It is one of the obvious choices of part time job for many young people, and often their first experience of a workplace – spending every Saturday in a local Top Shop, tidying up jumpers, taking cash and credit card payments, figuring out how to get along with new colleagues, dealing with unhappy customers, showing up on time, dealing with incredibly quiet and incredibly busy periods. Most of these skills will set you up for life. But will they set you up for the future of work?
Retail has been gradually changing for a couple of decades, since the introduction of widely-available internet access. The mid-nineties saw Amazon emerge as a pioneer of online shopping, and they haven’t stopped growing since – now offering fresh groceries as well as same-day delivery. There are so many places to shop online now with discount offers available. For example, Kohl’s promotional code can give you access to lots of savings online. ASOS, the fashion brand originally devised to offer young people the clothes that celebrities wear, have similarly persevered, and now get more than half of their orders from mobile devices. We want convenience more than ever, and that means shopping wherever we are, not wherever the shops are. If we do go into brick-and-mortar stores, it’s often to browse or check sizing, before then buying the same thing online – a practice called ‘showrooming’.
At the same time as online shopping has grown, high street retail is declining – fast. Since the start of 2018 alone in the UK, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Mothercare, New Look, and Toys ‘R’ Us – all once mainstays of our high street – have announced either total or partial closure of high street stores, resulting in thousands upon thousands of job losses. Maplin and Poundworld are further examples of traditional retail being disrupted by convenience behaviours.
So where do you go next, if you’re one of these thousands and thousands of workers?
Well, redundancy can often lead to a reckoning of one’s life; an enforced status assessment.
Who am I? What do I want from life? How do I get there?
It can be an ideal opportunity to think about what you enjoyed about your job, and how you can apply those factors elsewhere.
Three ideas for retail-experienced workers
If you like the interaction with the public on a daily basis – the hospitality industry isn’t going anywhere. There’s a similar rout on high street restaurant chains, with Prezzo, Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian just a few examples of those who have closed numerous branches, so try hotels, independent restaurants, or bars instead, where you can get involved in management and hospitality tech trends.
Maybe what you enjoy is the aesthetic of the store; of working out what to put where in order to catch a customer’s eye, of how to best choose clothes for a mannequin. In that case, why not look into working in online retail? It incorporates those same tasks but in a very different way. You could learn about online merchandising, e-commerce analytics or UX design.
What if you just like to sell? That feeling of someone believing your recommendation, and making money for your company. Marketing is that, but on a bigger scale. Envisioning scenarios which would make your customers buy your product, working with teams who can put your ideas into practice, and watching those sales figures rise.
You might not want to stick to similar roles at all – it’s also an opportunity to completely change your outlook on work. The good news is that there are loads of resources out there to help you make up your mind.
First of all, listen to your gut; you might already know what you want to do next.
Talk to your friends and family – you could be surprised at the jobs they suggest, having known you for a long time. Take some competency tests at Stay Nimble to find out where your strengths lie, and find out the work people with your strengths do. Browse free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on sites like Udemy or FutureLearn to pick up some new knowledge. If studying appeals, have a look at university courses – new policies around offering fee and maintenance loans up to Masters level in the UK mean that lifelong learning opportunities are easier than ever.
Author: Katherine Stephen
Katherine is a qualified careers advisor and a member of the Career Development Institute. She has just begun a PhD programme to research meta-skill development in the workplace, and is a fiction editor and publisher in her spare time. You can find her on Twitter at @katobell.