Careers in Retail

Careers in the retail industry are diverse and varied. You will be working with a wide range of people, so must enjoy engaging with others.

 Working in the retail industry is not just about being a sales assistant – it can provide you with lots of options for an interesting, long-term career with excellent prospects for progression.

  • Sales Assistant
  • Area/Regional Manager
  • Buyer
  • Department Manager
  • Merchandise Planner
  • Store Manager
  • Visual Merchandiser


Sales Assistant

Sales assistants in the retail industry can work in all types of retail outlets, from small specialty retailers to large department stores.
Sales assistants are often required to work flexible hours, including late nights and weekends.

The specific tasks performed by a sales assistant will vary according to the retailer they work for. As a retail sales assistant you will be responsible for:

  • Assisting customers to locate merchandise and advising them on the price, use, and care of merchandise 
  • Developing detailed knowledge of products and services offered by the store to enable them to assist customers 
  • Advising customers on the features and benefits of products to assist them to make a purchase 
  • Assisting customers with returns of faulty or unwanted goods 
  • Operating cash registers or point of sale terminals to accept payment
  • Wrapping and packaging goods for customers 
  • Arranging delivery, installation, service or repair of items 
  • Accepting deliveries and pricing stock 
  • Maintaining merchandise displays and the general neatness and appearance of the store 
  • Participating in stocktakes and re-ordering and replenishing stock.


Department Manager

Department managers plan and coordinate the operations of departments or sections of larger retail outlets. This may include the recruitment and management of staff, sales and customer service, and managing sales targets and budgets. They are often also responsible for the visual presentation of the department and its merchandise.

Department managers have contact with a wide range of people including customers, staff, suppliers and other department managers.
Most retailers require people in management positions to already have experience working in retail, and some may provide additional training, either on the job or off the job.


Retail Store Manager

Store managers plan and coordinate the operations of retail outlets. This may include the recruitment and management of staff, sales and customer service, managing sales targets and budgets, and developing stock management procedures. They are often also responsible for the visual presentation of the store and its merchandise.

Store managers have contact with a wide range of people including customers, staff, suppliers and other businesses. They work in a range of businesses including small retail outlets, supermarkets and food outlets, chain stores and department stores.

Most retailers require people in management positions to already have experience working in retail, and some may provide additional training, either on the job or off the job.


Visual Merchandiser

Visual merchandisers design the merchandising plan for a store or group of stores, in order to maximise sales opportunities by attracting the attention of customers. They may develop individual displays such as window, wall or point of sale displays, and floor plans and layouts. These can range from simple product stands at cash registers to more elaborate and creative window displays. As well as attracting customers, displays can also project the image of the store and target specific groups of customers.

Visual merchandisers usually work in consultation with others within an organisation, such as store staff and managers, marketing and promotions staff.

Some visual merchandisers may also be involved in developing a merchandising plan for a group of stores, including a schedule of displays and promotions, and instructions for others to implement the merchandising plan. They may also work on the practical elements such as making props and organising lighting.



Buyers source, select and purchase the goods that are sold in retail stores. They review current stock levels, sales patterns and their competitors’ ranges of stock to plan future stock. They can determine everything from stock levels to the product range. Keeping up to date with new products on the market is very important, and retail buyers need to do research and attend trade shows to keep ahead of future trends. This may involve travel to find the most suitable goods for the industry and for seasonal trends, sometimes interstate and overseas.

Buyers often work with visual merchandisers and store managers to determine the best display and promotion methods for products to maximise sales. To support sales they also work with shop sales staff to develop their product knowledge. They may decide on product pricing, after being involved in negotiating purchase prices from suppliers.


Merchandise Planner

Merchandise planners assess, plan and predict stock needs for stores. They are responsible for increasing sales and profit by determining what products, and mix of products, stores should sell. To achieve this, they work with buyers, store managers and marketing staff to hit financial targets. In some stores the merchandise planner may also be known as a buyer.


What are the career opportunities?

The retail industry is the largest employer of young people in Australia. More than 1,000,000 people are employed in the retail industry, and the industry is expected to continue to grow.  It has been estimated that in the next few years, over 22% of all new jobs in Australia will be in retail. In the retail industry, enthusiasm, hard work and performance are rewarded, and many employers in the industry offer opportunities for advancement from the shop floor.

The most common role is in customer service or sales, as a sales assistant or cashier. However, the possibilities expand from there. Many people work their way up the ladder to management or supervisory positions, where they have responsibility for other staff members and the performance of the team. Other options include more specialised areas such as buying, merchandising, marketing, operations and human resources. Usually, these specialised roles are held by more experienced employees with specific skills and training in the area they will be working in.

Download The Job I Love, our careers guide to the service industries

What training do you need?

It is not essential to have formal qualifications in order to work within the industry, but formal training can help build your skills and your career options.  There are a number of nationally recognised qualifications available within the industry:

Certificate II in Retail looks at aspects that are specific to the retail environment such as how to operate retail equipment, how to interact with customers and how to handle point of sales. It has been designed as the standard entry level qualification for the retail sector and will help individuals wishing to develop their skills and knowledge to begin a career in the retail industry. You may work with some autonomy or in a team but usually under close supervision.

Certificate III in Retail is for people who want to work in retail operations and/or supervision. You will learn how to maintain store safety and security and build relationships with customers. Work would be undertaken in various retail store settings, such as specialty stores, supermarkets, department stores and retail fast food outlets. You may have some responsibility for others and provide or hold specific coordination or support responsibilities within a store team.

Certificate IV in Retail Management  prepares the individual to be competent in the first line management skills, working in the retail and/or wholesale industries. It applies to those who are managing a small retail outlet, a section or department within a larger retail store, a small wholesale outlet, or a section or department within a larger wholesale business.

Diploma of Retail Management provides skills and knowledge required by those who hold or wish to hold higher management positions. It applies to those who are providing support to senior management in a larger retail or wholesale outlet or being responsible for the management of a retail store or wholesale outlet.


More information

Service Skills South Australia have created a Retail Executive website to provide information on careers in the retail industry for students, employers, employees, parents and teachers. The website includes details on the Retail Executive Program, employment opportunities, career pathways, characteristics of the industry and counters the myths associated with the retail profession. Further information

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is a national organisation providing advice to those working or wanting to work in the Retail industry, and provide membership for those working within the retail industry. Their website contains information on education, advocacy, services and membership. More information can be found at:

The National Retailers Association (NRA) is another national industry organisation which provides professional services to the retail industry, those working within or wanting to work within the industry. The NRA website provides advice on member benefits, training, information on Group Training Organisations and public affairs. More information can be found at:

The Retail Seed website is another useful website by Westfield about careers in retail. The website provides information on training courses, professional development courses, and much more. More information can be found at

The Shop, Distributive and Allied (SDA) Employees Association is the largest trade union in Australia, with more than 230,000 members. SDA can provide information about working in the retail industry

Retail Manager and Visual Merchandiser Career Videos