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5 career paths for retail workers

Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

Do you think of working in retail as a short-term job or a long-term career? Too often, job seekers consider it the former, a misconception that can cause them to miss out on opportunities for professional growth.One potential obstacle for job seekers is that they don't know what career paths are available. They may only look at the job in terms of sales, when there are many directions they can take. Often, having that foundational experience of working on the sales floor or in the stock room makes job seekers well-equipped to take on other roles within the company.

Here are five career areas in the retail field:

1. Store management or operations
Store managers often start in a sales role and are promoted after having several years of experience under their belt and demonstrating leadership ability. Workers can also earn a management-related degree that can help them enter into this role with less experience. Responsibilities include staff supervision and administrative and financial tasks. 

Store operators are in charge of overall store operations and profits. According to the NRF Foundation, the research and education division of the National Retail Federation, sample job titles include head of store operations, regional manager and district manager, and responsibilities include managing staff functions such as loss prevention and human resources.

2. Buying/planning
As a buyer, you're responsible for sourcing and purchasing merchandise for your stores. You handle the process from beginning to end, from ordering, to following up, to allocating products to stores as needed. You also follow and analyze market trends to anticipate customer needs and purchasing behaviors. Prior retail experience is usually required, and strong analytical experience and computer skills are important. Also, having a bachelor's degree in marketing, retail or fashion can help increase your chances of landing this role.

3. IT and e-commerce
Information technology is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S. Often, job seekers don't think of IT and retail as going together, but with the advancement of technology used for inventory, training and cashier systems, retail-related IT jobs are plentiful. Also, as more companies move to e-commerce as a main source of revenue, Web developers and designers are needed to build e-commerce into companies' websites. If you're an IT professional who has past experience in retail, you'll give yourself an edge over the competition.

4. Visual merchandising
While the average consumer shopping at a store may not realize it, a lot of planning goes into the look, position and message of the store's displays. The setup of a store can help increase its profit, and visual merchandisers are responsible for developing and executing the floor plans. Experience in retail sales is often helpful, since you'll have a sense of what drives customers to purchase products. According to, students can earn either an associate or bachelor's degree in visual merchandising, where they can learn both technical skills and marketing and business practices needed for their career. 

5. Distribution, logistics or supply-chain management
According to the NRFF, these workers oversee movement and storage of consumer products. Responsibilities include management and facilitation of distribution centers, logistics traffic management, trucking and other transportation operations. The role may also include import/export shipping and related duties.

For more information on retail careers, including available jobs, visit

Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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