Retail Sales Workers


Employment Prospects


More than 4.6 million retail salespersons are employed in the United States. There are many different types of retail establishments, ranging from small specialty shops that appeal to collectors to large retailers that sell everything from eyeglasses to mobile phones. The largest employers of retail salespersons are department stores, clothing and accessories stores, building material and garden equipment stores, home furnishings stores, automobile dealers, and sporting goods, hobby, and musical instrument stores. Retail sales workers can have just one or two coworkers or well over 100, depending on the size of the establishment.

Starting Out

If they have openings, retail stores usually hire beginning salespeople who come in and fill out an application. Major department stores maintain extensive personnel departments, while in smaller stores the manager might do the hiring. Occasionally, sales applicants are given an aptitude test.

Young people might be hired immediately for sales positions. Often, however, they begin by working in the stockroom as clerks, helping to set up merchandise displays, or assisting in the receiving or shipping departments. After a while they might be moved up to a sales assignment.

Training varies with the type and size of the store. In large stores, the beginner might benefit from formal training courses that cover sales techniques, store policies, the mechanics of recording sales, and an overview of the entire store. Programs of this type are usually followed by on-the-job sales supervision. The beginner in a small store might receive personal instruction from the manager or a senior sales worker, followed by supervised sales experience.

College graduates and people with successful sales experience often enter executive training programs (sometimes referred to as flying squads because they move rapidly through different parts of the store). As they rotate through various departments, the trainees are exposed to merchandising methods, stock and inventory control, advertising, buying, credit, and personnel. By spending time in each of these areas, trainees receive a broad retailing background designed to help them as they advance into the ranks of management.

Advancement Prospects

Large stores have the most opportunities for promotion. Retailing, however, is a mobile field, and successful and experienced people can readily change employment. This is one of the few fields where, if the salesperson has the necessary initiative and ability, advancement to executive positions is possible regardless of education.

When first on the job, sales workers develop their career potential by specializing in a particular line of merchandise. They become authorities on a certain product line, such as sporting equipment, women's suits, or building materials. Many good sales workers prefer the role of the senior sales worker and remain at this level. Others might be asked to become supervisor of a section. Eventually they might develop into a department manager, floor manager, division or branch manager, or general manager.

People with sales experience often enter related areas, such as buying. Other retail store workers advance into support areas, such as personnel, accounting, public relations, and credit.

Young people with ability find that retailing offers the opportunity for unusually rapid advancement. Many retail executives are under 35 years of age. It is not uncommon for a person under 35 to be in charge of a retail store or department with an annual sales volume of over $1,000,000. Conversely, a retail executive who makes bad merchandising judgments might quickly be out of a job.

Tips for Entry

Visit the National Retail Federation's Retail Careers and Leadership page (https://nrf.com/insights/careers-and-leadership) for job listings, information on retail education programs, an overview of retail career paths, and career advice.

Participate in retail-oriented internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your high school or college’s career services office.

Become certified by the National Retail Federation in order to show employers that you have met the highest standards set by your industry.

Obtain sales experience in order to make yourself more attractive to potential employers.