Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Oregon's Largest Occupation
by Tony Wendel
Published Oct-18-2012

Here's a little quiz. In which occupation were the most Oregonians employed in 2010? Which occupation is projected to have the most job openings due to growth statewide from 2010 to 2020? Which occupation is projected to have the most replacement openings (openings caused by existing workers permanently leaving their occupation)? Which occupation is projected to have the most total openings (growth plus replacement)?

According to the Oregon Employment Department's employment projections from 2010 to 2020, the answer to each of these questions is the same. Retail salesperson. It is estimated that 54,587 Oregonians were employed as retail salespersons in 2010, more than 19,000 above the next largest occupation, combined food preparation and serving workers. From 2010 to 2020, retail salespersons is projected to have 8,326 growth openings, more than 200 above registered nurses; 17,259 replacement openings, about 1,000 more than cashiers; and 25,585 total openings, about 4,800 more than cashiers. So if you answered retail salespersons to each question, give yourself a great big pat on the back.

Nature of the Work
Retail salespersons typically work in establishments where they sell goods, such as clothing, cars, jewelry, electronics, books, sporting goods, lumber, plants, furniture, and many other types of merchandise.

In Oregon in 2010, the industries employing the most retail salespersons included general merchandise stores (21%); clothing and clothing accessories stores (19%); sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (10%); building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (10%); miscellaneous store retailers (8%); and motor vehicle and parts dealers (7%).

The duties and job tasks that retail salespersons perform vary depending on the type of store they work in and the products they are selling. Their main duties revolve around assisting customers to make purchases. They greet customers and attempt to determine what each customer wants or needs, possibly recommending merchandise based on those wants and needs. Retail salespersons explain the use and benefits of merchandise to customers and, if necessary, may also demonstrate how merchandise works. They answer customers' questions about merchandise, current sales and promotions, store policies on payments and exchanges, and a variety of other matters.

In addition to helping customers find and select items to buy, many retail salespersons process the payments. This involves operating cash registers. After taking payment for the purchases, they may bag or package the purchases. Depending on the hours they work, retail salespersons may have to open or close cash registers including counting the money in the register and separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers. Some retail salespersons may help stock shelves or racks, prepare displays, mark price tags, take inventory, and arrange for mailing or delivery of purchases.

Most retail salespersons work in clean, comfortable, well-lit stores. However, they may stand for long periods and may need permission from a supervisor to leave the sales floor. If they sell items such as cars, plants, or lumberyard materials, they may work outdoors.

Work schedules vary greatly. Many retail salespersons work evenings and weekends, especially during holidays and other peak sales periods. Because the end-of-year holiday season is often the busiest time, many employers limit retail salespersons' use of vacation time between November and the beginning of January.

Education and Training
Typically, retail salespersons do not need a formal education. However, some employers prefer applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, especially those who sell technical products or "big-ticket" items, such as cars or electronics.

Although retail sales positions usually have no formal education requirements, there are certain qualities that are important to success in retail sales. Retail salespersons should have excellent customer-service skills; they must be responsive to the wants and needs of customers and make appropriate recommendations. Good people skills, and a friendly and outgoing personality, are also important for these workers because the job requires almost constant interaction with people.

Most retail salespersons 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.

Earnings and Outlook
Retail salespersons statewide had 2012 median wages of $10.93 per hour. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.41 and $13.92 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.08 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.51 per hour.

Compensation systems vary by type of establishment and merchandise sold. Retail salespersons get hourly wages, commissions, or a combination of the two. Under a commission system, they get a percentage of the sales they make. This system offers salespersons the opportunity to increase their earnings considerably, but they may find that their earnings depend strongly on their ability to sell their product and on the ups and downs of the economy.

As noted in the beginning of this article, 2010 employment for retail salespersons is estimated to be the largest of any occupation in Oregon and much larger than the statewide average. Due to the large size of this occupation, the number of growth, replacement, and total job openings from 2010 to 2020 are also projected to be the largest of any occupation in Oregon. However, the expected growth rate for employment of retail salespersons for that time period is 15.3 percent, somewhat slower than the average for all occupations of 18.1 percent.

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.

Although consumers are increasing their online retail shopping, they will continue to do most of their retail shopping in stores. Retail salespersons will be needed in stores to help customers and complete sales.

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