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At a Glance... header image

Sales, Retail & Purchasing

Sales are at the very heart of this sector, with every single business involved in selling either a product or a service. Retail occupies a significant area and the career opportunities are not just about stacking shelves and ringing tills - retail careers cover everything from chocolate taster to fashion buyer. When people talk about retail jobs they automatically think 'sales assistant' but there are many others, from food buyer to visual merchandiser or window designer creating attractive displays.


As with other industry sectors, the sales, retail and purchasing sector has advanced to become highly technologically intensive. It makes significant use of information, communications and other technologies, to optimise the flow of goods from producers to consumers and analysing consumer buying trends to inform purchasing needs.

Ireland's retail sector continues to predominantly be made up of small, indigenous companies, but many large, international retail chains have opened here in the last 10 years too. There are some 37,400 active wholesale and retail enterprises with around 285,000 employees. The retail sector accounts for 23% of Ireland's total tax receipts.

Opportunities with Irish in this Sector
Retail Sales header image

Retail is the aspect of sales that is directed at people (consumers) through on street shopfronts, department stores, retail parks and increasongly, through onlone sales outlets.

Retail includes a wide range of goods from Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) i.e. products that are sold quickly and at relatively low cost (e.g. non-durable goods such as soft drinks, toiletries, and grocery items), to clothes, shoes, books, furniture, flooring and electrical goods, to hardware, gifts, jewellery and cars.

In the last 10 years we have seen many international chain stores and larger sized retail outlets opening here, but Ireland's retail sector also has many small, indigenous companies. 

Retail is Ireland's largest employer bar none, with over 280,000 people working in the area, representing 14% of the total workforce. 70% of all retail jobs are located outside of DublinSource: IBEC/Retail Ireland, Strategy for Retail 2017-2020.

Did you know ...
The average grocery retail manager earns more than fully qualified accountants & solicitors!
Retail Excellence Ireland

Retail success is based on having the right products, in the right places, at the right price. A wide range of Business Support Functions in the retail sector are dedicated to ensuring that this is the case - Buying, Supply Chain Management, Logistics, IT, Human Resources (HR), Marketing, Data Mining, Finance and Legal roles.


The breadth of career opportunities available across the retail sector is extensive - from entry level store assistant roles, to a broad range of business support occupations. Retail also employs many highly skilled professionals including accountants, actuaries, solicitors, food scientists, data analysts, HR professionals, traders, web designers, horticulturalists and psychologists.

Changes in the Retail Sector

The retail sector has become technologically intensive, with a significant focus now on ICT and data analytics to optimise the flow of goods from producers to consumers. Automation, in the shape of new in-store technologies, is continuing to grow, with an inevitable impact on consumers, on retailers and on employees.

For the retail workforce, the move towards greater automation will have implications for the number and nature of job roles available in stores, but will also see the creation of new roles in a range of areas including IT, Marketing and Customer Service.

"As technology and consumer behaviour changes, retail is undergoing a fundamental transition which is already changing the nature of the skills required and roles available in retail across a range of areas including customer service, buying, HR, technology, communications, sales, logistics, analytics, marketing, finance and management."
Retail Ireland

Sales occupations include sales or store assistants, retail cash desk and check-out operators, as well as petrol pump forecourt attendants. People working in these occupations interact directly with the customer. They are the people who make the sale happen.

Retail Sales Assistants - More than half of employment in all sales related occupations is accounted for by sales assistants. With an employment level of 126,500, this is the single most populated occupation in the economy. These positions are typically entry point jobs into careers in retail, though some workers choose to spend their professional lives here, particularly in high-end, commission-based sales areas like jewellery, appliances, and others. Frontline sales experience is highly valued and many retailers promote from within.

The level of skills required varies by individual employers but at its core, people working in sales need to have a pleasant personality, lots of patience, good selling skills and a good knowledge of their products.

Getting into Retail
Training for a career in sales and retail is generally provided through work experience and training on the job. SOLAS provide a range of courses in Retail Skills from Level 3 or 4 to Level 6, to train people in the role of sales representative and retail sales.

A number of PLC Colleges around the country provide awards at Level 5 and Level 6 in various areas of Retail Practice. Most business studies courses focus on aspects of sales and marketing and the IT colleges nationwide offer more specialised courses in Retail Sales and Management at Level 6 upwards.

Retail Management - Retail sales jobs often form part of a career extending into Management - e.g. Customer Care, Store Supervisor, Trainee Manager, Store/Department Manager, Regional Manager.

The retail store manager or management team has responsibility ranging from running a department within a store, to running the overall establishment. Managers at all levels supervise and assist sales assistants and other employees. Additional responsibilities, depending on store/company size and management level, include opening and closing the store, staffing, administration, and financial functions. 

Top level jobs in retail include: Managing Director; Marketing Director; Chief Operating Officer; Head of Retail; Financial Director; Commercial Director; HR Director; Divisional Director; Head of Supply Chain; and Procurement Director.

Getting into Retail Management

Promotions to management positions can be earned through experience, or a college-degree may provide direct entry to a management trainee programme. Many graduate training programmes offer the opportunity to experience different aspects of the business before deciding on the most suitable career path for you. A number of colleges around the country provide certified education and training programmes aimed at people working as retail managers. Explore the course menus on the right of this page for detailed information.

Human Resources (HR) - The recruitment, development and retention of staff is vital in the overall performance of a business. Most large organisations, including retail chains, employ a HR Manger or HR Managment Team. The role stretches into a wide range of staff related areas including: recruitment and training of staff; policies and procedures; career development; remuneration and benefits; employee and industrial relations; employment law and compliance; disciplinary and grievance issues; and such areas as redundancy. The HR Manager must keep up to date with any changes in employment law, and related policy areas, that may effect the company.

Getting into HR
Typical entry routes normally require a Degree, although a wide variety of degree types are acceptable, e.g. Business Studies, Public Administration, Psychology, Law, Social Studies and Economics. A Professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) is also acceptable. Entry level jobs include HR administration. In some organisations, HR staff work their way up to the role, based on experience and internal training.

Marketing - Marketing, advertising and Public Relations (PR) are all career areas that are about promoting the goods and services of an organisation.  The marketing professional's job is to create, manage, and enhance brands, towards increasing sales. Marketing overlaps into the areas of advertising, media planning, and sales strategies.  These are key areas in retail. Careers in this area of retail include Marketing Executive, Product Marketing Manager, Marketing Advisor, and Market Researcher.

Getting into Marketing
Positions in Marketing and PR can be either in-house, or with an outside agency. Marketing and PR have become very competitive sectors, so having a qualification is becoming increasingly important. Degrees in marketing, communications, business management, PR or information systems will give the competitive edge. Generalist degrees such as English may be useful too, and Languages can have significant added value for roles with international retailers. 

Merchandising - Retail merchandisers are typically employed by manufacturers to liaise with the retailers that are selling the manufacturer's products. The role of the merchandiser is to work with the retailer to maximise product sales and increase sales volume for the company. In larger companies, merchandisers may be employed in-house. They work alongside Buyers, to analyse historical sales, stock information and sales trends, and to forecast future stock and sales requirements.

Visual merchandising involves the presentation of products to potential customers. This role supports the sales efforts of retailers by presenting the visual look of the shop or outlet, and the merchandise, or products it has for sale. Visual merchandisers are typically employed in-house in larger retailers, or may be contracted in from agencies by smaller outlets. Their role is to ensure that the products are displayed appropriately, with proper signage, and the use of effective displays and point of sale material, in order to encourage initial or repeat purchases.

Getting into Merchandising
Entry routes include in-house promotion from the shop floor up, or completion of a qualification in a business related area and participation in a graduate training programme.

Information Technology - Technological innovation has played a central role in the wholesale and retail sector in such areas as productivity improvements, effective marketing decisions, stock control, matching staffing levels to workload, decisions on product location and space utilisation, customer payment methods etc. The IT department plays a significant role in modern retailers. IT support, keeping the networks active or rolling-out a new system for the entire business are challenging and exciting areas in retail.

Technology careers linked to retail and purchasing are numerous and varied. From the e-commerce websites that complement most bricks and mortar stores, to complex computer systems, from technology driven training programs delivered over satellites or the Internet to state-of-the art cash registers and point-of-sale systems. Web design of on-line retail outlets is also a growing area as are computer network management systems.

Getting into IT in the Retail sector
You typically need to have a suitable IT qualification and a business-focused perspective. An internship is a good place to start in order to gain some relevant experience. Some larger retailers have graduate recruitment programmes with IT/Information Systems positions available.

Data Analysis - Data analysis is also known as predictive analytics, or data mining. It is a tool widely used in the modern retail sector. To stay competitive, retailers need to understand both current consumer behavior, and to predict future consumer behavior. Accurate prediction and understanding of customer behavior is what helps retailers to keep their customers, improve sales, and extend the relationship they have with their customers. Large retailers use predictive analysis through data mining, to gain insight across the organisation and make informed decisions for the future of the business, based on that information and analysis.  

Financial functions play a vital business support role for all retailers. Two key areas are prominent in the retail sector:

  • Reporting of financial information to internal management and external regulatory bodies - The central finance function
  • Analysing the figures reported by central finance teams to measure performance and make strategic recommendations - The commercial finance side 

Monitoring sales performance, analysing the results of product promotions, or looking at turnover of individual stores - large retailers typically have individual finance teams who support the different areas within the business. Key areas of work include financial year ends, when finance departments are required to meet regulatory and budgetary requirements.

Getting into Finance in the Retail Sector
Entrants to this career area typically hold business, finance or maths-related degrees. It is possible to enter the field with any degree background, for someone with an analytical mindset who is comfortable with numbers. Some large retailers offer entry opportunities via graduate training programmes and may provide the chance to work towards a professional qualification over a number of years e.g. CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).

Law and Legal - Legal services required by retailers include areas of the law relating to regulation; compliance; competition; properety and conveyancing; employment; health and safety; website trading and data protection. Retailers who operate in multiple jurisdictions may require local legal knowledge, or advice on international expansion, in areas of acquisition, concessions, franchising etc. 

The larger retailers typically have in-house legal departments, or directly-employed legal specialists. Smaller companies may buy-in necessary legal expertise as required. Entry routes to this area include the typical Law Degree route, or a Business Degree with Graduate specialism in an area of value to the sector, e.g compliance.

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Purchasing header image

Purchasing and supply chain management are important roles for any business or organisation.

Purchasing is about sourcing and buying the goods and services needed by the company. More than two thirds of revenue can be spent on buying, meaning that the purchasing manager can make a real difference in cost saving and profit, whether its retail stock, or the raw materials for production, general supplies for offices and facilities, equipment for the services industry, or materials for construction contracts. 

Retail businesses depend on profit from sales to survive so purchasing is hugely significant. Large retail companies may have a Purchasing department. The Purchasing Manager often supervises a team of purchasing agents and buyers. This can be on local, regional national or even worldwide basis. In smaller retail businesses, the Purchasing Manager may also be the purchasing agent or buyer.

Purchasing may include:

  • Seeking reliable vendors or suppliers to provide quality goods at reasonable prices
  • Negotiating prices and contracts with suppliers
  • Reviewing technical specifications for raw materials, components, equipment or buildings
  • Determining the quantity required and the timing of deliveries

Getting into Purchasing

Whilst it may be possible to start your career in retail as a school-leaver and learn on the job, choosing to move into the area of purchasing, the graduate route is now more typical.

Employers value high-calibre entrants with either a general business degree, or specialist purchasing and supply certification.

There are a range of general business programmes available, as well as programmes specific to retail. A number of PLC Colleges around the country provide awards at Level 5 and Level 6 in various areas of Retail Practice. Most business studies courses focus on aspects of sales and marketing and the IT colleges nationwide offer more specialised courses in Retail Sales and Management at Level 6 upwards.

Part-time Courses in Purchasing and Procurement* at QQI levels 6,7, and 8 are also available.

[*Procurement embraces purchasing, materials management, logistics, supply chain management and strategic sourcing.]  See IIPMM - Irish Institute for Purchasing & Materials Management. 

A major trend in retail and wholesale has been ever more effective and efficient Supply Chain Management. Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) is an approach to improving supply chain management so as to get the goods to the consumer in a highly efficient manner, and without waste. ECR relies heavily on information and communications technology, and in many cases, on the physical redesign of the supply chain. Consequently, most goods are now delivered in large quantities to central distribution centres, where they were previously delivered directly to stores in smaller quantities. 

The Supply Chain manager is engaged in every facet of the business process – planning, purchasing, production, transportation, storage, distribution, customer service, and more. The supply chain manager is responsible for ensuring that every step happens flawlessly, so the company can make the maximum profit from the sale of products.

Logistics links the whole process of getting a product to the consumer, from obtaining the raw materials, through to delivering the finished goods to the supplier. Logistics management is recognised today as one of the most important factors in making companies efficient and competitive. 

Logistics and Transport managers are typically responsible for overseeing the execution, direction, and coordination of all transportation related items within the organisation. This may include budget management, organising and scheduling routes, fleet safety, meeting any legal requirements for transport vehicles, ensuring that drivers are aware of their duties.
[The wider Transport and Logistics Sector is presented in detail here.]

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Telesales header image

Retailing is no longer exclusive to shop floors and showrooms. Telesales, Mail order, Online sales and e-commerce have dramatically changed the nature of retail sales in recent years. 

Telesales is a method of selling in which a salesperson engages with possible customers to buy products or services over the phone.

Telesales representatives work as part of a sales team. They contact customers directly by telephone to make sales. They may also support the field sales representatives of their company by setting appointments. Telesales may be done from a company office, from a call centre, or from home. 

An effective telesales process often involves two or more calls. The first call (or series of calls) determines the customer’s needs. The final call (or series of calls) motivates the customer to make a purchase. Telesales staff are required to log all call details so as to avoid any confusion with their clients.

There are many routes of entry to this job. Typically, thorough on-the-job training in such areas as product knowledge, selling by telephone and customer care/service is given by the company.

Courses in sales and marketing are available nationally, from Level 5 upwards. In today's competitive job market, languages are give candidates the competitive edge.
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e-Commerce header image

Supermarkets now offer 'You shop, we drop' services; High street retailers are offering their products online, as well as on the shop floor; 'Click and collect' sales are growing significantly; online only retailers like Amazon have changed the face of the book buying and music sales marketplace.

Alongside these developments, new jobs and roles in retail sales are emerging. It is widely believed that the salesperson will always be in demand - the person cannot be replaced by a computer. But, while many businesses use the Internet for marketing and other operations, not all companies hire people to act as sales representatives. Their sales are generated by attracting consumers to the online website.

UPC report, 'Ireland’s Digital Future', shows that there are 2.6 million online shoppers in Ireland. Irish consumers will spend €5.7bn online.

The UPC research showed that eight out of every ten internet users use the web to research products they are interested in buying, but then buy them locally in Irish shops.

It swings the other way too, with six in every ten Irish internet users visiting their local stores to research products they are interested in, but then purchasing online, often at significant cost savings. 

CSO figures indicate that 24% of Irish enterprises now use the internet for a proportion of sales via e-commerce.

Source: The Second UPC Report 'Ireland's Digital Future - Accelerating Economic Recovery' - available here

Job roles in Online Selling

Sales personnel traditionally required strong communication skills in order to work most effectively with customers. The Internet salesperson need to be Internet savvy and have good computer skills as well strong organisational skills to keep track of all sales leads and to keep the website data up-to-date.

Job titles such as Internet Sales Co-ordinator or Internet Sales Specialist are in use. Job roles within online retailers such as eBay, So Sell It, or Done Deal range from IT development to customer care. Language skills are highly valued in online selling and are currently in big demand.

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Wholesaling header image

Retail is the part of the chain of production that includes manufacturing, supply, distribution and consumption - the aspect of sales that is directed at people (consumers). Some businesses are involved in wholesale i.e. selling to other companies. This could be in the form of supplying them parts for the product they are manufacturing. It may involve selling a service needed by the business, such as marketing or advertising expertise, a cleaning service, training services or computer back-up services.

Both the wholesaler and the retailer are extensions of the manufacturing process. Wholesalers act as middlemen between the manufacturers and the retailers. Typically, wholesalers buy products in large quantities from manufacturers and sell the items on to retailers who in turn sell the items one at a time or in small quantities to the consumer.

Often the wholesaler maintains a warehouse or distribution point to receive and store products from manufacturers. The wholesaler keeps an inventory and then takes orders and ships the products to the retail outlets or stores.

In return for providing this service to the manufacturer, the wholesaler adds a markup to the manufacturer's price before selling products to the retailer. In turn, the retailer marks up the product a second time before selling it to the consumer. In return for distribution rights, both the wholesaler and retailer usually agree to allow the manufacturer to set the minimum retail price.

Established wholesalers spend most of their time tracking shipments and managing orders. Those entering the business will be focussed on lining up manufacturers to represent and finding retail outlets to supply.

Key trends impacting the wholesale business today are the internet and off-shore manufacturing.

The internet provides an opportunity for many manufacturers to cut out the wholesaler completely and sell directly to the public via sites such as or, or via the manufacturers own website.

At the same time, the huge transition of manufacturing to Asia, has resulted in the severing of established wholesale distribution channels and the creation of new ones, thus creating new wholesaling opportunities for new players in the field.
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