Retail sales workers include both those who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and cars, (called retail salespersons) and those who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts (called parts salespersons). Both types of workers help customers find the products they want and process customers’ payments.

Duties

Retail sales workers typically do the following:

  • Greet customers and determine what each customer wants or needs
  • Recommend merchandise based on customers’ wants and needs
  • Explain the use and benefit of merchandise to customers
  • Answer customers’ questions
  • Show how merchandise works, if applicable
  • Add up customers’ total purchases and accept payment
  • Know about current sales and promotions, policies about payments and exchanges, and security practices

The following are examples of types of retail sales workers:

Retail salespersons work in stores where they sell goods, such as books, cars, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, furniture, lumber, plants, shoes, and many other types of merchandise.

In addition to helping customers find and select items to buy, many retail salespersons process the payment for the sale. This typically involves operating cash registers.

After taking payment for the purchases, retail salespersons may bag or package the purchases.

Depending on the hours they work, retail salespersons may have to open or close cash registers. This includes counting the money in the register and separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers. They may also make deposits at a cash office.

For information about other workers who receive and disburse money, see the profile on cashiers.

In addition, retail salespersons may help stock shelves or racks, arrange for mailing or delivery of purchases, mark price tags, take inventory, and prepare displays.

For some retail sales jobs, particularly those involving expensive and complex items, retail sales workers need special knowledge or skills. For example, those who sell cars must be able to explain the features of various models, the manufacturers’ specifications, the types of options on the car and financing available, and the details of associated warranties.

In addition, retail sales workers must recognize security risks and thefts and understand their organization’s procedures for handling thefts—procedures that may include notifying security guards or calling police.

Parts salespersons sell spare and replacement parts and equipment. Most deal with car parts, by working in either automotive parts stores or automobile dealerships. They take customers’ orders, inform customers of part availability and price, and take inventory.

Work Environment: 

Retail sales workers held about 4.7 million jobs in 2012. Retail salespersons held about 4.4 million of these jobs, while parts salespersons held about 221,300 jobs.

The industries that employed the most retail sales workers in 2012 were as follows:

Clothing and clothing accessories stores 21%
General merchandise stores 19
Motor vehicle and parts dealers 11
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers 9
Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores 7

Most retail sales workers work in clean, comfortable, well-lit stores. However, they often stand for long periods and may need permission from a supervisor to leave the sales floor. If they sell items such as cars, plants, or lumberyard materials, they may work outdoors.

Work Schedules

Many sales workers work evenings and weekends, particularly during holidays and other peak sales periods. Because the end-of-year holiday season is often the busiest time, many employers limit retail sales workers’ use of vacation time between November and the beginning of January.       

About 1 in 3 retail salespersons worked part time in 2012.

Education and Training: 

Typically, retail sales workers do not need a formal education. However, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Education

Although retail or parts sales positions usually have no formal education requirements, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, especially those who sell technical products or “big-ticket” items, such as electronics or cars.

Training

Most retail sales workers receive on-the-job training, which usually lasts a few days to a few months. In small stores, newly hired workers often are trained by an experienced employee. In large stores, training programs are more formal and generally are conducted over several days.

Topics often include customer service, security, the store’s policies and procedures, and how to operate the cash register.

Depending on the type of product they are selling, employees may be given additional specialized training. For example, salespersons working in cosmetics get instruction on the types of products the store offers and for whom the cosmetics would be most beneficial. Likewise, those who sell computers may be instructed on the technical differences between computer products.

Because providing exceptional service to customers is a priority for many employers, employees often get periodic training to update and refine their skills.

Advancement

Retail sales workers typically have opportunities to advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Some employers want candidates for managerial positions to have a college degree.

As sales workers gain experience and seniority, they often move into positions that have greater responsibility and may be given their choice of departments in which to work. This opportunity often means moving to positions with higher potential earnings and commissions. The highest earnings potential usually lies in selling “big-ticket” items—such as cars, jewelry, furniture, and electronics. These positions often require workers with extensive knowledge of the product and an excellent talent for persuasion.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Retail sales workers must be responsive to the wants and needs of customers. They should explain the product options available to customers and make appropriate recommendations.

Interpersonal skills. A friendly and outgoing personality is important for these workers because the job requires almost constant interaction with people. 

Persistence. A large number of attempted sales may not be successful, so sales workers should not be discouraged easily. They must start each new sales attempt with a positive attitude.

Selling skills. Retail sales workers must be persuasive when interacting with customers. They must clearly and effectively explain the benefits of merchandise.

Pay: 

The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $10.15 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.09, and the top 10 percent earned more than $18.73.

The median hourly wage for parts salespersons was $14.21 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.96, and the top 10 percent earned more than $23.93.

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for retail sales workers in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows:

Motor vehicle and parts dealers $14.73
Building material and garden equipment
and supplies dealers
12.21
General merchandise stores 9.73
Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores 9.46
Clothing and clothing accessories stores 9.24

Compensation systems vary by type of establishment and merchandise sold. Retail sales workers get hourly wages, commissions, or a combination of the two. Under a commission system, they get a percentage of the sales they make. This system offers sales workers the opportunity to increase their earnings considerably, but they may find that their earnings depend strongly on their ability to sell their product and on the ups and downs of the economy.

Many retail sales workers work evenings and weekends, particularly during holidays and other peak sales periods. Because the end-of-year holiday season is often the busiest time, many employers limit sales workers’ use of vacation time between November and the beginning of January.

About 1 in 3 retail salespersons worked part time in 2012.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of retail salespersons is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of retail salespersons has traditionally grown with the overall economy, and this trend is expected to continue. Population growth will increase retail sales and demand for these workers.

Online sales have had a detrimental effect on certain in-store retailers, primarily book and media stores. However, other retail segments, such as automobile dealers and clothing stores, have seen much less of an impact. In general, although consumers are increasing their online retail shopping, they will continue to do the vast majority of their retail shopping in stores. Retail salespersons will be needed in stores to help customers and complete sales.

Among the various retail industries, other general merchandise stores, which include warehouse clubs and supercenters, are expected to see strong job growth. These large stores sell a wide range of goods from a single location. Thus, employment of retail salespersons in this industry is projected to grow 28 percent during the next decade. However, employment of these workers in department stores is projected to grow only 5 percent. 

Employment of parts salespersons is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. People are keeping their cars longer and are buying new cars less often. Older cars need to be serviced more frequently, creating demand for car parts and parts salespersons. However, growth will be slowed by the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and supplies merchant wholesalers industry, in which employment of parts salespersons is projected to decline 7 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Job Prospects

Many workers leave this occupation, which means there will be a large number of job openings. This should result in many employment opportunities for qualified workers.

For More Information: 

For information about the retail industry, visit

National Retail Federation                                           

For information about training for a career in automobile sales, visit

National Automobile Dealers Association

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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