Do you think of working in retail as a short-term job or a long-term career? Too often, job seekers consider it the former, a misconception that can cause them to miss out on opportunities for professional growth. One potential obstacle for job seekers is that they don't know what career paths are available. They may only look at the job in terms of sales, when there are many directions they can take. Often, having that foundational experience of working on the sales floor or in the stockroom makes job seekers well-equipped to take on other roles within the company.
Store managers often start in a sales role and are promoted after having several years of experience under their belt and demonstrating leadership ability. Workers can also earn a management-related degree that can help them enter into this role with less experience. Responsibilities include staff supervision and administrative and financial tasks.
Store operators are in charge of overall store operations and profits. According to the NRF Foundation, the research and education division of the National Retail Federation, sample job titles include head of store operations, regional manager and district manager, and responsibilities include managing staff functions such as loss prevention and human resources.
As a buyer, you're responsible for sourcing and purchasing merchandise for your stores. You handle the process from beginning to end, from ordering, to following up, to allocating products to stores as needed. You also follow and analyze market trends to anticipate customer needs and purchasing behaviors. Prior retail experience is usually required, and strong analytical experience and computer skills are important. Also, having a bachelor's degree in marketing, retail or fashion can help increase your chances of landing this role.
Who's Hiring For The Holidays
5 Career Paths For Retail Workers
Seasonal job openings: 5,200
A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.
Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.
The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.
The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.
The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.
Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.
The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business.
Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.
Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.
J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."
The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.
It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.
The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.
With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.
Information technology is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S. Often, job seekers don't think of IT and retail as going together, but with the advancement of technology used for inventory, training and cashier systems, retail-related IT jobs are plentiful. Also, as more companies move to e-commerce as a main source of revenue, Web developers and designers are needed to build e-commerce into companies' websites. If you're an IT professional who has past experience in retail, you'll give yourself an edge over the competition.
While the average consumer shopping at a store may not realize it, a lot of planning goes into the look, position and message of the store's displays. The setup of a store can help increase its profit, and visual merchandisers are responsible for developing and executing the floor plans. Experience in retail sales is often helpful, since you'll have a sense of what drives customers to purchase products. According to Education-Portal.com, students can earn either an associate or bachelor's degree in visual merchandising, where they can learn both technical skills and marketing and business practices needed for their career.
According to the NRFF, these workers oversee movement and storage of consumer products. Responsibilities include management and facilitation of distribution centers, logistics traffic management, trucking and other transportation operations. The role may also include import/export shipping and related duties.
For more information on retail careers, including available jobs, visit WorkInRetail.com.
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.