LBS Alumni Spotlight: The Retail Industry & Holiday Trends

retail industry

Unlike the consulting, finance and technology sectors, retail has always been regarded as a safe industry for employment. That’s because no matter how bad the economy gets, the retail industry will never cease to exist as long as people still make purchases. And that’s especially true for the holidays.

Each year during the holidays, on average, UK households spend £794.39 and US households spend $752.00. It’s not a small chunk of change. There’s no doubt that it’s a busy time of year, and many retail companies go all out to bring in new customers and grab the largest percentage of sales. But does that mean it’s a good industry to work in?

According to the London Business School, retail is in fact a great industry for employment. In fact, 3 percent of MBAs and 3 percent of MiMs (Masters in Management) from the 2015 LBS class went into the consumer and retail industry because they believed it was beneficial. Although the economy might still be volatile and the retail landscape may regularly change, the desire for goods—in particular, luxury goods—has held strong. But that doesn’t mean that innovation hasn’t been necessary. Consumers are always demanding a better experience and digital outreach in exchange for their purchases.

So, with such engaging opportunities in the retail industry over the holidays and throughout the year, what’s it like? To get a better idea, we spoke to Julia De Toffoli, an LBS graduate and the Senior Product Merchandising Manager for Women’s Leather Goods at Mulberry—a forward-thinking luxury British design manufacturer.

In this alumni spotlight, Julia gave us an in-depth look at her experiences in retail as well as her time at LBS.

What courses, clubs and experiences prepare LBS students for a career in retail? 

For a successful career in retail, it is important to have a broad understanding of management topics, from accounting and finance to organisations and human resource management, which are all courses of the curriculum at London Business School. The most important courses, however, would be Marketing, Pricing and Brand Management. These courses give students a true understanding of the customer, pricing strategies and product portfolio management.

Also, the Retail & Luxury Goods Club is a student-led association at London Business School which organises many speaker events and company visits throughout the year, where students have the opportunity to hear and learn from very high profile speakers and get the chance to network with alumni working in the retail and luxury goods industries. Similarly, the Marketing Club organises a variety of different events with invitees from top FMCG companies.

How did LBS prepare you to enter a career in the retail industry?

During my Masters at LBS, I had the chance to attend many company visits in London but also in Paris or Florence from the retail industry. For instance, we were invited to the headquarters of Net-a-Porter Group, LVMH, L’Oréal, Hermès, Fast Retailing, Gucci and many others.

I was also part of the organising committee of the LBS e-commerce conference where we able to put together panels with consultants and experts of the industry from companies like OC&C Strategy, Google, Asos and Farfetch.

It was really through these kinds of events that I was able to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and how I could land that dream job.

Why did you decide to enter the retail sector after graduation?

During my studies, I had decided not only to enter the retail sector but, more specifically, the luxury industry. I wanted to fully grasp the complete supply chain process from initial product design until the finished goods are sold on the shop floor to the outside world. The retail industry is a very tangible environment, which made it more exciting, more real and more personal for me.

What trends are you seeing in the retail industry—things a recent or upcoming grad should be aware of?

The retail industry has evolved tremendously in the past 15 years with the rise of the digital economy. Nowadays, it’s an industry where you need to be quite tech-savvy if you want to stay at the top of your game.

What’s the most interesting think about working in retail during the busy holiday season?

The most interesting thing about working in retail is that the holiday season lasts all year! There is certainly a peak during the month of December, but it is, in reality, very busy all year round. There is winter sale coming up, then Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and there are holidays of all faiths that you can cater to, so as a retailer you actually need to stay alert all year long.

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