Among the most reliable measurements of our economic health is consumer spending. After all, a growing labor force means more money being made and thus, more money being spent. New U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that both business spending and consumer confidence are at five-year highs. More shoppers mean more revenue for retailers, which in turn means the need for more retail workers.
“Retail really took a big hit when the economy went down during the recession," says Gregg Bedol, managing director of RedZone Consulting based in Atlanta. But the retail sector has added 500,000 jobs in the past five years, nearly half of which have come in the past year, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, retailers are seeking employees with a vast array of disciplines and experience, says Bedol.
“It doesn’t matter what skills or interests you have, there’s a spot for you in retail,” he says. “On any given day I’ll talk to people with finance, human resources, marketing, planning and allocation backgrounds– which is the process of making sure the right product goes to the right store - and people with merchandising backgrounds.”
Shoppers interact with a large sub-section of the retail industry whenever they make a purchase. Sales employees account for more than 1.2 million employees in the retail sector – a considerable number, but only 8% of the total workforce. That means other retail careers account for 92% of an industry that the BLS estimates employs more than 15 million Americans.
“A people person is going to be able to work the store floor, or be a buyer or merchant, such as a purchasing manager who oversees the teams responsible for brokering retailers’ wholesale partnerships,” says Bedol.
Despite the boom in online shopping in recent years, there remains a vital place in retailing for “people-person” types. Bedol cites the 250 brick-and-mortar Apple Stores as an example, and Apple is on pace to open another 35 stores in 2013.
Still, technology’s impact on retail is profound. To that end, the industry needs IT specialists and online advertising managers who tailor retailers’ messages to web users, pushing content that appeals directly to the consumers’ browsing and shopping history.
Some retailers are combining these job elements. Bedol says a fashion boutique in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan offers designed-to-order wardrobes built on iPads by the customer using material available in the shop. He describes it as the merging of traditional and 21st century shopping.
Whether in the store or online, pricing is an integral cog in the retailing wheel. On this front, the industry appeals to yet another unique skill set, offering career paths to the mathematically inclined.
Statistical analysis is crucial for any retailer seeking to stay abreast of consumer trends. Logisticians and cost estimators are two vital careers to the industry. Cost estimators help determine the price consumers pay based on the materials and labor required to offer a product.
While retailing welcomes a vast array of skills, it's also attractive for numerous sensibilities. Job seekers can pursue careers with such multinational corporations as Target, Wal-Mart and Macy’s, but also find opportunities with single outlet and niche retailers. Another advantage to working in retail, Bedol says, is that the industry can be found virtually anywhere.
“If you want work where you grew up, there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to find a job. If you want to travel, there are opportunities all around the world,” he says.
To be sure, certain parts of the U.S. have higher hiring demand depending on the career. Purchasing managers often find jobs faster in Illinois, New York, California and Texas – all states with major metropolitan areas that are hubs for large retailers.
Job seekers also have an almost limitless variety of specialty fields in which to work through retail, from fashion to electronics to sporting goods. Those passionate about a particular segment can connect with like-minded individuals and turn their interest into a business. Bedol cites Card Kingdom, a Seattle-based company that began as a place for card game enthusiasts to find games, which evolved into a gaming retail leader.
Here is our Jobs Rated list of the 10 best jobs in retailing: