, e.g. Business Studies, Public Administration, Psychology, Law, Social Studies and Economics. A Professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) is also acceptable. Entry level jobs include HR administration. In some organisations, HR staff work their way up to the role, based on experience and internal training.
Technological innovation has played a central role in the wholesale and retail sector in such areas as productivity improvements, effective marketing decisions, stock control, matching staffing levels to workload, decisions on product location and space utilisation, customer payment methods etc. The IT department plays a significant role in modern retailers. IT support, keeping the networks active or rolling-out a new system for the entire business are challenging and exciting areas in retail.
Technology careers linked to retail and purchasing are numerous and varied. From the e-commerce websites that complement most bricks and mortar stores, to complex computer systems, from technology driven training programs delivered over satellites or the Internet to state-of-the art cash registers and point-of-sale systems. Web design of on-line retail outlets is also a growing area as are computer network management systems.
Getting into IT in the Retail sector
You typically need to have a suitable IT qualification and a business-focused perspective. An internship is a good place to start in order to gain some relevant experience. Some larger retailers have graduate recruitment programmes with IT/Information Systems positions available.
Marketing, advertising and Public Relations (PR) are all career areas that are about promoting the goods and services of an organisation. The marketing professional's job is to create, manage, and enhance brands, towards increasing sales. Marketing overlaps into the areas of advertising, media planning, and sales strategies. These are key areas in retail. Careers in this area of retail include Marketing Executive, Product Marketing Manager, Marketing Advisor, and Market Researcher.
Getting into Marketing
Positions in Marketing and PR can be either in-house, or with an outside agency. Marketing and PR have become very competitive sectors, so having a qualification is becoming increasingly important. Degrees in marketing, communications, business management, PR or information systems will give the competitive edge. Generalist degrees such as English may be useful too, and Languages can have significant added value for roles with international retailers.
Retail merchandisers are typically employed by manufacturers to liaise with the retailers that are selling the manufacturer's products. The role of the merchandiser is to work with the retailer to maximise product sales and increase sales volume for the company. In larger companies, merchandisers may be employed in-house. They work alongside Buyers, to analyse historical sales, stock information and sales trends, and to forecast future stock and sales requirements.
Visual merchandising involves the presentation of products to potential customers. This role supports the sales efforts of retailers by presenting the visual look of the shop or outlet, and the merchandise, or products it has for sale. Visual merchandisers are typically employed in-house in larger retailers, or may be contracted in from agencies by smaller outlets. Their role is to ensure that the products are displayed appropriately, with proper signage, and the use of effective displays and point of sale material, in order to encourage initial or repeat purchases.
Getting into Merchandising
Entry routes include in-house promotion from the shop floor up, or completion of a qualification in a business related area and participation in a graduate training programme.
Data analysis is also known as predictive analytics, or data mining. It is a tool widely used in the modern retail sector. To stay competitive, retailers need to understand both current consumer behavior, and to predict future consumer behavior. Accurate prediction and understanding of customer behavior is what helps retailers to keep their customers, improve sales, and extend the relationship they have with their customers. Large retailers use predictive analysis through data mining, to gain insight across the organisation and make informed decisions for the future of the business, based on that information and analysis.
Financial functions play a vital business support role for all retailers. Two key areas are prominent in the retail sector:
- Reporting of financial information to internal management and external regulatory bodies - The central finance function
- Analysing the figures reported by central finance teams to measure performance and make strategic recommendations - The commercial finance side
Monitoring sales performance, analysing the results of product promotions, or looking at turnover of individual stores - large retailers typically have individual finance teams who support the different areas within the business. Key areas of work include financial year ends, when finance departments are required to meet regulatory and budgetary requirements.
Getting into Finance in the Retail Sector
Entrants to this career area typically hold business, finance or maths-related degrees. It is possible to enter the field with any degree background, for someone with an analytical mindset who is comfortable with numbers. Some large retailers offer entry opportunities via graduate training programmes and may provide the chance to work towards a professional qualification over a number of years e.g. CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).
Law and Legal
Legal services required by retailers include areas of the law relating to regulation; compliance; competition; properety and conveyancing; employment; health and safety; website trading and data protection. Retailers who operate in multiple jurisdictions may require local legal knowledge, or advice on international expansion, in areas of acquisition, concessions, franchising etc.
The larger retailers typically have in-house legal departments, or directly-employed legal specialists. Smaller companies may buy-in necessary legal expertise as required. Entry routes to this area include the typical Law Degree route, or a Business Degree with Graduate specialism in an area of value to the sector, e.g compliance.
Retailing is no longer exclusive to shop floors and showrooms. Telesales, Mail order, Online sales and e-commerce have dramatically changed the nature of retail sales in recent years.
Telesales is a method of selling in which a salesperson engages with possible customers to buy products or services, either over the phone or through a subsequent face to face meeting. Telesales may be done from a company office, from a call centre, or from home. An effective telesales process often involves two or more calls. The first call (or series of calls) determines the customer’s needs. The final call (or series of calls) motivates the customer to make a purchase. Telesales staff would be required to log all call details so as to avoid any confusion with their clients.
There are many routes of entry to this job. Typically, thorough on-the-job training in such areas as product knowledge, selling by telephone and customer care/service is given by the company. Courses in sales and marketing are available nationally, from Level 5 upwards. In today's competitive job market, languages are give candidates the competitive edge.
Online Retail and Sales
According to the recent UPC* report, 'Ireland’s Digital Future', there are 2.6 million online shoppers in Ireland. These shoppers will have spent approximately €3.7bn in 2012 across a range of products and services. It is believed that Irish consumers will spend €5.7bn online by 2016. The UPC research showed that eight in every ten internet users use the web to research products they are interested in buying, but then buy them locally in Irish shops. It swings the other way too with six in every ten Irish internet users visiting their local stores to research products they are interested in, but then purchase them online, often at significant cost savings.
Supermarkets now offer 'You shop, we drop' services; High street retailers are offing their peoducts online, as well as on the shop floor; 'Click and collect' sales are growing significantly; online only retailers like Amazon have changed the face of the book buying and music sales marketplace.
Alongside these developments, new jobs and roles in retail sales are emerging. It is widely believed that the salesperson will always be in demand - the person cannot be replaced by a computer. But, while many businesses use the Internet for marketing and other operations, not all companies hire people to act as sales representatives. Their sales are generated by attracting consumers to the online website.
[*UPC Report is available in the Resources Menu - right hand side of this page]
Consumer spending has fallen in each year of the recession, with sales declining by 25 - 30% since the peak. The retail sector has borne the brunt of the recession with hundreds of store closures and significant job losses, but it continues to be a major employer.
New job creation going forward depends on increased consumer spending, improving the skills of retail staff and developing the online potential of stores. According to Forfás, employment in professional occupations in the sector has been increasing, and this is expected to continue. It is reflected in the model used in the Forfás report to project demand for skills which shows a gradual increase in the share of employment in the sector accounted for by professional occupations, from 2.1% in 2008 to 3% at the end of 2016. Combined with projected increases in non-store retail, the outlook for the sector is relatively positive.
The most recent sector report* from Retail Ireland projects that with potential growth of 3-4% per annum from 2016, the sector can potentially create 40,000 new jobs.
[*IBEC/Retail Ireland 'Strategy for Retail 2014-2016' Report is available in the Resources Menu - right hand side of this page]