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Getting ahead in online merchandising

Why approaching jobseekers via LinkedIn might be a bad idea

You probably already know the importance of a great CV, some basic tips for performing well in an interview and the kind of things you can expect from a psychometric test. But the best advice is always going to be specific to your role and for that you need a specialist. We asked Ruth Oakland from specialist recruitment firm Retail Human Resources to give us some expert advice for merchandisers looking to move into the world of ecommerce.

Ecommerce is the new frontier of retail and working in this sector means working in an exciting, new and vibrant environment. However, many people working in traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ environments might not know about the miriad of opportunities that exist for them online.

Merchandisers, for example, may find that their career is given a new lease of life by moving into the world of ecommerce, which might be easier that you think…

Which companies should I look at?

As well as multi-channel retailers, which operate through catalogues, stores and websites, a lot of traditional bricks and mortar retailers such as BHS now have their own online teams that cover merchandising. As the ecommerce function itself grows within high street retailers there will be more opportunities popping up.
Also look at merchandising opportunities within purely online retailers such as ASOS, Net-a-Porter and boohoo.com who will consider candidates from retail merchandising roles with no online experience.

What positions can I look at with my experience?

Doing a more junior role in this area – such as online marketing assistant or online merchandising assistant – will give you a good grounding in what online retail is all about plus vital experience in web analytics.
Even if you don’t have any ecommerce experience, you can still easily get into online merchandising with a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ background alone. If you’re looking for a new challenge that uses your current skillset, this could be the right move for you so don’t be afraid to try something new.

However, if you do have experience within online merchandising, you can also move into online trading roles, depending on your level. Online trading roles cover marketing, merchandising and elements of category management.

Am I restricted to working in London?

Not at all – that’s the beauty of working in ecommerce! Although many companies are based within larger cities, as you’d expect, wherever there is a retailer with a need for online merchandising you’ll find ample opportunities. As with all jobs, the more flexible you are on location, the better.

What are employers expecting to see on my application?

Although you don’t necessarily need online experience, depending on the level of the role you are applying to, if an employer has stated they want a candidate from an ecommerce background you will need to make sure your CV reflects this.

So, if you only have experience in a standard retail merchandising role, make sure you include any exposure you have had to the online side of the business to give you the edge over other candidates with similar retail experience.
Did you had a positive impact on profit with a new range? Were you instrumental in implementing new systems? These are the points that will highlight your true ability and demonstrate what you have done over and above your day job, after all it’s you the company is hiring, not your previous job.

What else should I include?

Like with any application to a retail head office role, you need to make sure you have your key responsibilities and achievements are stated clearly on your CV and must be ready to talk around these with concrete examples. As this is a growing area for a lot of retailers, ecommerce is fast becoming a popular area to move into so there is a lot of competition. Make sure that you can back up any statements you make.

Interview preparation

Once you’ve been invited to an interview, make sure you have been into the retailers stores if they have them, if they are a pure play retailer make sure you have seen the ranges online. Be prepared to talk about what you think of it from your professional point of view. Check things such as price point and density as well as the company’s wider strategy. Also check out if there is any retail news about them, are they expanding into other markets? Don’t forget to visit some competitors too!

Whatever level of role you are going for it is a good idea to complete a SWOT analysis. This will focus your research and really get you thinking about the aspects an interviewer will want to hear about.

Finally, make sure you know your CV inside out. It’s great that you added all those impressive figures but make sure you have them in your head. It would also be good to get a few extra figures such as your margins so you can really jazz up your answers at interview.

The interview

As with all job interviews, make sure you are passionate and positive, but obviously put a greater emphasis on your enthusiasm for the ecommerce side of the role and the business. This is a huge area of growth for most retailers and interviewers will appreciate someone who understands and embraces this.

In addition, make sure that you understand the role that you are interviewing for as sometimes positions within ecommerce teams can be of a hybrid nature involving merchandising along with trading and marketing.

Whilst this may be perfect for you and play to your strengths, it is a good idea to find out as much about the role as possible before the interview so you don’t get caught out.

Similarly, don’t assume that your interviewer will understand exactly what your job entails, as merchandising can be extremely varied between companies. Make sure that you are clear regarding your responsibilities.

Finally, be prepared for some kind of skills test such as maths or Excel work. This is standard for most companies at most levels of merchandising and you will probably be told about it in advance but it’s best to be prepared.