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Retail, sales and consumer goods industry overview

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator
A fast pace leads to fast progression for graduates who have got the goods.

Retail is one of Australia’s hotbeds of economy, with e-commerce setting the pace for brick-and-mortar stores in recent years — as you may have heard Gerry Harvey talking about on the news once or twice. The sale of consumer goods lining the aisles (or webpage tiles) of stores is used as a real-time indicator of financial upswing or downturn, as this fast-paced sector reacts instantaneously to the market. While consumer needs may vary, the need to produce consumer goods is consistent.

Graduates may find themselves working across functions such as marketing, finance, IT, research and development, and quality assurance. This could be for a ma-and-pa small business or a global brand with instant recognition (and same day delivery). People who like seeing innovation and change happen fast will enjoy working in retail and consumer goods, where your work is likely to be highly visible quite quickly.

With companies vying for consumer attention, there is a need for constant innovation, especially in product design and marketing. Steve Jobs famously reinvented Apple’s packaging to become a showstopper in itself, lending further excitement to the experience of unwrapping an exciting new good. This kind of ‘user experience’ has become a way for brands to set themselves apart from each other, while delighting the end customer. Manufacturing customer delight is serious business, and grads who have this kind of ‘empathy’ from the get-go will do well in this sector.

The average entry-level package in this sector is $67,500 and grads are expected to work on average 45 hours per week, making this a fairly hard-working group dollar for dollar.

Job market outlook

Asked to describe their top concerns for the coming year, consumer goods CEOs listed shifts in consumer spending and behaviour, tax burdens, exchange rate volatility and overregulation. Unfortunately, these are the type of challenges that are not always easy for a CEO to counteract with a simple change in strategy.

This has an impact on the industry at large, and it would be careless to ignore these concerns in a graduate industry outlook, but there are some key ways that the industry is responding: sharpening focus to key performing products, moving to direct-to-customer modelsdownsizing stores and closing brick-and-mortar in favour of online altogetherpersonalising and localising chain stores, and embracing social issues to create a feelgood factor.

Graduates that can adapt to change and work within a lean challenger business, or dream up solutions to problems faced by traditional brands and stores, will ensure their employability and longevity in an industry that has been changed dramatically by technological innovation.

Globalisation is giving small challenger businesses and niche producers everywhere the chance to do well, as consumer bases spread further and wider across the internet-connected world.

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    How to get hired

    Recruiters expect candidates to have a good knowledge of their brands, and very importantly a comprehensive understanding of their competitors and the overall market environment.

    Recent graduates who were successful in landing a graduate role suggest the following tips for success:

    1. Thoroughly research the company and the role, applying this insight to your responses and questions posed during your interviews.
    2. Network with someone within the organisation prior to applying. This will help give you an accurate understanding of the role and what is expected of you.
    3. Know the organisation’s core values.
    4. If you are applying for a retail position, visit a store before your interview.
    5. Be prepared to demonstrate your leadership skills and experience.

    Key skills you need

    Technological aptitude

    Being tech-friendly is a prerequisite of almost any role now, but especially in the retail sector as products and services become increasingly complex and web-based.


    Working in this space requires a certain amount of savvy — buying and selling is a game where everyone’s in it to win it, and you need to know the rules.


    When you are tasked with sating (and sometimes creating!) a need or solving a problem, it takes imagination to dream up a solution in the form of a product or service that your new customer desperately needs and will pay top dollar for.

    Alternatives to retail and consumer goods

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