Retail industry IV

Retailing careers are again a hot prospect for new graduates, but things are changing.
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The Independent Online


The last three years has seen many retailers going through very rapid and dramatic changes. This growth in the speed and development of retailing has even affected some well-known High Street names. Many of us may well be familiar with some of the headlines of recent years associated with perhaps the most famous High Street name of all, Marks & Spencer.

The days of M & S being known as the underwear purveyor to the whole of Britain have gone. That's not to say that traditional strengths in clothing and related products don't still form a strong and important part of their business, but only a part. Just within the clothing sector, Marks & Spencer's UK Retail division has received much publicity with several of its more recent launches. From the drive to provide more designer and couture styled clothing, to the response of providing high fashion and high quality clothing to those of us of a more 'normal' build, the company has identified and targeted new groups of customers as well as new product ranges.

Whilst we may all remember the TV ad campaign showing a customer running through the fields in a state of undress, the serious point M & S were making, was that we are not all built like Kate Moss. Thus the identification of millions of us, who whilst not stick-like thin still want to wear more glamorous clothing, is typical of the trends involved in 'new'retailing.

Retailers now need managers and executives who will spend as much time developing and thinking about their existing customers and their wants, as they do seeking to attract new customers. This pro-active relationship with customers extends into all activities. Thus in the case of M & S, they are spending as much time doing the same research, product development and marketing within their other business sectors such as Food, or their home furnishings operation. Added to this is the drive to become more business efficient.

This drive within modern retailers to be efficient includes looking at where stores are located, their sizes and business patterns. Rather than meaning a retreat from the High Street towards out of town retail parks, it means having business executives who understand what can be best sold in each type of location. Typically, this has to involve asking customers what they want, where they want to buy and how much they are prepared to pay for better quality.

As a result, M & S have developed their own finance packages and customer services, after years of not wanting to accept customer purchases by credit card. This conscious and deliberate attempt to build relationships with their customers means that their requirements for new graduates are even more demanding than in the past. As an employer, M & S always used to attract good quality graduates based on perceptions of being a better than average employer. Now they find themselves needing to attract the best in order to run a highly competitive and quality driven retail operation.

We can see that the range of occupations and career paths within the retailing sector has exploded. In this example, M & S has found that the awareness amongst graduates and their advisers about the opportunities available has often been woefully inadequate. So much so that they have in effect, produced their own graduate careers magazine entitled 'What if...What next?' Within it one can find evidence of the widening range of graduate careers in fields such as retail management, commercial management, personnel, merchandising, product development, development technology, business systems and information technology, finance, and many more.

What this illustration attempts to demonstrate is that retailing has experienced and is still undergoing quite dramatic changes. Those changes need to be managed and consciously exploited to the advantage of customers and the retail businesses. As a result, retailing is exciting, well rewarded and growing. In a world where graduates often have to choose between either high financial rewards or excitement and job satisfaction, retailing offers no such dilemma. For the above average graduate, retailing offers above average rewards both financially and in terms of career development. What is still uncertain in an uncertain world, is whether graduates and their advisers are aware of those rewards and opportunities.

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