Retail Salesperson

Career Information

Female shop assistant talking to customer in a clothes shop
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A retail salesperson sells clothes, cars, electronics 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.

Employment Facts

Retail salespeople held about 4.2 million jobs in 2010. Clothing and clothing accessories stores employed close to a quarter of them. Many also worked for general merchandise stores.

Retail salespeople's schedules include evenings and weekends. They sometimes have to work on holidays. For example, many stores are open on Thanksgiving Day in order to get a head start on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Another downside to this occupation is that workers spend a lot of time standing and can only take breaks when scheduled to do so.

Educational Requirements

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.

Other Requirements

To succeed as a retail salesperson one must have good customer service skills which include the ability to respond to potential customers' wants and needs. He or she must have good people skills such as the ability to relate to others. Good selling skills are required, as one may have to persuade customers to make purchases. Persistence may at times be needed in order to sell a product to a customer who may not be immediately interested in it.


Retail salespeople with experience and seniority usually move 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.

Job Outlook

This occupation, predicts the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2020. Due to a high rate of turnover, there will be more job openings in retail sales than in any other occupation.


Retail salespeople earned a median annual salary of $21,010 and median hourly wages of $10.10 in 2009. Although the pay is relatively low, workers often receive employee discounts on purchases.

Use the Salary Calculator at to find out how much retail salespeople currently earn in your city.

A Day in a Retail Salesperson's Life

On a typical day a retail salesperson will:

  • 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 differences between different models of a product
  • answer questions about products, services and store policies
  • look for individuals attempting to steal merchandise and report them to security personnel
  • order customized or out-of-stock items
  • prepare sales receipts or contracts
  • process payments for purchases
  • Set up and maintain merchandise displays

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Retail Salespersons, on the Internet at (visited February 4, 2013).

Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Retail Salespersons, on the Internet at (visited February 4, 2013).