Any career in retail means you’ve got to care about customers – in other words, people. The rules to handling potential customers, sales and service standards with a smile have never changed no matter how much technology comes into play. Whether you’re managing online commerce or in-store sales, the customer should always remain the core focus of your efforts to ensure they enjoy a good shopping experience, either via a store or website visit.

Retail is a demanding world where you will need high responsibility and a genuine desire to assist people. You also need an eye for the future; consumers are coping with ever busier lifestyles, and as a result they are seeking increasingly convenient ways to shop, like online. But, regardless of where they’re purchasing goods, they still expect the same level of personal service and a seamless, hassle-free shopping experience across all channels.

So, in today’s retail world you need to be one jump ahead. Instead of waiting for a customer to express an interest, you need to have a sixth sense as to what they might want, and a canny way of manipulating that knowledge in a way that benefits both you and the customer. From keeping an astute eye on consumer trends and technological advancements, to training staff on the importance of maximising customer experiences with your brand – learning to correctly anticipate the needs of shoppers is the prime skill that will help you steer a successful career in retail.

Leadership skills – always the main key to moving up the retail ladder

All management positions require a certain level of leadership skill, and this is no different in the retail sector. But leadership isn’t just about rallying speeches and a commanding presence, there are a number of ways you can project strong leadership qualities effectively.

  • Set a good example within your team by demonstrating you’re a team player. From lending a hand on the shop floor during busy times to offering ideas for in-store improvements, you demonstrate your willingness to roll up your sleeves when needed, and help achieve team goals. This is very often the way you gain the respect of your team, and therefore motivate them to follow your example and go the extra mile. This is a key and valued technique in communicating your ability to lead.
  • It’s also beneficial to find ways to create a motivating working environment. Considering a staff member’s individual needs for personal development, will indicate that you value their input. Open and transparent communication on all levels, centred around shared goals, will ensure staff feel involved and encouraged to contribute.
  • When those instances arise where discipline may be required, rather than just laying down the law, try to establish an appropriate reinforcement technique for rules and regulations with staff. Take pains to explain why things need to be done a certain way; be clear, calm, and assured. It’s an intelligent approach that will generally earn you greater respect as a figure of authority than ruling with an iron fist.
  • To lead well you need to be able to clearly communicate shared goals and individual ownership of responsibilities, as well as providing suitable staff training and development that will ensure employees have the necessary skills to carry out their tasks effectively. In turn, this will leave you with more time to focus on your own core responsibilities, as well as the peace of mind that everyone understands what is expected of them in their roles.

Vital extras you need to survive in retail

Branding knowledge: a good understanding of in-store branding and marketing techniques will stand you in good stead for a career in retail. A well-planned store with clever visual branding and a user-friendly layout will help to boost shoppers’ in-store experience.

Effective time-management: the ability to effectively manage your time is a much-needed life skill to ensure things run smoothly, as well as achieving a healthy work-life balance. Juggling tight budgets, staff management, customer service, and a continually changing landscape – means that good retail managers must be organised, decisive and competent multi-taskers to stay on top of a busy and demanding role.

A preparedness to work a variety of hours: any retail career involves working weekends, evenings and holidays. You need to be available when customers are ready to shop, and that means a preparedness to work outside standard business hours.

Brush up your public-speaking: A good way to enhance your sales presentations is to take a class in public speaking. This will not only help you to make cleaner sales pitches, but it can also help eliminate any fears you may have of speaking to large groups, and put you at greater ease when dealing with the public.

Retail is tough, but it prepares you for so many other streams of endeavour in life. A successful career in retail can help you advance into higher-level jobs in many industries, so be prepared to perform at your best and learn – and learn more. Never turn away an opportunity to improve your knowledge and experience. Retail will draw on your skills, work ethic and capabilities – but it holds the promise of being the most exciting working scenario you may choose.