Retail Sales Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers' payments.

Work Environment: Most retail sales workers work in clean, well-lit stores. Many sales workers work evenings and weekends. Some retail salespersons work part time.

How to Become One: Typically, there are no formal education requirements for retail sales workers. Most receive on-the-job training, which usually lasts a few days to a few months.

Salary: The median hourly wage for parts salespersons is $14.63 2018. The median hourly wage for retail salespersons is $11.63.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of retail sales workers is projected to decline 2 percent over the next ten years. Competition from online sales will lead to employment declines in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of retail sales workers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a retail sales worker with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

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  • Retail Sales Associate - Atiyeh Bros. - Tigard, OR

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What Retail Sales Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Retail sales workers help customers find products they want and process customers' payments. There are two types of retail sales workers: retail salespersons, who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles; and parts salespersons, who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts.

Duties of Retail Sales Workers

Retail sales workers typically do the following:

  • Greet customers and offer them assistance
  • 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
  • Inform customers about current sales, promotions, and policies about payments and exchanges

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, which 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, manufacturers' specifications, different types of options on the car, 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, which may include notifying security guards or calling police.

Parts salespersons sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts. Most work in either automotive parts stores or automobile dealerships. They take customers' orders, inform customers of part availability and price, and take inventory.

Work Environment for Retail Sales Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Parts salespersons hold about 258,000 jobs. The largest employers of parts salespersons are as follows:

Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores 43%
Automobile dealers 22%
Wholesale trade 21%
Other motor vehicle dealers 4%
Repair and maintenance 4%

Retail salespersons hold about 4.5 million jobs. The largest employers of retail salespersons are as follows:

Clothing and clothing accessories stores 21%
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers 11%
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores 7%
Automobile dealers 6%
Electronics and appliance stores 4%

Most retail sales work is performed in clean, well-lit stores. Retail sales workers spend most of their time interacting with customers, answering questions, and assisting them with purchases.

Workers 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.

Retail Sales Workers 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 for retail stores, many employers limit retail sales workers' use of vacation time between November and the beginning of January.

Some retail salespersons work part time.

How to Become a Retail Sales Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Retail Sales Workers near you!

Typically, there are no formal education requirements for retail sales workers. Most receive on-the-job training, which usually lasts a few days to a few months.

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Education for Retail Sales Workers

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 employers who sell technical products or "big-ticket" items, such as electronics or cars.

Retail Sales Worker Training

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

During training sessions, 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 auto parts may be instructed on the technical functions of various parts, in addition to sales technique.

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

Advancement for Retail Sales Workers

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 involves selling "big-ticket" items, such as cars, jewelry, furniture, and electronics. These positions often require workers with extensive knowledge of the product and excellent sales skills.

Important Qualities for Retail Sales Workers

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.

Math skills. Retail sales workers must have the ability to calculate price totals, discounts, and change owed to customers.

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 the merchandise.

Retail Sales Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median hourly wage for parts salespersons is $14.63. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.56, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.27.

The median hourly wage for retail salespersons is $11.63. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.85, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.96.

The median hourly wages for parts salespersons in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Repair and maintenance $18.11
Wholesale trade $18.06
Automobile dealers $16.68
Other motor vehicle dealers $14.89
Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores $12.34

The median hourly wages for retail salespersons in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Automobile dealers $16.67
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers $12.94
Electronics and appliance stores $12.17
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores $11.23
Clothing and clothing accessories stores $11.18

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. Commissions are most common for retail sales workers selling "big-ticket" items, such as cars or electronics.

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 for retail stores, many employers limit sales workers' use of vacation time between November and the beginning of January.

Some retail salespersons work part time.

Job Outlook for Retail Sales Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of retail sales workers is projected to decline 2 percent over the next ten years.

Employment of retail salespersons is projected to decline 2 percent over the next ten years. Competition from online sales will lead to employment declines in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

The increase in online sales is expected to continue over the next decade, limiting growth in the number of physical retail stores and reducing demand for retail sales workers. Online sales also are projected to affect specific segments of the retail industry to varying extents. For example, book and media stores are likely to see the most severe declines due to online competition. However, other retail segments, such as automobile dealers, have experienced much less of an impact.

Although online sales are expected to continue to increase, brick-and-mortar retail stores are also expected to increase their emphasis on customer service as a way to compete with online sellers. In addition, cost pressure may drive retailers to ask their in-store staff to do more. This means they may want workers who can perform a broad range of job duties that include helping customers find items, operating a cash register, and restocking shelves. Because retail sales workers provide this versatile range of services, they will still be needed in retail stores. In general, although consumers are increasing their online retail shopping, they will continue to do most of their retail shopping in stores. Retail salespersons will be needed in stores to help customers and to complete sales.

See all retail jobs.

Employment of parts salespersons is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years. 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 may be slowed by competition from online parts retailers.

Employment projections data for Retail Sales Workers, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Retail sales workers 4,768,900 4,663,700 -2 -105,200
  Parts salespersons 258,000 254,700 -1 -3,300
  Retail salespersons 4,510,900 4,409,100 -2 -101,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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