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Where to Work in Retail

Shop Around for the Setting That's Right for You

Where to Work in Retail

Do you live in a community with at least one street? If so, chances are there's a retailer on it. Surf the Internet? You're just a click away from a familiar store online.

Any time you shop for or buy anything in the US, you come in contact with at least one of its millions of retail workers. If you're considering a retail career, one factor you'll want to explore is the type of environment -- from cozy corner store to cavernous hypermarket or Internet e-tailer -- that best suits you.

Who Are the Players?

The most common types of retailers include:

  • Department Stores: Nordstrom, Sears, etc.  
  • Discount/Mass Merchandisers and Big Box/Category Killers: Barnes & Noble, Costco, Home Depot, Staples, Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, etc.  
  • Specialty Stores: Independent operators in your neighborhood or chains like Coach and J. Crew. The former tend to struggle, and the latter cater to a brand-conscious audience. Their competitive edge is seldom price; usually, it's quality merchandise or service.  
  • Factory Outlets: Some sell clearance merchandise from other retailers or manufacturers (Ross, TJ Maxx); some sell their own goods (Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney's). All offer sharply discounted prices. 

  • Catalog Retailers: Store (JCPenney) or stand-alone (Lillian Vernon).

  • Internet: Traditional retailers are jumping on the Internet bandwagon big-time. Some are elbowing dotcom retailers out of business. Some retailers also offer store locations, registries and employment opportunities online.  

Big or Little?

Generally, you've got to decide whether you want to work under a megastore's hot lights or in the unique atmosphere of a small-time retailer. You've seen or heard how the big retailers are emptying the storefronts on Main Street, but is the corporate environment right for you, or do you prefer the specialty teashop on the corner?

Large Environments: Not Always a Bowl of Cherries

The Good: Want to experience retailing on a grand scale? Want to head a retail empire made up of a group of stores or an entire corporation? For ambitious people who have what it takes, larger retailers offer opportunities to take on ever-bigger challenges and larger and larger budgets. And they train qualified people to take on these challenges and provide financial and other resources to help them succeed. If you perform, the pay and benefits can be sweet.

The Bad: Expect to specialize and pay your dues. Positions are stratified. You'll work up the career ladder in a more orderly way. A greeter at Wal-Mart doesn't run the register. A sales associate at Toys 'R' Us doesn't determine when a product will go on sale. A divisional manager at The Gap usually doesn't interact with customers on a daily basis.

Small Environments: Not Necessarily a Can of Worms

The Good: Small retailers aren't going away any time soon. Remember, 80 percent of US retailers have 10 or fewer employees. And little guys tend to offer employees the most variety. If you're eager to learn and prove yourself, you may find yourself with lots of responsibilities, sometimes very quickly. You may:

  • Sell and display the merchandise.  
  • Stock the shelves and recommend what to put on them.  
  • Supervise subordinates and mop the floor.  
  • Gift wrap a package and network the store computers.

The Bad: Training in this environment tends to be less formal; salaries and benefits tend to be lower.

What's Retail Really Like?

While sales and service people may work part-time, most retail managers and supervisors work at least 40 hours or more a week; longer hours, including evenings and weekends, are not uncommon. This is particularly true during sales, holidays, busy shopping hours and during inventory. Hours can change weekly, and managers sometimes must report to work on short notice, especially when employees are absent. Independent retailers can often set their own schedules, but hours must be convenient to customers.

Is the Environment Changing?

Retail is evolving. With the implementation of new technologies, it's growing and changing every day. Consumers are interested in 24/7, nonstore retailing (online and TV home shopping). To reach and keep customers, retailers continue to refine and plan new shopping environments. Progressive retailers of all sizes are rethinking the role of the conventional retail store.

To meet customer expectations and outpace the competition, retailers are also reshaping many essential functions, such as marketing, distribution, customer satisfaction and inventory control.

Once you get retailing in your blood, these dynamic changes will continue to make retailing an exciting and cutting-edge career choice for the 21st century. Where will you be?

Learn more about retail careers.

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