Top 6 Retail Career Paths


Several streams of employment are available to students and recent grads seeking access into the retail industry, each one offering unique opportunities and requiring specific skill sets.

The opportunities within each of these streams cater to a wide variety of disciplines.  Depending on your interests, there are positions within the retail industry in everything from fashion to business to marketing to interior decorating (store design) to industrial engineering (manufacturing) and more!

There is a huge amount of variety within the retail industry and success involves the understanding of how all the individual pieces fit together.

Most importantly, understanding how all these factors affect the customer at the consumer interaction stage where the money is actually made.

Logistics and supply chain management

This is the essential role of getting products from suppliers through distribution centres and into the customers’ hands.  Being able to manage these interconnected parts becomes a greater concern as the size of the retailer increases.

Much of the knowledge required for this is includes planning supply routes, finding affordable methods of transportation and ensuring there are never too many—or too few—of each product in stores.

Check out this awesome flowchart of “careers in the supply chain.”

Merchandising, marketing and sales

This can include buying, category management, inventory analysis, planning and allocation, marketing co-ordination, sales management, business development and loss prevention.

This particular area has made significant advancements in recent years and can vary considerably between individual retailers.  Technological advancements have allowed massive amounts of data to be collected, and currently the major issue is determining the most effective way of analyzing that data.

Having a background or familiarity with interpreting statistics is valuable here.  Knowledge of the customers is key to these positions and being able to interpret that data will help further that goal

Operations management

These roles may include district or store management, and require a wide range knowledge and abilities. They can include recruiting and hiring employees, managing inventories, implementing promotional strategies, and many other skill sets which vary across retailers.  These operations are the core of the business and where most of the actual money is made.

The skills required for these positions can vary considerably depending on the retail outlet.  However, a strong knowledge of the retailer’s customer base and the products are key.

General corporate

These positions are ones most commonly shared by all businesses, such as IT, accounting and human resources.  Within retail, the human resources role may exist at the corporate level or in field roles that require HR management across regions, or in large store locations.

Much of these particular corporate aspects of the retail industry are focused upon in business courses and operate in the same way.  This area is often considered to be the more ‘traditional’ aspect of the industry.

Third-party support roles, including consultants, designers and manufacturers

There are many other opportunities within the retail industry that don’t necessarily involve working for retailers themselves.  These include retail consulting firms, store designers or branding agencies.  This can even include product supplies, such as manufacturers or fashion labels.  These types of opportunities are often overlooked by the assumption that working in the retail industry means working directly for a retailer.

This stream of employment is ideal for anyone whose education is less focused on business and more geared toward professions such as engineering in the case of manufacturing, or architecture in the case of store design.


There are also opportunities for those looking to use some of their own ideas to create a business.  This could be setting up a fashion boutique, developing an online business or even opening a franchise location.  These positions offer the most control over your own role within the retail industry, but also involve the most risk as success or failure largely rests on your own abilities.


Click here to visit the Focus on Retail mini-site for career opportunities from top retailers as well as more great content about retail careers!


Thanks to Sean Sedlezky from the Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Retail Management for much of the information within this article.

Photo credit: Brian.Reading on Flickr
About the author

José Gonzalez is currently studying English and psychology at the University of Toronto. He's tried his hand at a wide variety of jobs, from pizza maker to autism therapist, but so far he hasn't figured out his exact niche. He figures as long as he's making a positive difference in someone's life, whichever path he goes down is a good one.