Retail sales workers

What Retail Sales Workers Do

Retail sales workers include both those who sell retail merchandise, such as clothing, furniture, and cars, (called retail salespersons) and those who sell spare and replacement parts and equipment, especially car parts (called parts salespersons). Both types of workers help customers find the products they want and process customers’ payments.


Retail sales workers typically do the following:

  • Greet customers and determine what each customer wants or needs
  • Recommend merchandise based on customers’ wants and needs
  • Explain the use and benefit of merchandise to customers
  • Answer customers’ questions
  • Show how merchandise works, if applicable
  • Add up customers’ total purchases and accept payment
  • Know about current sales and promotions, policies about payments and exchanges, and security practices

The following are examples of types of retail sales workers:

Retail salespersons work in stores where they sell goods, such as books, cars, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, furniture, lumber, plants, shoes, and many other types of merchandise.

In addition to helping customers find and select items to buy, many retail salespersons process the payment for the sale. This typically involves operating cash registers.

After taking payment for the purchases, retail salespersons may bag or package the purchases.

Depending on the hours they work, retail salespersons may have to open or close cash registers. This includes counting the money in the register and separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers. They may also make deposits at a cash office.

For information about other workers who receive and disburse money, see the profile on cashiers.

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 retail sales jobs, particularly those involving expensive and complex items, retail sales workers need special knowledge or skills. For example, those who sell cars must be able to explain the features of various models, the manufacturers’ specifications, the types of options on the car and financing available, and the details of associated warranties.

In addition, retail sales workers must recognize security risks and thefts and understand their organization’s procedures for handling thefts—procedures that may include notifying security guards or calling police.

Parts salespersons sell spare and replacement parts and equipment. Most deal with car parts, by working in either automotive parts stores or automobile dealerships. They take customers’ orders, inform customers of part availability and price, and take inventory.

How to Become a Retail Sales Worker

Typically, retail sales workers do not need a formal education. However, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or its equivalent.


Although retail or parts sales positions usually have no formal education requirements, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, especially those who sell technical products or “big-ticket” items, such as electronics or cars.


Most retail sales workers receive on-the-job training, which usually lasts a few days to a few months. In small stores, newly hired workers often 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 how to operate the cash register.

Depending on the type of product they are selling, employees may be given additional specialized training. For example, salespersons working in cosmetics get 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 on the technical differences between computer products.

Because providing exceptional service to customers is a priority for many employers, employees often get periodic training to update and refine their skills.


Retail sales workers typically have opportunities to advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Some employers want candidates for managerial positions to have a college degree.

As sales workers gain experience and seniority, they often move into positions that have greater responsibility and may be given their choice of departments in which to work. This opportunity often means moving to positions with higher potential earnings and commissions. The highest earnings potential usually lies in selling “big-ticket” items—such as cars, jewelry, furniture, and electronics. These positions often require workers with extensive knowledge of the product and an excellent talent for persuasion.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Retail sales workers must be responsive to the wants and needs of customers. They should explain the product options available to customers and make appropriate recommendations.

Interpersonal skills. A friendly and outgoing personality is important for these workers because the job requires almost constant interaction with people. 

Persistence. A large number of attempted sales may not be successful, so sales workers should not be discouraged easily. They must start each new sales attempt with a positive attitude.

Selling skills. Retail sales workers must be persuasive when interacting with customers. They must clearly and effectively explain the benefits of merchandise.

Job Outlook

Retail Sales Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations


Retail sales workers


Retail salespersons


Parts salespersons



Employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of retail salespersons is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of retail salespersons has traditionally grown with the overall economy, and this trend is expected to continue. Population growth will increase retail sales and demand for these workers.

Online sales have had a detrimental effect on certain in-store retailers, primarily book and media stores. However, other retail segments, such as automobile dealers and clothing stores, have seen much less of an impact. In general, although consumers are increasing their online retail shopping, they will continue to do the vast majority of their retail shopping in stores. Retail salespersons will be needed in stores to help customers and complete sales.

Among the various retail industries, other general merchandise stores, which include warehouse clubs and supercenters, are expected to see strong job growth. These large stores sell a wide range of goods from a single location. Thus, employment of retail salespersons in this industry is projected to grow 28 percent during the next decade. However, employment of these workers in department stores is projected to grow only 5 percent. 

Employment of parts salespersons is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. People are keeping their cars longer and are buying new cars less often. Older cars need to be serviced more frequently, creating demand for car parts and parts salespersons. However, growth will be slowed by the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and supplies merchant wholesalers industry, in which employment of parts salespersons is projected to decline 7 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Job Prospects

Many workers leave this occupation, which means there will be a large number of job openings. This should result in many employment opportunities for qualified workers.

Employment projections data for Retail Sales Workers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Retail sales workers

4,668,300 5,118,500 10 450,200

Parts salespersons

41-2022 221,300 236,800 7 15,500  

Retail salespersons

41-2031 4,447,000 4,881,700 10 434,700  
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Cashiers Cashiers

Cashiers handle payments from customers purchasing goods and services.'

Less than high school $18,970
Customer service representatives Customer service representatives

Customer service representatives handle customer complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.'

High school diploma or equivalent $30,580
Information clerks Information clerks

Information clerks perform routine clerical duties such as maintaining records, collecting data, and providing information to customers.'

High school diploma or equivalent $30,650
Insurance sales agents Insurance sales agents

Insurance sales agents help insurance companies generate new business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. Insurance sales agents explain various insurance policies and help clients choose plans that suit them.'

High school diploma or equivalent $48,150
Real estate brokers and sales agents Real estate brokers and sales agents

Real estate brokers and sales agents help clients buy, sell, and rent properties. Although brokers and agents do similar work, brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses. Sales agents must work with a real estate broker.'

High school diploma or equivalent $41,990
Sales engineers Sales engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.'

Bachelor's degree $91,830
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors, and conduct trades.'

Bachelor's degree $71,720
Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.'

High school diploma or bachelor's degree $57,870

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