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
2016 Median Pay $22,900 per year
$11.01 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2016 4,854,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 100,900

What Retail Sales Workers Do

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.

Work Environment

Most retail sales workers work in clean, well-lit stores. Many sales workers work evenings and weekends. About 1 in 3 retail salespersons worked part time in 2016.

How to Become a Retail Sales Worker

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.

Pay

The median hourly wage for parts salespersons was $14.32 in May 2016.

The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $10.90 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, slower than the average for all occupations. Despite the low projected employment growth there should still be plenty of job opportunities over the next ten years since many workers leave this occupation each year.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for retail sales workers.

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 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

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 About this section

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

Parts salespersons held about 251,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of parts salespersons were 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 held about 4.6 million jobs in 2016. The largest employers of retail salespersons were 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.

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 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 worked part time in 2016.

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, 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

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.

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

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

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.

Pay About this section

Retail Sales Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2016

Total, all occupations

$17.81

Parts salespersons

$14.32

Sales and related occupations

$12.78

Retail sales workers

$11.01

Retail salespersons

$10.90

 

The median hourly wage for parts salespersons was $14.32 in May 2016. 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 was $10.90 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.56, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.91.

In May 2016, the median hourly wages for parts salespersons in the top industries in which they worked were 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

In May 2016, the median hourly wages for retail salespersons in the top industries in which they worked were 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 worked part time in 2016.

Job Outlook About this section

Retail Sales Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Total, all occupations

7%

Parts salespersons

5%

Sales and related occupations

3%

Retail sales workers

2%

Retail salespersons

2%

 

Overall employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, slower than the average for all occupations.

Employment of retail salespersons is projected to grow 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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 from 2016 to 2026, 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.

Job Prospects

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 SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Retail sales workers

4,854,300 4,955,200 2 100,900

Parts salespersons

41-2022 251,900 264,600 5 12,800 employment projections excel document xlsx

Retail salespersons

41-2031 4,602,500 4,690,600 2 88,100 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

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 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Cashiers

Cashiers

Cashiers process payments from customers purchasing goods and services.

No formal educational credential $20,180
Customer service representatives

Customer Service Representatives

Customer service representatives interact with customers to handle complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.

High school diploma or equivalent $32,300
Information clerks

Information Clerks

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

See How to Become One $32,920
Insurance sales agents

Insurance Sales Agents

Insurance sales agents contact potential customers and sell 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 $49,990
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 $46,410
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 $100,000
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 $67,310
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 the features of the products they are selling, negotiate prices, and answer any questions that their customers may have about the products.

See How to Become One $60,530
Food and beverage serving and related workers

Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.

No formal educational credential $19,630
Sales managers

Sales Managers

Sales managers direct organizations' sales teams. They set sales goals, analyze data, and develop training programs for organizations’ sales representatives.

Bachelor's degree $117,960
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Retail Sales Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/retail-sales-workers.htm (visited December 13, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

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2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.