Five insider tips for grads who want to make it in retail

How do you ensure that your graduate position is merely the first step towards a professional life you can be proud of?
Elise Tornos
Team GradAustralia

What does it take to really make something of your career in retail? How do you ensure that your graduate position is merely the first step towards a professional life you can be proud of? We’ve done the research, sourcing answers to these questions, and others, from some of the world’s retail leaders (as well as a couple of grads from closer to home). Read on to discover six tips that will help your retail career flourish.


Build a great experience

Jeff Bezos is reported to have said that “if you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” Customer perceptions are at the heart of the retail industry, and entire careers, like those in marketing and social media, are built around managing them. As a grad, it’s important to show that you’ve analysed your decisions from multiple perspectives: “what does taking this action mean for customers?” Demonstrating that you’ve taken such considerations into account is a great way to make positive contributions while enhancing your credibility.


Focus on long-term customer relationships

Here’s what Ron Johnson, former vice-president of retail for Apple, had to say when asked what makes Apple stores so appealing to consumers: “[We] figure out what you need and help you get it,... Cross-selling and upselling [...] doesn’t deepen the retailer's relationship with [customers]. It just makes their wallets lighter.”

The important point here is Johnson’s emphasis on the creation of long-term customer relationships. Sometimes, this requires you to make a connection at the expense of making a sale—this strategy almost always pays dividends in the long run, and is worth keeping in mind if you intend to pursue a career in marketing or management.


Be prepared to work hard

You mightn’t have heard of Roy Kroc, but you’ve definitely heard of his business: McDonald's. Reflecting on his successful leadership of the world’s most successful fast-food retailer, Kroc said this: "Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get."

It’s a weird metaphor, yes, but Kroc’s central point is correct: you succeed in retail by attracting customers, beating the competition, securing deals, understanding the market, making bold business decisions, and a host of other things that are fundamentally difficult. As a retail worker, and perhaps especially as a grad, you’ll need to be prepared to work hard.


Don’t neglect your soft skills

Harrison Ashton, whose full profile you can read here, secured a graduate role as a management trainee at L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company. When asked what it takes to succeed in his role, he replied “it takes personality and guts, not just knowledge of marketing or business.”

While ‘personality’ is hard to learn, you can acquire ‘soft skills’ to help you come across as more approachable, more invested in customers, and better at communicating. So don’t neglect your interpersonal skills, or miss opportunities to improve as a listener or presenter—these skills are vital in retail.


Say yes

John Milne is a retail operations manager for Coles, one of Australia’s two largest supermarket chains. In his GradAustralia profile, he encourages graduates to be open to new opportunities, but also cautions them against wasting time. “Say yes to things but be bold enough to ask what you are going to get out of it,” he says. “It not only helps you but also shows others that you take your career seriously.”