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Order Clerks

Significant Points
  • Employment is expected to decline because of growth in online retailing and in business-to-business electronic commerce, and the use of automated systems that make placing orders easy and convenient.
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement.

    Nature of the Work

    Order clerks receive and process orders for a variety of goods or services, such as spare parts for machines, consumer appliances, gas and electric power connections, film rentals, and articles of clothing. They sometimes are called order-entry clerks, sales representatives, order processors, or order takers.

    Orders for materials, merchandise, or services can come from inside or from outside of an organization. In large companies with many worksites, such as automobile manufacturers, clerks order parts and equipment from the company’s warehouses. Inside order clerks receive orders from other workers employed by the same company or from salespersons in the field.

    Many other order clerks, however, receive orders from outside companies or individuals. Order clerks in wholesale businesses, for instance, receive orders from retail establishments for merchandise that the retailer, in turn, sells to the public. An increasing number of order clerks are working for catalog companies and online retailers, receiving orders from individual customers by telephone, fax, regular mail, or e-mail. Order clerks dealing primarily with the public sometimes are referred to as outside order clerks.

    Computers provide order clerks with ready access to information such as stock numbers, prices, and inventory. The successful filling of an order frequently depends on having the right products in stock and being able to determine which products are most appropriate for the customer’s needs. Some order clerks—especially those in industrial settings—must be able to give price estimates for entire jobs, not just single parts. Others must be able to take special orders, give expected arrival dates, prepare contracts, and handle complaints.

    Many order clerks receive orders directly by telephone, entering the required information as the customer places the order. However, a rapidly increasing number of orders now are received through computer systems, the Internet, faxes, and e-mail. In some cases, these orders are sent directly from the customer’s terminal to the order clerk’s terminal. Orders received by regular mail are sometimes scanned into a database that is instantly accessible to clerks.

    Clerks review orders for completeness and clarity. They may fill in missing information or contact the customer for the information. Clerks also contact customers if the customers need additional information, such as prices or shipping dates, or if delays in filling the order are anticipated. For orders received by regular mail, clerks extract checks or money orders, sort them, and send them for processing.

    After an order has been verified and entered, the customer’s final cost is calculated. The clerk then routes the order to the proper department—such as the warehouse—which actually sends out or delivers the item in question.

    In organizations with sophisticated computer systems, inventory records are adjusted automatically, as sales are made. In less automated organizations, order clerks may adjust inventory records. Clerks also may notify other departments when inventories are low or when filling certain orders would deplete supplies.

    Some order clerks must establish priorities in filling orders. For example, an order clerk in a blood bank may receive a request from a hospital for a certain type of blood. The clerk must first find out whether the request is routine or an emergency and then take appropriate action.

    Working Conditions

    Order clerks usually work a standard 40-hour workweek. Most order clerks work in areas that are clean, well lit, and relatively quiet. These workers sit for long periods of time in front of computer terminals, which may cause eyestrain and headaches. Order clerks in retail establishments typically work overtime during peak holiday seasons, when sales volume is high.

    Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

    Employers prefer applicants with a high school diploma or its equivalent or a mix of education and related experience. Most employers prefer workers who are computer literate and have a working knowledge of word-processing and spreadsheet software.

    Most order clerks are trained on the job under the close supervision of more experienced employees. Proficiency with computer software is becoming increasingly important because most orders are being filed electronically. By taking on more duties, ambitious order clerks can receive higher pay or become eligible for advancement opportunities. Some use their experience as an order clerk to move into sales positions.


    Order clerks held about 293,000 jobs in 2004. Over 50 percent of order clerks were employed in wholesale and retail trade establishments, and another 16 percent were employed in manufacturing firms. Other jobs for order clerks were in industries such as information, warehousing and storage, couriers, and business support services.

    Job Outlook

    Job openings for order clerks likely will be limited, as improvements in technology and office automation continue to increase worker productivity. While overall employment of order clerks is expected to decline through the year 2014, numerous openings will occur each year to replace order clerks who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force completely. Many of these openings will be for seasonal work, especially in catalog companies or online retailers catering to holiday gift buyers.

    The growth in online retailing and in business-to-business electronic commerce, and the use of automated systems that make placing orders easy and convenient, will decrease demand for order clerks. The spread of electronic data interchange, which enables computers to communicate directly with each other, allows orders within establishments to be placed with little human intervention. In addition, internal systems allowing a firm’s employees to place orders directly are becoming increasingly common. Outside orders placed over the Internet often are entered directly into the computer by the customer; thus, the order clerk is not involved at all in placing the order. Some companies also use automated phone menus that are accessible with a touch-tone phone to receive orders, and others use answering machines. Developments in voice recognition technology may further reduce the demand for order clerks.

    Furthermore, increased automation will allow current order clerks to be more productive, with each clerk able to handle an increasingly higher volume of orders. Sophisticated inventory control and automatic billing systems permit companies to track inventory and accounts with much less help from order clerks than in the past.


    Median hourly earnings of order clerks in May 2004 were $12.07. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.45 and $15.53. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.75, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.34. Median hourly earnings in electronic shopping and mail-order houses was $9.83 while median earnings in machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant wholesalers was $14.05 in May 2004. In business support services, median hourly earning was $9.71 in May 2004.

    Related Occupations

    Order clerks receive and process orders. Other workers who perform similar duties include stock clerks and order fillers as well as hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks.

    Sources of Additional Information

    State employment service offices and agencies can provide information about job openings for order clerks.

    • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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