Are you enjoying Bright Network?

A Bright Guide to: Graduate roles in Consumer & Retail

Book open Reading time: 6 mins

Though you’ve been buying things for years, it may not have occurred to you how much work goes on behind the scenes of the Consumer & Retail sector.  This diverse industry offers a huge range of opportunities for graduates. Rewards can be high, but this fast moving industry demands hard work and quick learning from newcomers.

Join the UK's number-one graduate careers network

Becoming a Bright Network member is free and easy - sign up to get exclusive access to jobs, events, networking opportunities, advice and more.

Potential career paths you could take

The retail & consumer sector has many career options for graduates. Each one requires a different skill set. We've broken down the main areas to help you see the paths on offer.

Depending on your role, your projects and actions can have very tangible consequences on the fortunes of the business and the modern-day consumer. 

1. Buying & Merchandising - with a head for numbers and an ability to predict future trends in this fast-paced industry, you could excel in this creative and analytical role. Read more

2. Operations & Supply Chain - at the heart of any successful UK or global consumer business, is a highly organised operations and supply chain department. Read more

3. Business Management - follow in the footsteps of former M&S boss, Sir Stuart Rose and start your graduate career in management. Read more 

Why work in this sector?

This sector is at the heart of our consumer society. By working at a globally recognised brand you have the potential to have an impact on the daily lives of not just mass consumers, but your own friends and families. Depending on your role, your projects and actions can have very tangible consequences on the fortunes of the business and the modern-day consumer. 

Pentland Brands, owner of such brands as Speedo, Berghaus, Kickers and Canterbury of New Zealand, was named one of the UK's best places to work by the Great Place to Work Institute.

Take for example, Sir Terry Leahy, former Chief Executive of Tesco. Sir Terry started his career in the marketing department and is credited with implementing the Tesco Clubcard loyalty programme and monitoring consumers actions to create a better customer journey.

This universally successful strategy, which marked a fundamental shift in Tesco's fortunes, putting it way ahead of its previously more successful competitors - Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer, paved the way for a new direction not just at Tesco but within the whole retail and consumer industry. Soon every brand was developing some kind of customer loyalty card scheme. In 2005 Tesco announced profits of £2billion and Sir Terry is regarded as one of the UK's leading business minds.  

Build your career skills with Bright Network Academy

Learn everything you need to know before you head to work with these free e-learning courses. Discover everything from how to develop your transferable and digital skills to how to smash the application process. 

Salaries, benefits and job satisfaction

The sector is also a leading contender for job satisfaction with a better work/life balance than some sectors, but more importantly it is an industry with tangible results in real life. A graduate can see the direct consequences of their work as they see customers using their products.

Salary can be varied, but while starting salaries are often lower than say Finance and Consulting, the pay out further up the scale can be huge. The highest paid CEO of the FTSE 100 in 2013 was in retail and she received £17 million for her work.

The best paid boss on the FTSE 100 in 2013 was Angela Ahrendts, then CEO of Burberry. She is now Head of Retail at Apple.

With half of Bright Network members wanting to work for an international company and 17% want to work abroad after graduation, this sector is an attractive option for doing so. 

A number of Retail & Consumer organisations can often offer secondments and lateral movements to offices abroad, or allow you to specialise in areas such as Supply Chain Management which will entail travel and research into foreign suppliers. Therefore, it can be a good option for language students who want to make use of what they have learnt.


Retail is for those who want to work right on the front line of a business. Therefore, retail graduate schemes can be the way to acquiring a lot of responsibility very quickly, with the possibility of managing a department or even an entire store within a year.

Good communication and organisational skills are essential for this area, dealing with customers and managing a team while keeping track of relevant sales targets, stock, staffing levels and regulations.

Logistics and Supply Chain

This sector is primarily concerned with the transport of goods. The challenges can vary greatly depending on what you’re moving. Be prepared for a lot of travel, unsurprisingly, as you get to know different parts of the supply chain from supplier to warehouse to store.

Graduate schemes in logistics and supply chain tend to be very hands-on, learning about the various stages of the business. This scheme is well suited to those who love planning and strategies behind the scenes.


Like the finance industry itself, finance departments in the retail sector look for sharp, analytical minds to manage this crucial part of the business. Expect to be working with a lot of data to analyse performance, set targets and manage growth.

Strong commercial awareness and a good degree will be essential when joining the industry, but expect to be supported throughout your training with professional qualifications and mentoring.


The most creative-focused area of retail and one that can offer quick progression depending on the organisation you join. This is an area based on ideas and effective implementation.

You will be involved in creating and delivering campaigns to drive sales and profits, working with Buying departments to create awareness and demand for new products and reach your targets.

Marketing is all about drawing in the crowds so if you think you know how people tick and are good at spotting clever marketing tricks, this could be for you.

An introduction to Marketing & PR


More than just picking what you like, Buying is a question of strategy and knowing what will appeal to customers; the retail industry is product-led so these choices are crucial to the success of the business.

The beginning of the job will involve data analysis to see what is successful, both in your own store and amongst your competitors. As you progress you will take on more responsibility and possibly become specialised in certain product areas. You will need analytical, communications and, eventually, negotiation skills to get ahead in Buying.


Technology is now an essential part of every business and often the key to staying competitive in crowded markets. It also touches every other part of the business, whether you are developing analysis software to track sales or automating parts of the logistics process.

Excellent communication skills will be important, as well as a passion for developing business using innovative techological systems.

An introduction to Technology: Consulting & Projecting Management

An introduction to Technology: IT & Software Development

Human Resources

Every business relies on its people and HR departments are at the heart of the workforce. You’ll be dealing with tasks such as hiring, spotting up and coming talent, managing people and measuring and improving performance.

While liking people is a useful attribute in this sector, it is important to remember that it all has to relate to the overall success of the business and you may well manage redundancies and disciplinary processes in your career.

The retail sector can function as a microcosm of the entire job market; whichever job you might be interested in, it is likely that you can pursue it in retail.

Ready to kick-start your consumer and retail career?

Take a look at the latest consumer, retail and FMCG jobs and browse graduate jobs today to get started.