Employers look for people who enjoy working with others and
who have tact, patience, an interest in sales work, a neat appearance,
and the ability to communicate clearly.
Whether selling shoes, computer equipment, or automobiles,
retail salespersons assist customers in finding what they
are looking for and try to interest them in buying the merchandise.
They describe a product’s features, demonstrate its use, or
show various models and colors. For some sales jobs, particularly
those involving expensive and complex items, retail salespersons
need special knowledge or skills. For example, salespersons
who sell automobiles must be able to explain the features
of various models, the manufacturers’ specifications, the
types of options and financing available, and the warranty.
Consumers spend millions of dollars every day on merchandise
and often form their impression of a store by evaluating its
sales force. Therefore, retailers stress the importance of
providing courteous and efficient service to remain competitive.
For example, when a customer wants an item that is not on
the sales floor, the salesperson may check the stockroom,
place a special order, or call another store to locate the
In addition to selling, most retail salespersons—especially
those who work in department and apparel stores—make out sales
checks; receive cash, checks, debit, and charge payments;
bag or package purchases; and give change and receipts. Depending
on the hours they work, retail salespersons may have to open
or close cash registers. This work may include counting the
money in the register; separating charge slips, coupons, and
exchange vouchers; and making deposits at the cash office.
Salespersons often are held responsible for the contents of
their registers, and repeated shortages are cause for dismissal
in many organizations.
Salespersons also may handle returns and exchanges of merchandise,
wrap gifts, and keep their work areas neat. In addition, they
may help stock shelves or racks, arrange for mailing or delivery
of purchases, mark price tags, take inventory, and prepare
Frequently, salespersons must be aware of special sales and
promotions. They also must recognize security risks and thefts
and know how to handle or prevent such situations.
Most salespersons in retail trade work in clean, comfortable,
well-lighted stores. However, they often stand for long periods
and may need supervisory approval to leave the sales floor.
They also may work outdoors if they sell items such as cars,
plants, or lumber yard materials.
The Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 workweek is the exception
rather than the rule in retail trade. Most salespersons work
evenings and weekends, particularly during sales and other
peak retail periods. The end-of-year holiday season is the
busiest time for most retailers. As a result, many employers
restrict the use of vacation time to some period other than
Thanksgiving through the beginning of January.
The job can be rewarding for those who enjoy working with
people. Patience and courtesy are required, especially when
the work is repetitious and the customers are demanding.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There usually are no formal education requirements for this
type of work, although a high school diploma or the equivalent
is preferred. Employers look for people who enjoy working
with others and who have the tact and patience to deal with
difficult customers. Among other desirable characteristics
are an interest in sales work, a neat appearance, and the
ability to communicate clearly and effectively. The ability
to speak more than one language may be helpful for employment
in communities where people from various cultures tend to
live and shop. Before hiring a salesperson, some employers
may conduct a background check, especially for a job
selling high-priced items.
In most small stores, an experienced employee or the proprietor
instructs newly hired sales personnel in making out sales
checks and operating cash registers. In large stores, training
programs are more formal and are usually conducted over several
days. Topics generally discussed are customer service, security,
the store’s policies and procedures, and how to work a cash
register. Depending on the type of product they are selling,
employees may be given additional specialized training by
manufacturers’ representatives. For example, those working
in cosmetics receive instruction on the types of products
the store has available and for whom the cosmetics would be
most beneficial. Likewise, salespersons employed by motor
vehicle dealers may be required to participate in training
programs designed to provide information on the technical
details of standard and optional equipment available on new
vehicle models. Since providing the best possible service
to customers is a high priority for many employers, employees
often are given periodic training to update and refine their
As salespersons gain experience and seniority, they usually
move to positions of greater responsibility and may be given
their choice of departments in which to work. This often means
moving to areas with potentially higher earnings and commissions.
The highest earnings potential usually lies in selling “big-ticket”
items—such as cars, jewelry, furniture, and electronic equipment—although
doing so often requires extensive knowledge of the product
and an extraordinary talent for persuasion.
Opportunities for advancement vary in small stores. In some
establishments, advancement is limited because one person—often
the owner—does most of the managerial work. In others, some
salespersons are promoted to assistant managers. Large retail
businesses usually prefer to hire college graduates as management
trainees, making a college education increasingly important.
However, motivated and capable employees without college degrees
still may advance to administrative or supervisory positions
in large establishments.
Retail selling experience may be an asset when one is applying
for sales positions with larger retailers or in other industries,
such as financial services, wholesale trade, or manufacturing.
Retail salespersons held about 4.3 million wage and salary
jobs in 2004. They worked in stores ranging from small specialty
shops employing a few workers to giant department stores with
hundreds of salespersons. In addition, some were self-employed
representatives of direct-sales companies and mail-order houses.
The largest employers of retail salespersons are department
stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, building
material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, other
general merchandise stores, and motor vehicle and parts dealers.
This occupation offers many opportunities for part-time work
and is especially appealing to students, retirees, and others
seeking to supplement their income. However, most of those
selling big-ticket items work full time and have substantial
Because retail stores are found in every city and town, employment
is distributed geographically in much the same way as the
As in the past, employment opportunities for retail salespersons
are expected to be good because of the need to replace
the large number of workers who transfer to other occupations
or leave the labor force each year. In addition, many new
jobs will be created for retail salespersons as businesses
seek to expand operations and enhance customer service. Employment
is expected to grow about as
fast as average for all occupations through the year 2014,
reflecting rising retail sales stemming from a growing population.
Opportunities for part-time work should be abundant, and demand
will be strong for temporary workers during peak selling periods,
such as the end-of-year holiday season. The availability of
part-time and temporary work attracts many people seeking
to supplement their income.
During economic downturns, sales volumes and the resulting
demand for sales workers usually decline. Purchases of costly
items, such as cars, appliances, and furniture, tend to be
postponed during difficult economic times. In areas of high
unemployment, sales of many types of goods decline. However,
because turnover among retail salespersons is high, employers
often can adjust employment levels simply by not replacing
all those who leave.
Despite the growing popularity of electronic commerce, Internet
sales have not decreased the need for retail salespersons.
Retail stores commonly use an online presence to complement
their in-store sales; there are very few Internet-only apparel
and specialty stores. Retail salespersons will remain important
in assuring customers that they will receive specialized service
and in improving customer satisfaction, something Internet
services cannot do. Therefore, the impact of electronic commerce
on employment of retail salespersons is expected to be minimal.
The starting wage for many retail sales positions is the
Federal minimum wage, which was $5.15 an hour in 2004. In
areas where employers have difficulty attracting and retaining
workers, wages tend to be higher than the legislated minimum.
Median hourly earnings of retail salespersons, including
commissions, were $8.98 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $7.46 and $12.22 an hour. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $6.38, and the highest 10 percent earned
more than $17.85 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of retail salespersons in May
2004 were as follows:
|Building material and supplies dealers
|Other general merchandise stores
Compensation systems vary by type of establishment and merchandise
sold. Salespersons receive hourly wages, commissions, or a
combination thereof. Under a commission system, salespersons
receive 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 strongly depend on their
ability to sell their product and on the ups and downs of
the economy. Employers may use incentive programs such as
awards, banquets, bonuses, and profit-sharing plans to promote
teamwork among the sales staff.
Benefits may be limited in smaller stores, but benefits in
large establishments usually are comparable to those offered
by other employers. In addition, nearly all salespersons are
able to buy their store’s merchandise at a discount, with
the savings depending on the type of merchandise.
Salespersons use sales techniques, coupled with their knowledge
of merchandise, to assist customers and encourage purchases.
Workers in other occupations who use these same skills include
sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing; securities,
commodities, and financial services sales agents; counter
and rental clerks; real estate brokers and sales agents; purchasing
managers, buyers, and purchasing agents; insurance sales agents;
sales engineers; and cashiers.
See the Career Database for
more information on these careers.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information on careers in retail sales may be obtained from
the personnel offices of local stores or from State merchants’
General information about retailing is available from:
- National Retail Federation, 325 7th St. NW., Suite 1100,
Washington, DC 20004.
Information about retail sales employment opportunities is
- Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, 30 East
29th St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.
Information about training for a career in automobile sales
is available from:
- National Automobile Dealers Association, Public Relations
Department, 8400 Westpark Dr., McLean, VA 22102-3591. Internet:
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition
See also Retail