How a Retail Job Helped My Tech Career

Are you about to apply for your first job, maybe you’re planning a career change or maybe you want to take a break from your current career. Whatever the reason you have landed on this page is, you’re in the right place!

How a Retail Job Helped My Tech Career
Graphic Put together by Author. Photos by Wallace Chuck and Field Engineer on Pexels.

And Why Starting in Retail is a Rewarding Experience

Are you about to apply for your first job, maybe you’re planning a career change or maybe you want to take a break from your current career. Whatever the reason you have landed on this page is, you’re in the right place!

As someone who’s worked in retail for around 3 years, I want to share the things I’ve learned as well as the skills that I’ve developed which I use in my career in the tech industry.

To be truthfully honest with you, some of the essential skills I mention in this blog post will help you no matter which career path you take, they will also help you in your everyday life.

At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, how on earth will retail help you in your career?

Although it seems like a relatively easy career path to take, it’s not always as it seems. I mean you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, right?

The same can be said for a retail job, I mean it doesn’t necessarily have to mean sitting on the checkout counter or as we say in the UK, tills for the entire day, but even if that’s what you’re hired to do it can be quite demanding.

As someone who’s worked in an electronics store as well as a supermarket, or grocery store for those of you who live outside of the UK. I want to share the skills and experience I’ve picked up that I use to this day to help me in my career in IT.

Anyway, without any further ado, here are the reasons a Retail job helped my career...

1. It Helps Boost Your Confidence

One of the main reasons I’m recommending working in retail is that it has seriously improved my confidence. I mean I remember going into my first retail job at an electronics store as this shy boy with absolutely no experience in serving customers and providing good customer service.

I left that job as a very confident individual, with a passion for delivering excellent customer service and going the extra mile.

One of my favourite parts of working in retail was seeing customers recognise that I have provided an excellent service to them and as a result, they would always come back to me.

As a whole, working in retail will seriously improve your confidence I mean you learn to stand up for yourself when a customer doesn’t think that rules apply to them. You learn to say “no” to people who want discounts that you are not allowed to give.

I know this may sound horrible, but that’s how businesses work, and staff have rules that they need to follow.

2. Retail Toughens You Up

There are times when customers will treat you as if you were something stuck to the bottom of their shoes, I’ve had some horrible encounters with some customers who choose to take their anger out on employees.

Unfortunately, whilst it's not part of the job description and it shouldn't happen in the first place it does happen. It’s not great and the entire experience can be quite terrifying for staff, but it is something that you have to deal with.

Don’t let that put you off, as an optimist I always turned these sorts of events into learning experiences. It was the main thing that got me through them.

At the end of the day, people will be people, but I found that it was these experiences that proved to be most beneficial in boosting my confidence.

But, it doesn’t mean that you should treat employees badly, they have enough to deal with already!

3. Retail Will Teach You to Sell

Another great point I wanted to make is that working in retail will always involve talking to strangers, and let's admit it, that can also be scary at times, but that’s just another thing that will help you improve your confidence.

My first retail job happened to be sales-based, I had to walk up to potential customers and sell them products and services.

Before we go further into this section, I just wanted to say that this experience alone has been incredibly beneficial to my career in IT.

My sales background has taught me to present new products and services in meetings. It has helped me come up with solutions I could sell to managers and directors.

All of that can help you incredibly in your career, particularly in IT and software development.

One of the first things I learned working in the electronics store was that selling doesn’t actually mean helping a customer choose a product that they’ve already come in for, it’s all about helping them find a solution to a problem.

For example, as part of the service that my store offered, we compared broadband deals between all the major internet providers, so if a customer came in to buy a computer for working from home, I would offer a free broadband quote to see if I could save the customer any money by comparing local providers.

If I could and the customer decides to go with it, not only would I make a sale, but I will also help the customer save money if I am able to get them a better deal.

4. Working Towards KPIs Teaches You to Work Towards Targets

Key Performance Indicators or KPIs are metrics which evaluate your team's performance against your sales as well as company goals. At times, they can be incredibly high and difficult to achieve, but that’s what provides you with the experience.

Depending on the individual, you may find hitting KPIs difficult, but you may also find them to be a fun game. For me, it was a bit of both.

One example of a KPI I had to hit was the sale of HDMI cables, so if a customer was buying a TV and I sold them an HDMI cable with it, that was a point I earned with that sale. If I also sold them a care package, that was another point and so on.

You can also earn KPIs when customers provide positive feedback about your service which in return help you learn and practice providing a good service. From the business point of view, it’s also a great way of tracking performance.

But most importantly of all, working towards KPIs will train you to work towards targets no matter how high they are, which brings me on to my next point...

5. Working Under Pressure

Working in retail will involve working under pressure, whether it’s hitting sales targets, dealing with challenging customers or unloading a frozen delivery by a certain time so that the food doesn’t go to waste. These are all examples of things that may cause you to feel under pressure.

I guess it’s one of those things that comes with the job, but that pressure can be easily turned into something positive further along the line.

I mean there will be times when you will be working under pressure, no matter what career path you take, but at least you’re prepared for it better with the experience you’ve had in your retail job.

The experience I gained in my retail jobs helped me work under pressure in some incredibly difficult circumstances and I could talk about many examples where the experience I gained in retail helped me stay calm and in control.

6. It Helps You See Things from a Different Angle

Whether you’re starting your IT career with a basic help desk job or are going into a high-up managerial position, sometimes it can be a good to see how things operate from a different angle.

As a tech enthusiast and someone studying computer science at the time, I saw and experienced how IT systems worked in a business environment, which I think is an incredibly valuable experience!

I saw how data can be used to the store's and customer’s advantage. For example, the till system can produce a report which will tell management which products sell best at a certain time of the year. That data can be used to ensure the store has plenty of stock available in the coming years.

Data can also be used to track current stock levels, the system could automatically order things the store is low on and produce reports of what products are not selling so well so that the store can get different products in that may sell better.

Seeing all of these processes in action has actually helped me write several assignments and reports at university.

It was also good to be the end user from time to time when a computer or piece of tech broke and you needed to call tech support.

7. Learn or Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

If you want to pursue a career in tech, you need to learn how to troubleshoot problems that may arise. Whether it’s troubleshooting a customer’s issue, fixing a broken PC, or troubleshooting code that won’t compile, it’s an essential skill to have.

A retail job will grant you a lot of problem-solving experience, whether it’s fixing a problem a customer may have or changing a shop floor display so that a particular product sells better, it will all become second nature after working in retail for a few months.

These are the skills you need to advance your career in tech. I mean sure, if you start your career on the help desk, you will pick up these skills pretty quickly, but if you come into a job and already have good problem-solving skills, not only will you be ahead of others, but you will also be able to find solutions quicker and hit targets quicker.

Let’s not forget about the interview, you will have a better chance of being picked for the help desk job if you have experience solving problems. The entire fact that you’ve worked in a retail job, can mean something too!

Final Thoughts

As a whole, I cherish my retail experience, while the experience may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly has the potential to teach you a lot of things and provide you with a lot of experience that you can reuse further along the line.

For starters, you will learn how to provide a great customer experience, which is something that will become incredibly beneficial in a help desk role. You will also learn how to deal with difficult customers.

You will also learn how to work towards targets which is something that you will encounter in the tech industry, whether it’s keeping to SLAs (Service Level Agreements) or working towards projects.

There will also be times when you will be forced to work under pressure, whether it’s meeting short deadlines or dealing with difficult situations.

I found that being able to see things from a different angle was extremely beneficial because it helped me see things from a different perspective.

Working in retail also taught me to troubleshoot, which I don’t think I could do my current job without.

Last but not least, it has seriously improved my confidence. I went from this shy person who hasn’t really had any experience dealing with customers, to a confident individual with a passion for providing a great service.