Retail Sales Workers

Summary

retail sales workers image
Retail sales workers help customers find the products they want and process customers’ payments.
Quick Facts: Retail Sales Workers
2012 Median Pay $21,410 per year
$10.29 per hour
Entry-Level Education Less than high school
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2012 4,668,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 10% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 450,200

What Retail Sales Workers Do

Retail sales workers include both those who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and automobiles, (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.

Work Environment

Most retail sales workers work in clean, comfortable, well-lit stores. Many sales workers work evenings and weekends. About 1 in 3 retail salespersons worked part time in 2012.

How to Become a Retail Sales Worker

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

Pay

The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $10.15 in May 2012. The median hourly wage for parts salespersons was $14.21 in May 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. Many workers leave this occupation, which means there will be a large number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

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

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about retail sales workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Retail Sales Workers Do About this section

Retail sales workers
Retail sales workers maintain knowledge of current sales and promotions.

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 About this section

Retail sales workers
Retail sales workers often stand for long periods and may need supervisory approval to leave the sales floor.

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 stores21%
General merchandise stores19
Motor vehicle and parts dealers11
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers9
Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores7

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.

How to Become a Retail Sales Worker About this section

Retail sales workers
A friendly and outgoing personality is important for these workers, as the job requires almost constant interaction with people.

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 About this section

Retail Sales Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Parts salespersons

$14.21

Retail sales workers

$10.29

Retail salespersons

$10.15

 

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 stores9.73
Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores9.46
Clothing and clothing accessories stores9.24

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 About this section

Retail Sales Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Retail sales workers

10%

Retail salespersons

10%

Parts salespersons

7%

 

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.

Employment projections data for retail sales workers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Retail sales workers

4,668,300 5,118,500 10 450,200

Parts salespersons

41-2022 221,300 236,800 7 15,500 [XLS]

Retail salespersons

41-2031 4,447,000 4,881,700 10 434,700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of retail sales workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Cashiers

Cashiers

Cashiers handle payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

Less than high school $18,970
Customer service representatives

Customer Service Representatives

Customer service representatives handle customer complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.

High school diploma or equivalent $30,580
Information clerks

Information Clerks

Information clerks perform routine clerical duties such as maintaining records, collecting data, and providing information to customers.

High school diploma or equivalent $30,650
Insurance sales agents

Insurance Sales Agents

Insurance sales agents help insurance companies generate new business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. Insurance sales agents explain various insurance policies and help clients choose plans that suit them.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,150
Real estate brokers and sales agents

Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents

Real estate brokers and sales agents help clients buy, sell, and rent properties. Although brokers and agents do similar work, brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses. Sales agents must work with a real estate broker.

High school diploma or equivalent $41,990
Sales engineers

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Bachelor’s degree $91,830
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors, and conduct trades.

Bachelor’s degree $71,720
Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.

See How to Become One $57,870
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Retail Sales Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/retail-sales-workers.htm (visited September 03, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014