Five myths about careers in retail (and why they’re not true)

Misconceptions about careers in the retail industry abound. In an effort to right the record, we’ve brought together the five most common retail myths along with the actual facts.
Elise Tornos
Team GradAustralia

The retail industry is like an iceberg, with shopfronts and outlets floating above the water, and the vast mechanism which support them mostly unseen. As a result, misconceptions about the retail industry abound. In an effort to right the record, we’ve brought together the five most common retail myths along with the actual facts.


1. Retail workers are mostly unskilled

It’s true that you don’t need a degree or any specific training to work ‘on the floor’ at most retail outlets; however, it’s also true that these unskilled jobs make up only a fraction of the roles found within the retail industry. Retailers also recruit people to jobs in areas like sales, marketing, public relations, human resources, IT, business planning, management, and logistics—and in most cases, these jobs do require a specific degree, if not extensive experience.


2. Most retail workers are teenagers or young adults

Walking around a local mall, it’s easy to get the impression that most retail workers are in high school, or only a few years out of it. However, a study by the Families and Work Institute has shown that the average age of retail employees is actually 37. This isn’t so surprising when you consider how many people work behind the scenes in roles related to finance, management, marketing, and more.


3. You can’t build a career in retail

This is perhaps the most misleading of the myths about retail—many see it as offering, at best, entry-level jobs that don’t really go anywhere. In fact, retailers often have complex organisational structures that, coupled with their tendency to hire internally, creates numerous opportunities for career advancement. One graduate profiled by GradAustralia now works in the retail industry, managing a $25 million business with 32,000 customers a week—and that’s in an entry-level role!


4. Online trading is going to kill the retail industry

It might seem that the rise of online giants like Amazon and eBay has made imminent the demise of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. However, a review of the data makes it clear that consumers still overwhelmingly prefer shopping from stores they can physically enter. In the US, for example, nine of the ten largest retailers are not online, with a CBRE report finding that 77% of younger consumers (members of ‘Generation Z’) actually prefer shopping offline.


5. Retail careers don’t pay well  

Sure, this may be true if you’re stacking shelves or being paid the award rate to provide customer service as a teenager. However, professionals in the retail industry—those in ‘back-end’ jobs related to HR, management, finance, and so on—earn salaries that are comparable to their counterparts in other sectors. In other words, pursuing a career in retail doesn’t mean giving up the dream of a six-figure salary. If you’re Jeff Bezos, it can even lead to you (briefly) becoming the richest person in the world.