Whether selling shoes, computer equipment, or automobiles, retail salespersons assist customers in finding what they are looking for. They also try to increase sales by describing a product's features, demonstrating its uses, and promoting its value.
In addition to selling, many retail salespersons—especially those who work in department and apparel stores—conduct financial transactions with their customers. This usually involves receiving payments by cash, check, debit card, or credit card; operating cash registers; and bagging or packaging purchases. Depending on the hours they work, retail salespersons may have to open or close cash registers. This work may include counting the money in the register and separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers. Retail salespersons also may have to make deposits at a cash office. 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 sales jobs, particularly those involving expensive and complex items, retail salespersons need special knowledge or skills. For example, salespersons who sell automobiles must be able to explain the features of various models, the manufacturers' specifications, the types of options and financing available, and the details of associated warranties. In addition, all retail salespersons must recognize security risks and thefts and understand their organization’s procedure for handling such situations—procedures that may include notifying security guards or calling police.
Parts salespersons held about 257,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of parts salespersons were as follows:
- Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores - 45%
- Automobile dealers - 22%
- Wholesale trade - 20%
- Other motor vehicle dealers - 4%
- Repair and maintenance - 4%
Retail salespersons held about 3.8 million jobs in 2020. The largest employers of retail salespersons were as follows:
- Clothing and clothing accessories stores - 16%
- Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers - 13%
- 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.
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.
Education & Training Required
There usually are no formal education requirements for retail sales positions, but employers often prefer applicants with a high school diploma or its equivalent. This may be especially important for those who sell technical products or “big-ticket” items, such as electronics or automobiles. A college degree may be required for management trainee positions, especially in larger retail establishments.
Most retail salespersons receive on-the-job training, which usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a few months. In small stores, newly hired workers usually 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 cash register operation. Depending on the type of product they are selling, employees may be given additional specialized training. For example, those working in cosmetics receive 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 in the technical differences between computer products. Because providing the best possible service to customers is a high priority for many employers, employees often are given periodic training to update and refine their skills.
Other Skills Required
Employers look for people who enjoy working with others and who possess good communication skills. Employers also value workers who have the tact and patience to deal with difficult customers. Among other desirable characteristics are an interest in sales work, a neat appearance, and a courteous demeanor. The ability to speak more than one language may be helpful for employment in communities where people from various cultures live and shop. Before hiring a salesperson, some employers conduct a background check, especially for a job selling high-priced items.
How to Advance
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.
Overall employment of retail sales workers is projected to show little or no change from 2020 to 2030.
Despite limited employment growth, about 557,200 openings for retail sales workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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.
People are keeping their cars longer and are buying new cars less often. The need for older cars to be serviced more frequently creates, in turn, more demand for car parts and parts salespersons. Moreover, the growth in demand for ride-hailing services has shifted some public transportation use back to automobiles services, further adding to the need for car parts in upkeep and maintenance. However, employment growth is expected to be slowed by competition from online parts retailers.
The median hourly wage for parts salespersons was $16.47 in May 2021. 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 $11.03, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.97.
The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $14.00 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.50, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.85.
In May 2021, the median hourly wages for parts salespersons in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Wholesale trade - $20.39
- Repair and maintenance - $18.65
- Automobile dealers - $18.05
- Other motor vehicle dealers - $17.48
- Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores - $14.02
In May 2021, the median hourly wages for retail salespersons in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Automobile dealers - $18.25
- Electronics and appliance stores - $14.45
- Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers - $14.27
- Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores - $13.74
- Clothing and clothing accessories stores - $13.46
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.