What Does a Retail Salesperson Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Female shop assistant talking to customer in a clothes shop
•••

monkeybusinessimages / ​iStock / Getty Images Plus  

A retail salesperson sells clothes, cars, electronics, furniture, or other products directly to consumers. He or she helps customers find what they are looking for in a store or other retail establishment and gets them to make purchases by explaining how the merchandise will benefit them. They are not to be confused with sales representatives who sell products on behalf of manufacturers and wholesalers.

Duties & Responsibilities

On a typical day, a retail salesperson will:

  • Greet customers
  • Try to figure out what a customer wants or needs by talking to or observing him or her
  • Tell customers about products' features and demonstrate their use
  • Explain the differences between different models of a product
  • Answer questions about products, services, and store policies
  • Inform customers about sales and promotions
  • Order customized or out-of-stock items
  • Prepare sales receipts or contracts
  • Process payments for purchases
  • Set up and maintain merchandise displays

Career Paths

Retail salespeople with experience and seniority typically move up to positions of greater responsibility, and may be given their choice of departments in which to work.

They often move to areas with potentially higher earnings and commissions. In larger stores, salespeople may move into managerial positions, first becoming assistant managers. In smaller stores, these opportunities for advancement vary since store owners may handle all managerial responsibilities.

Salary

The salary for retail sales workers depends on the company that hires them, the job responsibilities, and the type of retail establishment they are working for.

  • Median Annual Salary: $31,699 ($15.24/hour) 
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $56,097 ($26.97/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $20,571 ($9.89/hour)

 Although the pay is relatively low, workers often receive employee discounts on purchases.

Education, Training, & Certification

This occupation doesn't have any formal educational requirements, but many employers prefer to hire those who have a high school or equivalency diploma. 

New hires receive on-the-job training from their employers, learning about things such as customer service and store security. They become acquainted with an establishment's policies and procedures. Those selling specialty products are instructed in their use.

Skills & Competencies

To succeed as a retail salesperson, you must have strong customer service skills which include the ability to respond to potential customers' wants and needs.

People Skills: Retail sales representatives must have excellent people skills, such as the ability to relate to others. 

Sales Skills: Good selling skills are required, as one may have to persuade customers to make purchases.

Persistence: Persistence may at times be needed in order to sell a product to a customer who may not be immediately interested in it.

Job Outlook

Employment of retail sales workers is projected to show little or no change from 2019 to 2029. Projected employment is about 4.4 million workers.

Work Environment

Retail salespeople work in a variety of environments, ranging from small boutiques to large retailers. The largest employers of retail sales workers include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores
    Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers
  • Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores
  • Automobile dealers
  • Electronics and appliance stores

Work Schedule

Retail salespeople's schedules include evenings and weekends. They sometimes have to work on holidays. Another downside to this occupation is that workers spend a lot of time standing and can only take breaks when scheduled to do so.

How to Get the Job

WRITE A TARGETED RESUME AND COVER LETTER: Create a resume that plays up your strengths and sets you apart from other candidates. Write a focused cover letter that highlights your retail skills.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS: Depending on the retail establishment, you may need to dress professionally. For most retailers, business casual attire is appropriate.

PRACTICE ANSWERING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS: Many of the same questions come up during interviews with human resources employees and hiring managers. Review answers to the most frequently asked interview questions, so you can impress your interviewer.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in working in retail might also consider the following jobs. The figures provided are median annual salaries:

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "What Retail Sales Workers Do." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers. Pay." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become a Retail Sales Worker." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers. Job Outlook." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers. Work Environment." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.

  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers. Similar Occupations." Accessed Nov. 24, 2020.