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Retail Salesperson

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Unemployment Rate

9.5 percent

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Working as a retail salesperson means having a great deal of flexibility in your life thanks to the ability to work summers or part-time as a student or as a second job. Other appealing aspects include working with people and not having to be tied to a desk for those who prefer mobility while they work. It's a good way to begin your life in the business world because you learn skills that can be used in other career paths you may choose. “It's often a first job for many people," says Brian Dodge, spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an Arlington,Va.-based trade association. Many people begin working in retail part time during high school and continue to work in the field until they graduate, and maybe even longer. "Retail is where many Americans learn accountability, how to show up on time, how to follow through on tasks," Dodge says, adding that working as a retail salesperson means not having to work 9 to 5, and it can be a second job. "Flexibility is the No. 1 attraction."

While some retail salesperson jobs include the opportunity to earn a commission plus salary, this policy depends on the company. In addition, there are ways to move up, and some successful retail executives have started as retail salespersons. "If you're successful at the front-line level you can find your way into the management training program," Dodge says. And you just might make it to the top. "Not everybody becomes a CEO, but people can move up the ranks," he says. A friendly, outgoing personality is important, since there is constant contact with customers. You should also enjoy working with people and have a bit of patience, as every attempt doesn't result in a sale.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9.8 percent employment growth for retail salespersons between 2012 and 2022. During that time period, 434,700 new jobs will need to be filled.


Retail salepersons made a median salary of $21,110 in 2012, according to the BLS. The highest-paid 10 percent in the profession earned $38,960, while the lowest-paid earned $16,840 that year. The top-paying industries for this type of work are insurance carriers with an annual average salary of $66,510 and automobiles dealers at $43,250, while the highest-paid positions are clustered in Lowell, Mass., Seattle and Newark, N.J.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $27,900
Median $21,110
25th Percentile $18,290


Entry-level jobs typically have no formal education requirements. However, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or its equivalent, especially those who sell technical products or big-ticket items such as electronics or cars. Retail sales workers can advance in the field, though some employers require candidates for managerial positions to have a college degree. With experience and seniority, you can move into positions with more responsibility and high potential earnings and commissions. According to the BLS, the highest earnings usually come from selling items such as cars, jewelry, furniture and electronics. Requirements include strong customer service and interpersonal skills.

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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 last several days. Typical topics include customer service, security, store policies and procedures, and how to operate the cash register. For certain products, employees may be given additional specialized training. For example, salespersons working in cosmetics receive instruction on the types of products the store sells and for whom the cosmetics would be most beneficial. Similarly, 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.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility good Above Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility good Above Average
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Last updated by Harriet Edleson.

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