What’s it Like to Work in Retail?

What’s it Like to Work in Retail?

Working in retail can be both difficult and rewarding. The job usually requires strong people skills and a positive, patient attitude. The industry provides jobs to over 3.5 million Americans. It is constantly shifting and evolving to meet consumer needs and trends, but it definitely isn’t going anywhere. As the labor shortage persists, more and more job vacancies are surfacing in retail. Let’s take a look at some statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Mean hourly wage: $15.35
  • Mean annual wage: $31,920
  • Industries with the highest levels of employment in retail salespersons:

    • General merchandise stores
    • Clothing stores
    • Building material and supplies dealers
    • Sporting goods, musical instruments, and hobby stores
    • Automobile dealers
  • Industries with the highest concentration of employment in retail salespersons:

    • Shoe stores
    • Clothing stores
    • Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores
    • Sporting goods, musical instruments, and hobby stores
    • Book stores
  • States with the highest employment:

    1. California
    2. Texas
    3. Florida
    4. New York
    5. Illinois

Many assume a job in retail means being a sales rep — a part-time gig for someone “finding their calling”. In reality, it can be the doorway to so many more opportunities, including supply chains, marketing, data collection, design, and even technology. Whether it’s temporary or long-term, retail offers transferable skills that are applicable both professionally and personally.

So, what’s it really like to work in retail?

My Retail Experience

I worked a retail job during university, and for the most part, I loved it! My roles started with picking and packing online orders in the warehouse, then managing a store and team, and even visual merchandising multiple store locations.

I worked alongside employees that had mastered the retail industry over countless years. We had days where customers treated us like their punching bags and had us in tears. On other days, we were entrusted to build someone’s entire wardrobe and impact their overall self-image. Like any job, retail has its up and downs.

For me, it happened to just be a stepping stone into the workforce, but it taught me a wide range of soft skills that I value to this day. It gave me the social skills to interact with people of all different ages and professions with confidence. I learned to organize and be responsible for huge numbers of stock. The nature of the work also taught me to work well under pressure and multitask with ease.

Had I stayed on, I’d have developed my career further and branched into the head office. This could have led to working with the buying team and choosing the new season’s collection. Alternatively, it could have meant coordinating with the international branches to train local teams to brand standards. I could have also analyzed data to create effective marketing campaigns or even designed store layouts and exteriors.

The Cons of Retail

  • Difficult customers — people can often see retail workers as emotionless or disposable interactions, and workers have little say as “the customer is always right”
  • Low salaries — unless you have an established, full-time position, the pay grade can be quite low in retail (though employers are starting to offer higher salaries to curb the labor shortage)
  • Unpredictable schedule — you often only know your weekly or fortnightly roster one week in advance which can make it difficult to make life plans
  • Poor management — it can be difficult to receive clear communication from management if you’re in a position that seems temporary to them
  • Impossible budgets — bosses can often expect a lot more than what’s achievable, meaning increased pressure to meet budgets and high-stress levels in the team
  • Understaffing — it’s likely you’ll be in a position where you’ll have to juggle the responsibilities of multiple staff members due to a lack of workers

The Pros of Retail

  • Discounts — a company or brand will usually offer discounts of up to 50% off
  • Clearances — you will be the first to know about any sales or clearances which you can wait for before making any purchases
  • Latest trends — for those who care about new products, you will always be in the loop
  • Flexibility hours — retail usually offers part-time roles, short hours, or even set days which is particularly useful for employees with other commitments
  • Social skills — this is the perfect opportunity to improve how you interact with people, from eye contact to listening skills and empathy, and even dealing with difficult conversations
  • Career growth opportunities — with commitment and effort, a basic sales role can lead to work in various other departments within the industry
  • Job vacancies — retail has an abundance of job vacancies as employers struggle to fill positions post-pandemic

How to Develop Your Retail Career

If you want to pursue a role in retail and further your career development — ask! Tell your managers and HR about your interest in climbing the ladder. Offer yourself up for promotional opportunities. Not only will you be saving your employer time and money, but your existing company knowledge cuts out training requirements.

Follow what your colleagues and managers do and offer to offload some of their work. They’ll be appreciative and you’ll learn new skills. Contact your HR and discuss opportunities within the company in different locations or roles. Learn about the background of the product so you have a strong grasp of the company’s roots and vision.

A position in retail offers an array of skill-building opportunities that are transferable within the industry as your career develops, and beyond it.

Written by Career Specialist Mar 03, 2023
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