Skip to main content

Consumer Products & Retail

Consumer Products

Consumer products or consumer packaged goods (CPG) are considered the foundation of the modern economy. The consumer products industry manufactures and markets any product or commodity that can be consumed or purchased.  It can be divided into four groups: beverages, foods, toiletries and cosmetics, and small appliances.  Key elements of this process are package design, marketing, and customer satisfaction which all contribute to creating demand and visibility in a competitive marketplace. 


Retail is the sale of products and services to consumers.  Retailers purchase products from manufacturers in large quantities and then sell smaller quantities to consumers through stores, direct sales, or websites.  While sales is a large component of the industry, positions in the retail field for recent graduates include store management, buying, inventory planning, and product development.  In addition, opportunities in finance, accounting, technology, design and logistics can also be found within retail companies. Ecommerce, or the sale of goods and services online, is a growing sector of the industry as it allows retailers to expand their reach by connecting with a broader range of customers online. 

Skills to develop for success in consumer products

  •    Creative Thinking
    • Adaptability and flexibility
    • Customer focus
    • Innovation
    • Problem solving
    • Storytelling 
  • Communication
    • Creating Rapport
    • Negotiation
    • Pitch Delivery
    • Presentations
    • Writing Reports 
  • Leadership
    • Data Proficiency
    • Intellectual Curiosity
    • Innovation
    • Relationship Building
    • Social Listener 
  • Project Management
    • Cost Control
    • Data Analysis
    • Prioritization
    • Resource Management
    • Time Management 
  • Problem Solving
    • Critical thinking
    • Collaborative
    • Listening Skills
    • Story Telling
    • Think Outside the Box
  • Teamwork
    • Collaborationn
    • Conflict Management
    • Cooperation
    • Defining problems
    • Emotional Intelligence 

Skills to develop for success in retail

  • Attention to Detail
    • Inventory (Ordering and Merchandise control)
    • Organizing displays
    • Time Management
    • Visual Merchandising
    • Window Displays 
  • Business Awareness
    • Awareness of Trends
    • Merchandising
    • Product Knowledge
    • Product Sourcing
    • Purchasing 
  • Communication
    • Active Listening
    • Answering Customers Questions
    • Communicating with Buyers
    • Communicating Product details
    • Managing Employees 
  • Customer Service
    • Customer-First Mindset
    • Customer Relations
    • Explaining Products to Customers
    • Flexibility
    • Solving Customer Problems 
  • Sales
    • Building Rapport with Customers
    • Demonstrating Products
    • Goal-Oriented (Achieng/exceeding sales goals)
    • Persuasion
    • Promoting Brand Loyalty 
  • Technology/Computer Skills
    • Data Analysis tools
    • Data and Information Management
    • Inventory Management
    • Learning/Utilizing Merchant Data Systems
    • Point of Sale (POS) Systems 

Online resources specific to the industry

  • Vault is a comprehensive resource for information on what it is like to work within an industry, company or profession.

Industry Insights and Information:

  • Big Commerce: Information and trends in e-commerce
  • Builtin: Information about e-commerce companies
  • Better Team: Provides definitions  and job description in Consumer Products and Retail
  • Fashion Journal: Highlights jobs titles and information about the fashion industry 
  • Guide to Jobs in Fashion: Information about careers in the fashion industry 

Careers and Jobs 

Key information or knowledge for this field

  • A passion for the consumer is at the heart of these fields. Organizations highly value experiences working in retail or customer service. In fact, some organizations will require time spent in a storefront as a part of their corporate leadership training. Consider “brand ambassador” and sales associate roles as a great training ground for understanding the consumer mindset. 
  • CPG and retail companies do business all over the world, but have regional products and customers. A global outlook, strong language skills, and ability to embrace diverse consumer perspectives are important attributes for these roles.    
  • In addition to traditional stores, e-commerce and direct to consumer brands that meet niche sectors of the market are rapidly changing the shopper experience. With so many growing channels, data-driven decision making will be central to your role.  

Examples of Consumer Products Companies:

  • Aldi 
  • Coca-Cola 
  • Colgate-Palmolive 
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg’s
  • Kraft Heinz
  • L’Oreal
  • M&M Mars
  • PepsiCo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Restaurant Brands International
  • S.C. Johnson
  • Walgreens 

 Sample Internship and Job Titles for Retail:

  • Computer Systems 
  • Customer Service Assistant 
  • Loss Prevention 
  • Merchandiser/Buyer
  • Operations/Distributions
  • Retail Manager
  • Operations/Distributions
  • Sales Associate
  • Store Design
  • Supply/logistics 

Examples of Retail Companies:

  • IKEA 
  • Hanes 
  • H & M
  • J. Crew
  • Kohl’s Department Stores
  • Limited Brands
  • Macy’s Inc.
  • Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack
  • Target
  • The Gap
  • REI  

Training Programs 

If you are interested in developing leadership skills, you may look for employers who have training programs. These programs are as different as the employers who sponsor them. Some training programs emphasize on-the-job-training while others offer a very structured, classroom type environment. Training periods can range from twelve weeks to two years. When you talk to the various companies, inquire about their specific training program and what it entails. 

Relevant student groups and professional organizations

Northwestern Student Groups:

Special considerations for graduate students

Research opportunities and identify your priorities
There are a wide range of opportunities for graduate-level candidates interested in a career in consumer products or retail, including working on developing and testing products, marketing them, and creating efficient systems for delivering the products. Research companies as well as job functions within the companies in order to see where your skills and interests will be a good match.

Get connected
Follow companies of interest on LinkedIn and do informational interviews with alumni working at those companies. You can connect with alumni via and the Northwestern University Alumni group on LinkedIn. It’s also a great idea to join professional organizations in order to network and learn more about the industry. See the main consumer products and retail industry page for a list of professional organizations.

Common career directions for PhDs
  • Data Analytics
  • Product Research and Development
  • Engineer
  • Market Research
  • Scientific Marketing