Retail Merchandiser

The Job and What's Involved

Retail merchandisers are responsible for ensuring that the right goods appear in shops and stores at the correct price.

Lionising with retail buyers, who select the product ranges, merchandisers decide on the exact quantity of goods to order and specific stock levels for each store. Picking the lines that are most likely to sell requires a clear understanding of individual retailers' customer profiles and buying patterns.

Maximising profits is a key aspect of the job. Merchandisers set selling prices, and plan promotions and price reductions. This includes working closely with marketing personnel to promote special offers and sales.

Typical activities of a retail merchandiser include:

  • Planning, with the buying team, the range of goods to be sold.
  • Analysing sales figures, trends and regional variations.
  • Forecasting future sales and profit margins, using computer modeling software.
  • Planning budgets and presenting sales forecasts to managers.
  • Negotiating prices and orders with suppliers, and agreeing delivery terms.
  • Tracking the delivery of stock, ensuring goods arrive on time and meet quality standards.
  • Monitoring product sales activities and adjusting stock levels.
  • Setting prices and sales targets for individual retailers.
  • Planning promotions and reducing slower selling lines.
  • Communicating special offers and marketing initiatives to retailers.
  • Helping visual merchandisers to plan store layouts to promote key lines.
  • Visiting suppliers and stores to see how products are selling.

Many merchandisers specialise in one product type, beg fashion, home items perishables or dry foods. Large retail chains may employ merchandisers or product managers to focus on one or two key ranges. Smaller retailers may combine buying and merchandising roles in a general retail management position.

Retail merchandisers typically work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm. Occasional evening and weekend work may be required to cover busy periods, such as the lead-up to a big sales promotion or new store opening. Part-time hours may be available, although this is more likely for people already working in the role.

The work is mainly office based, but it can also involve some travel to visit stores and suppliers, and to attend trade shows. Some trips may involve overnight stays away from home. There may also be some overseas travel, accompanying buyers to places such as South East Asia, the Far East and Latin America. This is more likely in fashion retail.

Starting salaries for junior merchandisers are usually between £20,000 and £25,000 a year. Experienced merchandisers may earn anything from £30,000 to £50,000 a year.

Benefits such as contributory pension, medical care, life assurance, retail discount and share saving schemes are common. Merchandisers may receive a company car or transport allowance.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 12,000 people are employed as retail merchandisers in the UK, with more applicants for jobs than vacancies.

Employers include:

- Fashion retailers
- Department stores
- Multiple chain stores
- Supermarkets
- Wholesale suppliers
- Manufacturers
- Mail order companies
- Internet retailers and television shopping providers

Many merchandising jobs are based in head offices, the majority of which are in London and south-east England.

Vacancies may be advertised through local and national newspapers, employers' website's, specialist recruitment agencies or retail publications, such as Drapers and Retail Week. The website: www.inretail.co.uk also advertises vacancies.

Education and Training

High competition for jobs means many entrants have a degree or Higher National Diploma (HND). Employers often prefer these qualifications to be in a business or mathematical subject, such as marketing, retail management, business management, maths, statistics or economics.

The London College of Fashion runs a specialist two-year foundation degree in fashion buying and merchandising. Entrants usually need to be 18 and possess one of the following:

  • One A level, plus four GCSE's (A*C), including maths and English.
  • A BTEC National Diploma in business, plus four GCSE's (A*-C).
  • A Level 3 Diploma in fashion retail (at merit grade).

It may also be possible to enter retail merchandising with A levels, initially by working in a junior merchandising, distribution or stock control job.

Retail work experience is highly advantageous. It may be possible to join an Apprenticeship in retail and undertake a merchandising placement.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Employers place a lot of value on retail, stock control and business experience.

The Fashion Access Programme (fashion business and fashion promotions media) provides a one-year intensive study programme to entrants without formal academic qualifications or wanting to change career direction. It can also prepare students for entry to the London College of Fashion's foundation degree in fashion buying and merchandising. Entrants to the Access programme need to show a broad interest in fashion, media, arts and current affairs.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many large retail organisations run general store management training schemes for new entrants. This may involve working in different head office and in-store positions, including merchandising, to gain a solid business understanding. Upon successful completion, trainees may be offered a merchandising position.

Once established in the job, some retail merchandisers may study for professional qualifications with the Chartered Institute of Marketing or the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply.

Retail merchandisers may also work towards vocational qualifications, such as an NVQ in supply chain management (at Levels 2 to 5) or a Level 4 Diploma in buying and merchandising for fashion retail.

The British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) runs a distance-learning buying and merchandising foundation course for those already working in the profession.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Retail merchandisers need:

  • Excellent commercial awareness.
  • An understanding of what motivates customers to buy products.
  • Good analytical and numerical skills.
  • The ability to take decisions and remain calm when under pressure.
  • Confidence when leading negotiations.
  • Interpersonal and communication skills.
  • The ability to plan and prioritise.
  • A creative mind-set.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotional structures vary depending on the size of the employer. With experience, retail merchandisers may be able to become senior merchandisers, and potentially reach manager or director level. In some cases, it may be necessary to relocate or move companies in order to progress.

Some retail merchandisers become retail business analysts or self-employed retail consultants.

Large international retailers may offer overseas postings.

Get Further Information

British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA),
Middleton House, 2 Main Road,
Middleton Cheney, Banbury OX17 2TN
Tel: 01295 712277
Website: www.british-shops.co.uk

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM),
Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead,
Berkshire SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427120
Website: www.cim.co.uk

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS),
Easton House, Church Street,
Easton on the Hill, Stamford,
Lincolnshire PE9 3NZ
Tel: 01780 756777
Website: www.cips.org

London College of Fashion,
20 John Princes Street, London W1G 0BJ
Tel: 020 7514 7344
Website: www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

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