Retail Merchandising Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a retail merchandising degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and associate degree and potential careers.
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Studying Retail Merchandising: Degrees at a Glance

Retail merchandisers select products and layouts in retail stores. You might use retail merchandising skills in catalog, Internet or retail store environments. Programs could prepare you for work as a buyer, salesperson, visual merchandiser or manager in a store or corporate environment. You may even choose to start your own retail business.

With an associate degree, you may gain a position as a retail sales person or buyer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), retail sales workers are projected to see a 17% growth in employment from 2010-2020. However, the BLS states that retail sales workers typically don't require a formal education. Bachelor's holders may find positions as advertising, promotion and marketing managers, which are anticipated to grow by 14% that same decade. Additionally, with a bachelor's degree and experience, sales managers could see a 12% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an entry-level position in retail sales or buying Individuals interested in management positions or employment advancement
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Wholesale and retail buyers ($57,000)*
- First-line supervisors of retail sales workers ($41,000)*
- Merchandise displayer and window trimmers ($29,000)*
- Retail sales workers ($25,000)*
- Sales managers ($117,000 - with 1-5 years of experience)*
- Purchasing managers ($103,000 - with 1-5 years of experience)*
- Advertising and promotions managers ($103,000 - with 1-5 years of experience)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements
- Internship
- Approximately 120 credits
- Internship or capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Online coursework may be available Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Retail Merchandising

Associate degree programs train you in visual merchandising, selling techniques, buying or advertising. You'll explore foundational concepts in supervision, sales and business. Concentrations in sales or store operations may be available. Some programs may delve into fashion merchandising in addition to retail merchandising. Many retail merchandising programs have a heavy emphasis in business administration principles.

Pros and Cons


  • Programs may be transferable to a 4-year institution
  • Internship and co-op opportunities available
  • Provides advanced experience for retail careers (which are projected to see a 17% growth from 2010-2020)*


  • Additional education may be required for management positions
  • Retail sales positions typically don't require a formal education
  • Online opportunities may not be available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education requirements, you'll explore concepts in salesmanship, advertising and retail merchandising. The programs typically delve into business administration concepts in communications, management and law. You may complete an internship to gain hands-on experience working directly in the field.

Online Course Options

Though fully online programs may be hard to find, you may find programs that offer online coursework or a portion of the program online. The online courses follow the same basic format as the on-campus courses; however, online course materials and activities are available to you at any time. Online courses may require you to access specific software or browsers; however, this will vary by school.

Standing Out with This Degree

You may want to consider joining retail marketing clubs or affiliates of national organizations, like the National Retail Federation (NRF) Student Association. You might learn about scholarships and internships through the NRF. Additionally, you can use your internship or co-op experience to gain practical knowledge in your specific area of interest in retail merchandising, which could lead to job opportunities after graduation.

Bachelor's Degree in Retail Merchandising

Students in a bachelor's degree program in retail merchandising are grounded in foundations of design, visual presentation, promotion and consumer decision-making. If you have a specialization in mind, you could consider a program that may help you make appropriate connections. Some programs offer travel options to retail centers and other field experiences. While these field experiences can be beneficial to your education, they may require a large time commitment.

Pros and Cons


  • You could qualify for management level or executive trainee positions
  • You can tailor your education to your area of interest through elective courses and internships
  • Offers hands-on training through field experiences and internships


  • Field experiences and internship requirements may make other work difficult
  • Bachelor's holders may still be required to complete training experiences before qualifying for positions
  • Master's or MBA grads with enhanced skill sets may be preferred for high paid positions in a competitive market

Courses and Requirements

Students explore communications and core business disciplines, like human resource management, marketing, finance and accounting. You might be interested in product development or preparation for executive retail management. Retail merchandising students might complete internships or capstone projects over the course of the 4-year program.

Courses that you may encounter in a bachelor's program include:

  • Retail promotion
  • Merchandising presentation
  • Buying
  • Retail markets

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs in retail merchandising are rare to non-existent. You may be able to find online degree programs in a related field, such as retail management or retailing. These programs may be offered in both online and hybrid formats. The on-campus and distance learning programs follow the same curriculum; students will still be required to adhere to deadlines and assignment schedules. Online programs may be designed for students that hold prior experience in the field.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

While enrolled in this degree program, students may want to consider obtaining sales or retail experience through part-time employment. Many management and supervision positions in sales, promotions and advertising require students to obtain 1-5 years of experience. Job experience in conjunction with field experiences and internships may provide you with an advantage. Additionally, you could attend conferences sponsored by the National Association for Retail Marketing Services (NARMS) to make contacts.

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