Retail graduate programmes can provide a great start to a career in the sector. Combining work and on-the-job training, they're structured, salaried and offered by a range of big-name organisations
There are plenty of retail graduate schemes to choose from and the good news is that there are more employers in the retail sector prepared to accept graduates with a 2:2, than in other industries such as IT or law.
However, competition to gain a place on a retail scheme is fierce and you'll need to take advantage of every opportunity to impress potential employers.
Which companies run retail schemes?
A number of large, well-known retail companies offer graduate schemes, from clothing retail brands and supermarkets to homewear retailers and department stores.
Schemes are available in a variety of related areas such as digital, distribution, buying, finance, IT, management, merchandising, online and logistics and supply chain.
Organisations that run retail graduate schemes include:
- Aldi - provides an intensive year-long Graduate Area Manager Scheme.
- Amazon - offers a Retail Graduate Programme.
- Arcadia - owns brands such as Burton Menswear, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis. The company runs four graduate programmes, each with a focus on a particular business area, including buying, digital, finance and merchandising.
- Asda - two-and-a-half year graduate programmes are available in buying, data science, George fashion and finance.
- Boots - offers seven different programmes covering commercial, digital, finance, global brands, HR, software engineering and procurement.
- Dunelm - offers Graduate Leadership Programmes in areas such as business leadership, commercial, retail operations and people and finance.
- Halfords - provides a two-year retail scheme. Beginning in store you'll move into Halfords support centre. By the second year you'll be working as an assistant manager.
- Harrods - offer schemes in distribution and IT.
- Lidl - offers three separate graduate programmes - the Retail Graduate Management Programme, Buying Graduate Management Programme and the Supply Chain Graduate Management Programme.
- Marks & Spencer - graduate schemes include the Enterprise Programme, as well as specialist programmes in clothing design, clothing buying, clothing and home merchandising, food technology and store management.
- Mitchells and Butler - operate more than a thousand pubs and restaurants across the UK. Their Corporate Graduate Scheme is offered in four disciplines - area management, human resources, finance and marketing.
- Morrisons - offer nine schemes each focusing on a particular business area. Programmes are available in manufacturing, buying, logistics, finance, technology and digital, corporate, people management, supply chain and Nutmeg - the supermarket's lifestyle brand.
- New Look - fast-track graduate schemes are offered in three key areas - finance, IT and e-commerce.
- Next - this high-street retailer offers trainee schemes in both buying and merchandising.
- Ocado - provides a range of schemes in areas such as analysis, finance, general management, people, logistics project management, operations management, logistics design and technology and UX design.
- Tesco - nine programmes are on offer, each covering a core business area. Schemes are available in distribution and fulfilment, finance, commercial, stores, supply chain, technology, technology cyber security, technology product and technology software engineering.
- TJX Europe - offer six schemes, each focusing on a particular business function. Programmes cover merchandising and buying, finance, information technology, loss prevention, brand and marketing and logistics.
- Uniqlo - offers an 18-month Store Manager Candidate Programme. Described as an 'intensive retail masterclass' you'll learn the Japanese standard of customer service.
- Vodafone - runs nine graduate programmes covering customer operations, finance, HR, technology, business, digital operations and automation, commercial, external affairs and consumer.
- WHSmith - provides two graduate schemes, the Head Office Graduate Programme and the Retail Management Graduate Programme.
What do retail graduate schemes involve?
This depends on the company and the scheme. For example, if you join the Aldi graduate scheme you'll spend a year training to become an area manager, with the help of a mentor. To fully understand how Aldi stores are run you'll start by stacking shelves, getting to know your products and learning about customer service. By week 15 you could have the keys to your own store and by week 47 you'll be looking after your own regional area.
As a graduate on the Arcadia buying scheme you'll start out as a buyer's admin assistant. You'll work alongside a number of teams, including design, merchandising and garment technical, all while combining admin tasks with brand decision making. You'll liaise with suppliers to ensure that you get your products at the best price. Your professional development will include technical training on in-house systems, masterclasses from industry experts and personal development workshops.
Boots' digital graduate scheme takes two years to complete. You'll gain an insight into areas such as omni-channel proposition, digital experience, digital marketing, product management, digital operations and e-commerce. These experiences will give you a rounded view of the digital team as you help to create the organisations future strategy, and design, implement and run Boots.com.
The logistics graduate programme at TJX Europe kicks off with a comprehensive induction, followed by a series of workshops and training programmes. You'll work in the head office and from distribution centres to ensure products reach stores in a saleable condition. You'll also work with buyers and vendors to instruct and improve supply chain movement.
As a graduate on the finance programme at Asda you'll study towards a Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification while working on complex projects, liaising with cross-functional teams and suggesting innovative solutions. As part of the scheme you'll rotate across commercial finance, operational finance, controllership, audit and record to report areas, using your analytical skills to inform decisions.
Working in London, the 12 to 18-month Marks & Spencer graduate scheme in design will see you working as a graduate assistant designer in clothing. Working alongside design teams in womenswear you'll carry out in-depth research, investigate new trends and materials, produce technical specifications and make your mark on ranges that could hit the stores. You'll also get the chance to visit the M&S supply base to see how clothes are made.
What are the entry requirements?
While some schemes specify the need for a particular degree subject, others accept graduates from any discipline.
For graduate schemes run by Aldi, Boots, Halfords, Harrods and WHSmith, you'll need a 2:1 undergraduate degree, but many retail employers including Arcadia, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco also accept those with a 2:2. In fact, an increasing number of retail employers are widening the net and are willing to accept graduates with a 2:2 onto their programmes.
Other entry requirements may include a specific number of UCAS points, evidence of particular skills, a driving license and a willingness to relocate.
If university isn't for you but you'd still like to formally train within a retail organisation you could consider a retail apprenticeship.
How do I apply?
You'll apply for most schemes online, although some application processes vary so check with individual employers.
You'll need to fill out an online application form and complete any numerical or psychometric tests set by the recruiter. If successful at this stage you'll move on to complete a video interview before progressing on to an assessment centre. The final stage of the application process is usually a face-to-face interview with the employer.
To set yourself above the competition try to gain plenty of relevant work experience. Shop floor experience is highly respected. There is no real substitute for working with customers, dealing with deliveries and stock take and working as part of a retail team. Enquire in-store for shop floor opportunities and apply online for head office experience and industrial placements at large retail organisations. For more information on the types of jobs available in the retail industry, see jobs in retail.
Some retail graduate programmes such as Aldi, Arcadia, Harrods and New Look recruit all year round, while others like Tesco and Marks & Spencer have set application deadlines of January and November respectively.
What skills will I need?
Retail is a competitive industry and you'll need to pass through a number of application stages before making the grade. To stand out to employers you'll need to demonstrate a number of sought-after skills such as:
- commercial awareness
- brand/company knowledge
- a passion for retail
- the ability to come up with innovative ideas
- creative flair for design, marketing, buying and merchandising roles
- leadership skills, if you'd like a management job
- numerical and analytical skills
- good organisation and time management
- problem-solving ability
- attention to detail
- excellent customer service skills
- flexibility and adaptability
- strong communication skills
- team working ability and a respectful approach to colleagues.
With so many graduate schemes on offer it's best to check individual programme details to make sure you meet all the employers' requirements.
Take a look at the skills that employers want.
How much will I be paid?
Salaries on retail graduate schemes vary widely. For example:
- Aldi offer a graduate starting salary of £44,000, which rises in stages to £76,495 in year five.
- Lidl pay graduates on their Retail Graduate Management Programme, Buying Graduate Management Programme and Supply Chain Graduate Management Programme a starting salary of £37,000.
- Depending on the scheme you're on you'll either get a salary of £28,000 or £32,000 when working for Tesco.
- Salaries for Marks & Spencer graduate schemes range from £24,000 to £28,000.
- Boots pay their graduates £26,000 (£29,000 for those on the Software Engineering scheme).
Retail graduate programmes also provide an impressive number of benefits such as the use of company cars (Aldi gives every graduate starter an Audi A4), opportunities to experience international secondments, generous holiday allowances (usually up to five weeks), store discounts, bonus schemes, private health cover and discounted cinema tickets.
Will I be offered a job afterwards?
If you complete the full programme, most schemes lead to full-time employment with the organisation. However, some companies will state that offers of permanent employment aren't guaranteed upon completion, so you may want to check this before applying.
The knowledge and skills you learn on retail graduate programmes also equip you for roles in a number of other sectors including hospitality and events management, IT (if you've taken a programme in technology), accountancy, banking and finance (for those who’ve completed a finance scheme) and transport and logistics (if you've completed a supply chain or logistics scheme).
Find out more
- Read more about why you should consider a career in logistics and supply chain management.
- Discover how to get into buying and merchandising.
- Find out how to get a job in online retail.