CAREERS: Retail

Posted by on Jul 9, 2019 in Careers

If you’re like many teenagers, you probably enjoy shopping and hanging out at your favorite stores with your friends. Maybe you have even thought about a career in retail. If so, you’re not alone. In fact, the retail sector–which includes everything from department stores to grocery stores to gas stations–employs almost 16 million workers. Here, we take a look at what a retail job would involve, as well as some of the pros and cons of this popular career.

Waist-up, cropped selective focus view of a smiling young woman standing behind a counter and using a touchscreen to process payment in a coffee shop or cafe
Credit: Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

Education and Experience

One of the big advantages of a retail career is that no formal experience is required, at least when you’re first starting out. All you need to land your first retail job are strong interpersonal skills and a knack for selling things. If one wishes to become a manager, however, then a college degree and/or professional training are likely required.

Job Outlook

A career in retail presents a wide range of possible job options. Though you may not start out making much money in a retail job, there are lots of opportunities to move up the career ladder, especially if you are employed by a large national chain. A retail sales associate will often earn more than someone in an entry-level job, such as a cashier. Most employers will even offer their own in-house training program. From there, you could become a department manager, a store manager, and eventually a district manager.

Specialized jobs within the retail industry include buyers, customer service representatives, product promoter (picture someone who gives out samples at the grocery store), IT coordinators (responsible for upgrading and maintaining a store’s computerized information and data system), security/loss prevention, trainer, and human resources manager.

As you can see, the retail industry includes a broad range of jobs, and so it’s difficult to predict the overall outlook for this career. Using retail sales associates as an example, there were 4.8 million of these jobs in 2016, with a predicted job growth of 2 percent per year between 2016 and 2026 (which is slower than average). The median 2018 pay for a retail sales position was $24,340 per year (or $11.70 per hour), plus commissions (bonus money you make when you sell something).

However, at the same time, the trend toward online shopping has meant that many brick-and-mortar shops have had to close their doors recently: think Toys-R-Us and Sears. Even popular stores such as Target and Kohl’s have had to shut down some of their more poorly-performing stores this year. In fact, 7,000 stores have closed during the first half of 2019 alone, and some business experts predict that this number could reach as high as 75,000 stores by 2026 if the online shopping trend continues. This means that it may be much more difficult to find long-term retail jobs in the future.

Pros and Cons

One of the great things about a retail job is that it won’t be hard to get your foot in the door: 2.8 million people worked as entry-level cashiers in 2015. From there, with some education and training, there are ample opportunities for career advancement. And if you find out that sales aren’t for you, then there are many other possible specializations, such as IT specialist or security guard or human resources manager. The job itself can be pleasant and involves a lot of interaction with people. Furthermore, the flexible schedule that most retail jobs require means that you can work around school, family, and other life commitments.

On the other hand, that same flexible schedule will likely require you to work nights and weekends. You may not be permitted to travel or to take time off during the holiday season, as that’s when most stores do a lot of their business. Physically, many retail jobs involve standing for long periods of time. The pay may not be the greatest, especially just starting out, and you might find that you don’t like working for commissions.

What Do You Think? Based on what you’ve read, would you consider a career in sales? Why or why not?