Trend Report: Outlook on Retail Careers and How to Get Ahead
by Stephanie Barna
The retail storefront is still alive and well. While it may seem that Amazon has cornered the market on retail sales and that brick-and-mortar stores are a thing of the past, retail stores are still growing. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that for every store that closes, five new stores open – and 98 percent of those stores are small businesses. Even Amazon has begun opening storefronts around the country. Advertisement
The retail industry is a robust segment of the economy, generating $2.6 trillion of the annual GDP in the United States and employing more than 15 million workers in retail stores.
So, what does this mean for job hunters who want careers in retail sales? It means that job opportunities are out there. Retail sales jobs are projected to grow 1.7 percent by the year 2020, with a 3.8 percent growth for first-line supervisors.
Retail sales careers are often flexible, and they can offer an opportunity for people looking for a second part-time job or a new full-time job. Retail may also be ideal for those seeking to re-enter the workforce after a long break. Here are some relevant retail employment statistics, according to the NRF:
- Eight out of ten retail employees are satisfied with their jobs
- Six out of eight received promotions
- Nine out of ten have earned a raise
- 29 percent are part-time
- 21 percent of former part-time employees said retail helped them through a tough time
Despite retail workers’ general satisfaction levels, the industry experiences high turnover rates, which are forcing many companies to rethink their training and benefits. In 2017, to help fill positions and reduce turnover, the NRF created a program called RISE Up (Retail Industry Skills and Education). RISE Up teaches job seekers how to build the skills required for a successful retail career in today’s job market. They’ve already trained more than 60,000 people and helped them pursue retail careers.
Where is retail job growth expected?
When it comes to beginning your retail career, some states are better than others. Places like Texas, which survived the Great Recession better than most, have a robust economy and growing opportunities for those pursuing a career in retail.
This map shows 2026 projections for the number of retail salesperson jobs being created in each state. The darkest blue states have the highest number of new jobs projected:
Source: Projections Managing Partnership
The top 10 states for projected new retail salesperson job growth are:
- New York
- North Carolina
Of course, some states are going to be friendlier to job growth than others. The six states with the lowest projected job growth expect fewer jobs in 2026 than 2016 – a real contraction of the job market. Here are the states that are projected to create the fewest new retail sales jobs through 2026:
- New Mexico
Many of the same states are hiring management roles as well as associate-level positions. The most first-line retail supervisor jobs are in. This map shows state-by-state projected growth for retail supervisors, with the darkest states having the largest number of new jobs anticipated:
The three states with the highest projected supervisor job growth —Texas, Florida, and Georgia — expect double-digit increases in annual openings, building on already strong retail workforce bases at both entry -level and supervisory levels. The 10 states expected to create the largest number of new retail supervisor jobs by 2026 are:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- New York
There are only two states with negative job growth projected through 2026 for front-line retail supervisors — Maine and Vermont. The 10 states with the fewest new first-line supervisor jobs created through 2026 are:
- West Virginia
- South Dakota
- New Mexico
Even knowing that some states have more expected job growth than others, there are many retail jobs available and opening all the time in every state.
Climbing the retail career ladder: how to get ahead
As the NRF data shows, retail employers are looking for qualified employees for their associate and supervisor-level roles. But getting ahead requires you to take the job seriously and set yourself apart from others.
To reach a leadership position in retail, you’ll need to have certain skills. A retail salesperson’s job will be different from that of the assistant manager, whose job will be different from the store manager’s. If you understand these different roles and responsibilities, you’ll be better able to prepare for your eventual advancement into those jobs.
If you’re just starting out in retail, let your manager know you want to work your way up to management. Of course, you’ll need to back up your words with actions. That means:
- Learning from your superiors (and peers)
- Showing initiative by going above your own duties to help the team succeed
- Working extra hours to help on special projects or when there’s a staff shortage
- Being a creative problem-solver
Whether you’re applying for a management position or your first retail job, you need to prove that you have the skills and qualities to succeed. Fortunately, many of these skills don’t depend on having a lengthy job history or formal training. These kinds of skills are often called soft skills. Here are some that retail employers tend look for in new hires:
- Eagerness to learn
- Customer-first mindset
- Friendly and outgoing
- Listening and speaking skills
- Attention to detail
- Team player
- Problem solver
Important soft skills and qualities for getting into retail management include:
- Superior product knowledge
- Excellent sales skills
- Understanding the big picture
- Familiarity with the company’s goals and culture
- Cultivating repeat customers
- Leadership potential
Some of these skills are built through on-the-job retail experience, but many are developed in school, by doing volunteer activities, and working in other relatable kinds of roles, like food service or in a call center. To learn more, check out our article about how to translate your transferable skills.
Understanding the retail hierarchy
As you browse retail jobs in your area, you may be confused as to where each position falls in the retail career ladder. Here’s a high-level overview:
Of course, not everyone’s path follows the model. Other kinds of opportunities may exist, especially in larger retailers for roles in departments like HR and recruiting or project management. Larger stores may have additional layers of department leaders or management trainees. And there are the other non-sales roles, like security, shipping and receiving, and loss prevention that have their own paths and milestones for career progression.
How to land an entry-level retail sales job
Each retail store has its own hierarchy. Some start new employees out as cashiers, but a retail sales job may be the most lucrative entry-level opportunity. Retail salespeople are expected to:
- Greet customers
- Recommend products
- Make sales and meet sales goals
- Stock, organize and display merchandise
- Check out customers and package up items
- Handle cash
- Stand for long shifts
How to land a mid-level job in retail
If you already have some work experience, whether it’s in retail or another field, you may be able to position yourself for a higher-level job. If you have experience in sales and leading a team, an assistant manager position could be an excellent career move.
Assistant manager duties may include things like:
- Helping the manager with general store responsibilities
- Overseeing the sales team and sales goals
- Hiring and training sales staff
- Evaluating and analyzing sales performance
- Monitoring and maintaining store inventory
- Overseeing daily customer service operations
However, if you have a creative mind and sharp attention to detail, you may want to consider a merchandising position. Merchandising retail jobs are all about planning, designing and executing store product displays. Merchandising duties include:
- Maintaining display fixtures and windows
- Collaborating with coworkers to create displays
- Monitoring warehouse levels
- Analyzing sales trends
- Decorating the store for holidays
How to land a manager role in retail
A store manager oversees the retail outlet or department and reports to the owner or the district manager. To land a management position, you’ll need previous retail experience, usually paired with an associate or bachelor’s degree in management or a similar major. If you are interested in becoming a retail manager, start by gaining experience and proving you have the leadership and management skills necessary to succeed in the position.
Here are the essential functions of retail management:
- Data analysis
- Customer satisfaction
Some larger retail chains also offer management training programs, which can help you progress quickly through levels, based on your skills, experience, passion, and commitment.
Resume basics for retail positions
When it comes to creating a resume for a retail position, you can draft your own professional resume using our Resume Builder. This multifaceted tool will lead you through the creation of the five components of any successful resume:
- Summary statement
- Work history
Depending on your experience and work history, you may choose a resume format that emphasizes some of these sections and downplays others. All of the resume templates available through our builder are professionally designed, and allow you access to easy editing tools, plus pre-written bullet points for your Work History section. You’ll want to customize your resume (and cover letter) for each role, carefully selecting keywords from each job description. That extra effort will help you pass the ATS and catch the hiring manager’s eye.
Cover letter guidelines
Every time you apply for a retail position, be sure to submit a well-written cover letter that’s specifically addressed to the position and the company. The purpose of the cover letter is to land you an interview, so it should address the job opening and how you are uniquely qualified.
But your cover letter shouldn’t be a summary of your resume. Instead, choose a relevant skill or experience and tell a brief, relatable story that makes the hiring manager want to learn more about you. To learn more about how to structure your letter, check out our How to Write a Cover Letter page.
Retail job interview tips
If you’ve followed our advice and submitted a quality resume and cover letter for an open retail position, you will hopefully get called in for an interview. Most retail hiring processes will include face-to-face interviews, not a phone or video interview. The manager will want to get a feel for your personality and how you will perform on the retail sales floor. As you choose an interview outfit and review your skills and experience, you should also:
- Research the company
- Visit the store
- Prepare answers for standard interview questions
You can browse a list of standard interview questions and answers to help you prepare to take the interview seat.
Once you complete your interview, send an interview thank you letter to each and every interviewer you met with, thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the position. A personal note may be just what you need to tip the scales in your favor.
A few final tips to keep in mind
Looking for a retail position isn’t much different than any other kind of job hunt. Finding the right role requires organization, research and patience. Here’s a quick-start guide to getting started on your retail job search:
- Organize the information you’ll need to write a basic resume (that you can then easily customize).
- Contact references to see if they will agree to vouch for you.
- Decide what retail segment to target: sporting goods, pet supplies, etc.
- Start searching job boards.
- If you find a company that interests you, check out their website for job postings and feel free to reach out to the manager directly.
Get started today
Whether you’re a first-time job seeker or a seasoned retail manager, our Resume Builder will guide you through each step of creating your professional resume, from selecting a format to choosing your words. With your resume written and your dream job on the horizon, next up comes your cover letter. Use our Cover Letter Builder to distill your skills and experience into an engaging story that will make a powerful and lasting impression with the hiring manager.