Moving Up in Retail

When you look around your store, you probably see several sales people, as well as cashiers, stock people, assistant managers, and store managers. Maybe you’ve thought there’s not much else to a career in retail—but there is. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, a whopping 44% of retail employees don’t work in sales!

If you think you’re ready to move up in retail, check out these five steps you can take to get there. If you’re not sure what your career in retail could look like, below are just some of the paths you could choose.


Store Manager

Regardless of your store’s size, you’ll do it all: hire and manage employees in every store position; oversee inventory and make sure it’s displayed properly; track sales; and much more.

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own store, then becoming a store manager can teach you just about everything you need to know to run your day-to-day operations.

What’s the path?

Typically, you can move from retail sales into supervising a department, becoming an assistant manager, and ultimately a store manager.

What skills will I need?

Store managers are well-rounded and have an interest in learning every aspect of the business. They’re highly organized. Perhaps most importantly, they are strong leaders with a gift for coaching and mentoring junior staff so that they can rise to their full potential.

Where can I go from here?

You can move up to a district or regional manager, where your job will include overseeing several stores on behalf of your company.

Visual Merchandiser

If you’ve got a good eye, this may be the path for you. As a visual merchandiser, you’ll be in charge of store displays—from dressing windows to organizing the layout of inventory on shelves and racks.

You’ll be looking at new inventory as it arrives and working with your company to identify products that deserve prominent display. A great visual merchandiser is often responsible for increasing sales.

What’s the path?

It varies by company. Some companies want each store to have its own visual merchandiser who will follow guidance on how to display products locally. Other companies want their virtual merchandisers to work out of corporate offices and travel to different stores across the country.

What skills will I need?

Visual merchandisers are highly creative, and, like the name suggests, highly visual. They may have a background in art or design—or they may just have a gift for it. Visual merchandisers create displays that are consistent from store-to-store and reflect their company’s overall brand and image.

Where can I go from here?

Down the line, you could find yourself supervising other visual merchandisers at the corporate level, and/or helping define your company’s visual brand.


If you’re fascinated by how a pineapple grown in Mexico ends up on the shelf of a supermarket in Chicago, then you might be a perfect buyer. As a buyer, you’ll work directly with wholesalers to negotiate how much inventory your stores need—and at what price you’ll buy it.

You’ll also work with your company’s finance department to identify the price at which your store will sell the product to customers. You may also help your company coordinate shipping logistics from the wholesaler to warehouses to each store. In large retail companies, there are many buyers who specialize in purchasing goods for different departments (e.g., women’s clothing, automotive parts, technology).

What’s the path?

If you’re working in a large retail chain, then buyers will probably be based in corporate offices. If you’re working for a store with only one or a few locations, then the buyer may be the owner or another employee trusted by the owner to make great choices.

What skills will I need?

A successful buyer needs strong communication and collaborative skills to work with vendors and wholesalers while meeting their company’s expectations. Buyers know what their store’s customers want, what they will be willing to pay for it, and what time of year they’re most likely to buy it. Buyers often travel frequently to find and inspect new products for their stores.

Where can I go from here?

Buyers can rise to oversee and manage other buyers in large retail chains. If, however, you like working for smaller boutique shops, you can take your skills and connections to other stores—or open one of your own!

Loss prevention specialist

More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years, according to the National Association to Prevent Shoplifting. That makes shoplifting a big business—and a big problem for retail.

As a loss prevention specialist or security guard, you’ll use a range of tactics and approaches to prevent or catch anyone trying to steal. You’ll work closely with law enforcement to enforce laws and prosecute offenders.

What’s the path?

Many loss prevention specialists come from a law enforcement or military background. If this description fits you, great! If not, talk with your store manager or corporate human resources office about the best approach for moving from retail sales into loss prevention.

What skills will I need?

The perfect candidate not only understands the retail environment but demonstrates exceptional attention to detail and a willingness to enact company policies appropriately and to the letter.

Where can I go from here?

You can move from store-level loss prevention to regional or corporate positions. At the corporate level, you’ll work to improve standard policies and procedures that every store will adopt.

Logistics or supply chain manager

Like a buyer, if you’re fascinated by how products move from their point of origin to a store shelf, then you’re fascinated by logistics—how products get from Point A to Point Z. Yes—Point Z, because logistics involves a lot of moving parts.

These are “behind-the-scenes” career positions because store customers never see the work happening. But these jobs are essential to ensure that inventory is on the shelves at just the right time. And now that millions of people prefer to purchase products online, the role of a logistics manager often involves home delivery and fulfillment as well.

What’s the path?

The stock room, where your primary task is to receive new inventory and move it to your store’s floor, may be the best place to start.

What skills will I need?

You’ll need to be comfortable learning and using IT (information technology) software to track inventory on a large scale. As a logistics or supply chain manager, you’ll also need to communicate well, multi-task (like crazy!), and problem-solve.

Where can I go from here?

You can move from your store’s stock room to a regional warehouse where you’ll ensure that stores in your area get the right products in the right quantity. Ultimately, at the corporate level, you might be tasked with improving the supply chain and the way your company moves goods from Point A to Point Z.


Every large retailer has corporate offices with the same kinds of positions that other corporations have to ensure smooth operations. Some of these positions include:

  • Quality Control

    Quality Control

    ensures that products are meeting company standards and monitors customer service policies.

  • Human Resources

    Human Resources

    oversees hiring and employment practices, policies, and procedures, as well as talent development and training.

  • Accounting


    takes care of how money is both spent (through purchasing inventory and the costs of running the business) and received (through sales of products).

  • Computer Programming and IT Solutions

    Computer Programming and IT Solutions

    uses technology to ensure that products are on store shelves or delivered to customers’ homes on time and in great condition.

  • Marketing


    promotes the company’s brand and products using real-world and online/digital platforms.


Interested in a move up the retail ladder? Here are five steps you can take to get going.


Do your current job—really well.

One of the best ways to establish a career in retail (or anything for that matter!) is to do what you’re doing right now to the best of your ability. Extra effort can help you get noticed by management and put you on the track for advancement.

Remember, even if you want to move to a different retail company, the extra effort you show at your current job may mean that your boss will be a positive reference for you down the line.


Research the next-level job(s) and career(s) you’re interested in.

Using the examples above, start with an online search to learn more about the jobs you think might be a good fit for you. Then, identify the companies in your area that you might enjoy working for (which may include the one you’re working for now!).

Visit retail stores in your area, and explore their websites. All of this research will help you find the next right job. Try SEEK if you haven’t explored it already.


Tell your manager that you’re ready to move up to a higher-level job.

Have an honest conversation about what you’re interested in doing—and what it would take to get you there with your current company.

Talk about how your manager perceives your qualifications. Ask about any skills that need to be developed to move forward, and get input on how your manager thinks you can build those skills. See if you can be assigned a mentor to help guide you and make suggestions.


Get more training if you need it.

Retail sales is a great way to build a core set of skills. It’s like paid on-the-job training, and it gives you a chance to practice what you learn. But you may still need to build other hard or soft skills to advance.

Your company might provide exactly the training you need. Another option? Your company might provide tuition benefits to help you take a course or complete a certificate or degree at a local community college. Many courses and programs are available online, including sites like Coursera or edX. Check out these and other resources.


Think about earning a credential.

You can show that you have the skills needed by earning a credential. Retail careers do not necessarily require a two- or four-year college degree.

Retailers also recognize the value of certificates, certifications, or even badges that are offered by educational or industry organizations. Earning a credential demonstrates that you have a certain level of knowledge and skills. See Retail Certifications and Credentials below.

With these steps under your belt, you’ll be ready to apply for your next great job in retail—either within your current company or a new one.


Here are some of the retail certifications and credentials that are recognized by the retail industry: