7 Ways to Learn About An Industry

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A Devil's Perspective. Martha Hagan '21

While attending the Fall Career Fair my junior year, I noticed myself gravitating toward all the employer booths in the retail industry. I decided after leaving the fair I wanted (and needed) to learn more about the industry–not only to prepare for future interviews with these employers but also to gain a more comprehensive view of the industry. 

I quickly learned that finding and remembering every detail about an entire industry is not an easy task to take on. I also learned that as I read more about the retail industry, my eye for what I was looking for in my research changed. In the beginning, I looked for fact-based information such as estimates of the size of the industry or annual profits. Now, my research includes various opinions of trends and I dive into retailers' sites rather than just looking from a bird's eye view of the industry. 

Here are a few of my tips for how to start learning about an industry and I’ve thrown in what I've learned about retail, from using these tips. Note that it's hard and maybe even impossible to learn about an industry in one sitting! I couldn't learn about retail after my first google search or write this blog post with the things I'd learned from that first search. So, don't worry if your research is taking more time or you feel like it is hard to grasp the information. Hopefully, these tips will provide a starting place to begin your research and help with your first few google searches.  

Learning about an industry involves both research and experience. Let's start with the research. Many times, trying to obtain a basic understanding of an entire industry will take weeks of reading from a variety of sources and gleaning information from those. Several consulting firms also publish industry trends and predictions.  

Reports on Industry Trends 

Check out this example report from Deloitte on Retail Industry Trends

Podcasts 

I also recommend checking out podcasts (I love Total Retail Talks) just to learn more about various facets of any industry you're interested in.  

Newspapers 

For me, the business section of non-biased newspapers is also a great place to find information about the retail industry.  

Government Websites 

Two other sites I highly recommend for research are the US Census Bureau and the US Government Accountability Office. They both have data from multitudes of surveys relevant to almost every single industry. I like that these organizations publish their pure data, without any interpretations, to keep it trustworthy, independent, and without any sort of political spin.  

Webinars 

Besides reading for research, webinars can also be a great place to learn more, particularly for going in-depth about any key aspect or detail of the industry you're interested in. Especially since COVID began, there's now a webinar on everything. Check out sites like YouTube, HubSpot, HealthStream, and policy & consulting sites to learn from experts about specific topics within your industry. I like scrolling through RetailNext for recorded webinars on retail. A simple Google search for "[your industry] webinars" will help as well. As you learn more about your industry, as I mentioned before, what you are searching for will change. Thus, your searches may become more specific and you may only be interested in various parts. For example, I'm currently focused on learning about the difference between traditional retail and more modern forms of direct-to-consumer retail.  

Go into the industry 

It's also important to go into the industry and obtain experience, discovering what types of trends you notice. In retail, I not only read online industry reports, trends, and predictions, but I go on to various shopping websites to discover trends amongst them. One thing I've noticed through my experience going into retail is how stores are connecting the in-store experience with their apps and websites to make shopping as seamless as possible. Moreover, retailers are commonly using the order online, pick up in-store method to keep brick-and-mortar relevant. I have also noticed how data is integrated into everything. One example is the personalized emails with items relevant to previous items I've searched for or clicked on, and another example is personalized checkout codes because I kept items sitting in my online shopping cart. Lastly, I've noticed many retailers promoting their approaches to sustainability including where their products, fabrics, and packaging are sourced from or if anything is made of recycled materials.  

Check out supporting industries 

Keep in mind the importance of researching supporting industries. In retail, for example, the freight transport industry is of utmost importance because the cost of shipping highly impacts both the buyer and the seller. The freight industry relies on the oil and gas industry. All these industries rely on government trade deals and are affected by any tariffs placed by, or on, a country. Further, the retail industry is also impacted by wage growth, unemployment levels, the stock market, and essentially anything that could impact whether someone buys the product. From your initial research, you'll be able to easily discern what the supporting industries are of the industry you are continuing to research. 

Overall, remember it will take time to absorb all this information and that it's a constant learning process. Don't be intimidated by the large amounts of information and instead, try to chip away at it one article/podcast/video at a time! I hope these tips help you in your quest to learn about any industries that spark your interest! 

If you get stuck or discouraged, schedule a career advising appointment to recharge and get back on track. 

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