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What it’s like to work in…

What it’s like to work in…

The retail industry is unique in that a company will have not only multiple branches, but the working conditions of those branches can vary hugely depending on whether they are located on a high street, a shopping centre, out of town, in a concession within a department store, abroad or even online. Here, we take a brief overview at working in the various locations open to retailers.

Working in retail, you have a lot of choice open to you, as you’d expect in an industry that employs three million people and contributes to 25% of the GDP of the country including retail sales and purchases. Not only do you have a choice over which sector, which company within that sector and the location in which you work, but you can decide between the various retail locations in which those stores are situated.

Working on the high street

Despite the changes it has gone through in recent times, the high street is still a force to be reckoned with in UK retail. It varies from small towns to some of the most well known streets in the world.

It’s an incredible figure, but almost 50,000 people work on Oxford Street. At one and a half miles long it is the busiest shopping street in Europe, attracting 200 million shoppers every year from all over the world.

The government has announced that it will pump £10 million into high streets but some have said that this isn’t enough and that harder-hitting measures are needed; although a recent study said that the high street was still holding its own despite several knocks over the past few years.

Rather than being a shopping destination, like a mall, the high street tends to feature shoppers who are going about their daily necessities in a more relaxed manner. This is reflected in the retail work environment, where typically you will be working within a smaller team.

Travelling to and from work is usually easy and hours tend to be pretty standard for store employees.

Typical outlets: Supermarkets, fashion chains, travel agents, budget retailers, independents, restaurants, banks and pubs.

Working out of town (big box retailing)

Out of town retail is an ever-changing market with its own rules. From its birth in the eighties, out of town retailing has grown as more retailers move out of the high street. According to a report last year, B&Q increased its out of town presence, taking the most space. Home and garden chain The Range was next, followed by budget retailers B&M, Poundworld and Home Bargains.

In short, where once the out of town retail park catered to companies that needed the space for warehouse or parking facilities, more traditional high street retailers are now taking advantage of the ease of access, free parking and lower rents.

In terms of working in an out of town location, salaries will tend to be higher, reflecting a higher turnover of the store and some store management salaries may well be on a par with area or regional managers’ salaries elsewhere.

Typical outlets: Technology chains, DIY retailers, home and garden, fashion chains, larger supermarkets and budget retailers.

Working in a shopping centre

The nature of shopping centres, as with most retail locations, has evolved over the years. From the out of town malls located on former industrial sites, shopping centres are now becoming more and more a part of the future of the UK’s town centres. Some of the newer malls have generated considerable redevelopment for city centres, bringing in more shoppers and new life to the area when economic times were tough.

Since opening in 2008, Westfield London has become one of the UK’s most iconic luxury shopping and leisure destinations. One of the largest shopping centres in the whole of the UK, it is the size of 30 football pitches and cost £1.6 billion to build.

Westfield London showcases four anchor stores: Debenhams, Next, M&S and House of Fraser, plus over 300 other luxury and high-street retailers such as Apple, Bershka, Hugo Boss, H&M, Zara and Topshop with a high focus on fashion (in fact 80% of shops specialise in fashion).

Working in a shopping centre will entail longer opening hours, but the rewards are high, with an energetic atmosphere in general and a pleasant working environment surrounded by an exciting mix of stores.

Typical outlets: Fashion chains, jewellery and accessory retailers, luxury goods, department stores, specialist retailers and restaurants.

Working abroad

Many overseas companies are keen to recruit talented retailers from the UK to work in their markets. Success internationally has been mixed, with local retailers still very much dominating in many countries, especially in the grocery industry.

However, retailers who have used caution to fully research new markets, or work with franchisees, have seen success in their international operations. M&S for example has just announced the creation of 250 stores internationally and Tesco has agreed a partnership with Indian group Tata to open a chain of supermarkets in that country.

Working abroad isn’t for everyone, but for retail professionals who love travel and have a sense of adventure, working abroad can deliver real rewards. Often your salary will be tax free, leaving you with more take home pay.

Job roles are also generally much bigger and broader, so you are likely to have more exposure to the running of the business and more autonomy, which is perfect for individuals who want a chance to spread their wings. Add to all this the chance of working in the sun all the year round and it is easy to see why a career in international retail can be appealing.

Typical outlets:  Fashion brands, luxury retailers, high end department stores, cosmetics, fast food and pharmacy.