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The retail salary guide

Staff are the beating heart of every retail business. Their wages typically take up more than half of a retailer’s outgoings, but in an environment where automation and ecommerce are making genuine connections rarer, employing human beings represents an investment in authenticity.

Recruitment agency Frontline Retail keeps track of retail salaries so it’s easy for you to calculate exactly how big your investment in authenticity should be. The New Zealand retail industry has seen big changes over 2016 and 2017, and these have shaken up the employment market. Broadly, all areas are reporting a scarcity of strong candidates and salaries are rising in response, but the introduction of new retailers and closure of existing ones has introduced complicating factors.

The arrival of big international chains like H&M, which entered the New Zealand market with an Auckland store in 2016 and is now to open a Wellington branch later this year, has meant an increase in demand for staff at all levels. Topshop arrived in Auckland during 2015 and now has stores in Wellington and Christchurch, and Zara arrived on Kiwi shores at the same time as H&M.

It’s not all about fast fashion, either – Australian homewares retailer Adairs launched three Kiwi stores within six months over 2016 and 2017, and Petstock has made a splash in the pet goods area with 11 stores opened or taken over in less than a year. Even luxury brands like Prada, Gucci and Tiffany’s are rapidly rolling out new stores in New Zealand.

The closure of local chains like Pumpkin Patch and Wild Pair has also changed New Zealand’s retail employment situation. They’ve released a number of candidates into a market where staff are in hot demand, but the senior candidates available don’t necessarily have the skillset the new offshore retailers want.

New changes are also on the horizon for New Zealand’s retail recruitment market. In May, New Zealand Immigration released amendments to the existing immigration law governing its Skilled Migrant Category. These changes mean anyone who makes under $49,000 annually won’t be able to work in central cities unless they’re a resident. Most executive roles in retail won’t be affected, but salaries for the majority of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch’s store-based roles for retailers with turnover of up to $3m fall broadly into the sub-$49,000 category, meaning every staff member from salespeople to store managers will need to bea New Zealand resident.

The new laws are expected to kick in from August onwards.

Auckland – executive

As New Zealand’s biggest commercial centre by far, Auckland is at the forefront of the sharpest changes. It’s usually the point of entry for international retailers, and it’s where most retailers’ head

offices are located. Frontline Executive Retail agency owner for Auckland, Tania Greig, says that like the rest of the retail recruitment market, Auckland Executive Retail is experiencing a shortage of skilled candidates.

Candidates with in-demand skills are responding to this by raising their expectations and becoming more selective. Greig says this is reinforced by Auckland’s worsening transport situation, which has led to candidates becoming highly location-specific in order to avoid long commutes, plus its rising cost of living. According to Immigration New Zealand’s cost-of-living calculator, a retail staff member on an average salary of $51,209 can expect to spend all but $47.25, or six percent of what they earn, on living expenses.

“Candidates are less motivated to move into a role that will provide them with job satisfaction, and would rather stay in a less challenging role that may pay them more,” Greig says. “Those candidates who are currently unemployed may find themselves tempted to take the first offer that is presented to them.”

Broadly, Auckland executive retail salaries in 2017 run from $45-$55K for a buying assistant, visual merchandiser, low-weight digital designer or production coordinator to $250,000 for a chief financial officer or chief executive officer. The majority of executive salaries in between fall around the $100-150,000 mark, with only national retail directors and senior management commanding salaries of $150,000 plus.

Greig says the rise of ecommerce has increased the number of head office and executive roles available in that space, and there’s a lot of interest from Frontline Executive Retail’spartners about their needs in online and digital. Auckland’s position as the first port of call from all new offshore market entries has seen some interesting new opportunities pop up in fashion and homewares, but not every international retailer has benefited its Kiwi executive staff – a number are returning their head office functions to their parent companies, meaning those roles are lost.

Greig says this change, plus the closure of a number of local retail chains and the rising number of retailers doing their own sourcing rather than working through locally-based third parties, has seen many senior executive candidates such as apparel buyers left with specialised skills and few opportunities to move on to other companies with the same employment packages. “Round pegs aren’t fitting into square boxes,” she says.

Rapid change has left many retailers struggling to adapt, and some candidates are now doing the same. The short-term legacy of new market entries and layoffs is the unusual situation of a shortage of candidates in some areas and an excess in others.

Auckland – non-executive

The candidate crunch seen in Auckland’s executive retail market applies at all levels, says Frontline Retail agency manager for Auckland Samantha Martch.

The entry of big international players has seen the majority of retail job-seekers secure employment with them. Martch says international retailers typically pay slightly more than Kiwi retail companies, and their wider geographical spread can offer more opportunities for career development, meaning some local staff have left their employers to work with the new entries.

More disruptively, Martch says top retail staff are being head-hunted from their existing roles. Some are approached so often it’s becoming a nuisance: “A few are getting frustrated with
people reaching out.”

“When candidates are in high demand, we often will see a change in attitude and there is definitely a sense of waiting for the employer to come to them, instead of the candidate searching for roles online,” she says.

Counter-offers in response to an employee’s resignation used to be rare in retail, but Martch says retail companies are now using them to keep skilled candidates in place. Even with more than 10
years experience in recruitment, she didn’t see her first counter-offer until 18 months into her career in the retail market, but five years on from that point, they’re much more common.

The amounts being offered have also increased. Five years ago, counter-offers would typically be around $1,000-$2,000, but now Martch regularly hears of $5,000- $15,000 being put forward. She says counter-offers can be an effective strategy for businesses that can’t afford to lose their top performers, but advises retailers to first sit down with their employee and make an effort to find out exactly what they’re looking for in terms of salary package and career path. If the problem is simply down to salary, then a counter-offer is appropriate, but if it’s obvious that the employee doesn’t see themselves in their current role for long or they’re looking for career progression that you can’t provide, it may be time to look into other options.

Auckland’s non-executive salary range for 2017 runs from $33,000 for salespeople to $120,000 for regional managers and store managers of outlets with turnover of $15m plus. The majority of positions command between $45,000-$50,000, with the average being $59,700.

Martch says savvy candidates are attempting to leverage the scarcity of candidates to get a higher salary, but warns that those with unrealistic salary expectations should scale it back. She recommends that both retailers and candidates remain flexible, and forecasts a continuing shortage in candidates over the next year.


Wellington has started to see a steady trickle-down of international arrivals from Auckland as new entries like H&M begin opening their second Kiwi outlets. More uniquely, it’s seen the opening of Australian department store David Jones in July at the old Kirkcaldie & Stains building, but has also weathered the closure of half the stores in its only significant shopping mall following the Kaikoura earthquake in November.

Retailers in Wellington are finding themselves as short of skilled candidates as those in Auckland, says Frontline Retail agency owner for Wellington, Kiri Henare. At a junior level, there’s a shortage of assistant managers, which affects the pipeline towards upper management.

“This can be quite a frustrating market for employers, who are looking to grow their teams but are unable to find staff,” she says.

Although Wellington’s job market is just as competitive as Auckland’s, Henare says Wellingtonians are not displaying the same job-hopping behaviour  as their northern peers.

“In the last year we have noticed that candidate movement in the market has slowed down considerably, when compared to previous years. Not only is there a shortage of experienced retail managers actively searching for roles, but also most candidates are waiting passively in their existing roles until they are alerted to a new opportunity.”

Henare says the abundance of new brands entering Wellington, coupled with the rejuvenation of Victoria and Manners Sts, will place a further strain on the capital’s depleted market of skilled candidates and make recruitment more challenging for retailers. As in Auckland, international retailers in Wellington tend to pay a premium over locally-run businesses and can offer more exciting opportunities.

“Many smaller, or local retailers, are struggling to retain their existing staff due to the temptation of working with one of these new brands, and we are working closely with our partners to ensure that they are doing all that they can to keep their staff engaged and committed to their business.”

She recommends retailers seeking skilled candidates keep their hiring process quick and thorough, highlighting exactly what the benefits of the role is to job-seekers and keeping them engaged with constant communication.

Wellington’s non-executive retail salaries range from $33,000 for a salesperson to $120,000 for a regional manager. The average Wellington retail salary is around $58,000.

Not every candidate is fending off an abundance of potential employers, however. Henare says Wellington lacks Auckland’s concentration of head offices, so candidates seeking executive roles tend to go to Australia or Auckland, while others seeking the challenges that go with a more complex operation often move into large-format retailers like Farmers or Kmart. There’s also a shortage of jobs at regional management level.

Henare is optimistic about Wellington’s retail industry, and expects further momentum to build as rumours of mid-to-high-end international retailers joining the market solidify.

South Island

Christchurch’s central business district has undergone a significant rejuvenation over the last year. Six years on from the devastating earthquakes, many of the new developments put in place to replace the city’s retail real estate are now complete, tempting retailers with a wide selection of stylish, central new premises.

Figures from a year ago indicate around 16,500 people are expected to occupy office space within Christchurch’s CBD by 2021. These workers will also be shoppers, driving retail growth in developments like the Cashel development with the BNZ Centre, ANZ Centre and The Crossing. New stores have been opening since September, with further growth expected across 2017.

Frontline Retail South Island agency delegate Chantelle Waite says the new Christchurch is full of buzz and consumer confidence. International brands like H&M are also starting to arrive in Christchurch, creating further excitement.

She reports that the market in Christchurch is candidate-rich, except for executive roles, where there’s a demand for homegrown leaders. The Christchurch retail job market differs from Wellington and Auckland’s in that Christchurch has few opportunities for staff to grow into head office roles, Waite says, so area managers are being outsourced rather than promoted internally.

Christchurch’s local culture is distinct and is best served by local leaders, Waite says: “They’ve been through a lot together.”

Queenstown’s retail industry is booming. A number of big-box retailers have opened in the area following the development of shopping complexes outside the main township, keeping residents spending locally rather than going elsewhere.

Waite says Queenstown retailers are finding it challenging to find quality staff because of the town’s transient, tourismdriven workforce and high cost of living. Queenstown’s salary brackets don’t align with the cost of living in the city, and while established local retail staff are secure in their roles, experienced retailers aren’t interested in relocating from other centres for a lower salary.

“It’s a challenging situation for both employers and candidates,” says Waite.

Retail salary figures for the South Island in 2017 run from $32,000 for a salesperson to $80,000 for a store manager with turnover of $15m plus. The average salary across all nonexecutive roles in the South Island is around $50,000.

She looks forward to seeing Christchurch continue its rapid growth rate, with The Hub in Hornby continue to expand and further CBD developments due to open later in 2017. With an influx in job vacancies, retailers seeking to hire will need to act quickly when presented with a strong candidate.

For full copy of the Frontline Retail Salary Guide please visit: www.frontlineretail.co.nz

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