Retail Sales Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Retail Associate Jobs

  • Retail Sales Associate - Knickers & Pearls Boutique - Yountville, CA

    Assist the store manager with the following: • Providing excellent customer service • Meet set sales goals • Increase sales

  • Senior Retail Sales Associate - Lori's Shoes - Chicago, IL

    Create a welcoming environment for the customer • Demonstrate product knowledge and awareness of promotions and advertisements • Provide sales

  • Retail Sales Associate - Verizon Wireless - Minneapolis, MN

    Now that you know what we’re

See all Retail Associate jobs

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 251,900 jobs. The largest employers of parts salespersons are as follows:

Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores 42%
Automobile dealers 23
Wholesale trade 22
Other motor vehicle dealers 5
Repair and maintenance 4

Retail salespersons hold about 4.6 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 10
Other general merchandise stores 9
Department stores 9
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores 8

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.

About 1 in 3 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.

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 $14.32. 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 $9.18, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.21.

The median hourly wage for retail salespersons is $10.90. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.56, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.91.

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

Wholesale trade $17.47
Automobile dealers 17.15
Repair and maintenance 16.73
Other motor vehicle dealers 13.95
Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores 11.81

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

Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers $12.39
Other general merchandise stores 10.31
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores 10.25
Clothing and clothing accessories stores 10.07
Department stores 10.01

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.

About 1 in 3 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 grow 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Employment of retail salespersons is projected to grow 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations. The employment of retail salespersons has traditionally tracked the health of the overall economy.

The increase in online sales is expected to continue over the next decade, limiting the growth of the number of physical retail stores and moderating the demand for retail sales workers. Online sales also are projected to affect specific segments of the retail industry to varying extents. For instance, book and media stores are likely to see the most severe declines due to online competition. However, other retail segments, such as automobile dealers and clothing stores, 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 have this versatile range of functions, their usage should also increase. Therefore, traditional retail stores should hire more sales workers to provide this service. In general, although consumers are increasing their online retail shopping, they will continue to do the majority of their retail shopping in stores. Retail salespersons will be needed in stores to help customers and complete sales.

Therefore, although the growth of online shopping will likely constrain overall employment growth, job opportunities for retail sales workers within physical stores should continue to increase.

Employment of parts salespersons is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as 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 may be slowed by competition from online parts retailers.

See all retail jobs.

Job Prospects for Retail Sales Workers

Turnover is high among retail salespersons, which means there will be a large number of job openings. This, combined with the large size of this occupation, should result in good job prospects for qualified workers.

Employment projections data for Retail Sales Workers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Retail sales workers 4,854,300 4,946,700 2 92,400
  Parts salespersons 251,900 264,500 5 12,700
  Retail salespersons 4,602,500 4,682,100 2 79,700


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

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