Retail Salespersons - What They Do

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.

Work Environment

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.

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.

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 (Other qualifications)

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.

Retail Salespersons - What They Do - Page 2

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