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Retail Salespersons - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Opportunities for advancement vary. In some small establishments, advancement is limited because one person—often the owner—does most of the managerial work. In others, some salespersons can be promoted to assistant manager. 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.

As salespersons gain experience and seniority, they often move into positions with greater responsibility and may be given their choice of departments in which to work. This opportunity often means moving to areas with higher potential 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 excellent talent for persuasion.

Previous sales experience may be an asset when one is applying for positions with larger retailers or in nonretail industries, such as financial services, wholesale trade, or manufacturing.

Retail salespersons held about 4.5 million jobs in 2008. The largest employers were clothing and clothing accessories stores, department stores, building material and supplies dealers, motor vehicle and parts dealers, and general merchandise stores such as warehouse clubs and supercenters. In addition, about 156,500 retail salespersons were self-employed.

Because retail stores are found in every city and town, employment is distributed geographically in much the same way as the population.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow about as fast as average. Due to the frequency with which people leave this occupation, job opportunities are expected to be good.

Job Growth
Employment is expected to grow by 8 percent over the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. In addition, given the size of this occupation, about 374,700 new retail salesperson jobs will arise over the projections decade—more jobs than will be generated in almost any other occupation.

Employment growth among retail salespersons reflects rising retail sales stemming from a growing population. Many retail establishments will continue to expand in size and number, leading to new retail sales positions. Growth will be fastest in general merchandise stores, many of which sell a wide assortment of goods at low prices. As consumers continue to prefer these stores other establishments with higher prices, growth in this industry will be rapid. Employment of retail sales persons is expected to decline in department stores and automobile dealers as these industries see a reduction in store locations.

Despite the growing popularity of electronic commerce, the impact of online shopping on the employment of retail salespersons is expected to be minimal. Internet sales have not decreased the need for retail salespersons. Retail stores commonly use an online presence to complement their in-store sales, and many consumers prefer to buy merchandise in person. Retail salespersons will remain important in assisting customers, providing specialized service, and increasing customer satisfaction.

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. A substantial number of these openings should occur in warehouse clubs and supercenters as a result of strong growth among these establishments.

Opportunities for part-time work should be abundant, and demand is expected be strong for temporary workers during peak selling periods, such as the end-of-year holiday season between Thanksgiving and the beginning of January.

During economic downturns, sales volumes and the resulting demand for sales workers usually decline. Consequently, retail sales jobs generally are more susceptible to fluctuations in the economy than are many other occupations.

Median hourly wages of wage-and-salary retail salespersons, including commissions, were $9.86 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.26 and $13.35 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.37, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.14 an hour.

Many beginning or inexperienced workers earn the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but many States set minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum. In areas where employers have difficulty attracting and retaining workers, wages tend to be higher than the legislated minimum.

Compensation systems can vary by type of establishment and merchandise sold. Salespersons receive hourly wages, commissions, or a combination of the two. 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 depend strongly on their ability to sell their product and on the ups and downs of the economy.

Benefits may be limited in smaller stores, but benefits in large establishments usually are considerable. 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. Also, to bolster revenue, employers may use incentive programs such as awards, bonuses, and profit-sharing plans to the sales staff.

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