Retail Salespersons: Oregon’s Largest Occupation

by Jessica Nelson

November 7, 2018

Oregon had almost 66,000 retail salespersons in 2017 – making retail sales the largest single occupation in the state. One out of every 31 jobs in Oregon is in retail sales. Those tens of thousands of jobs are grouped together based on work activities, and while the roles are very similar between establishments, these workers are selling all kinds of products throughout the state. From cars to clothes to plants at the local nursery, Oregon’s retail sales workers know where to find it and can advise you on your next purchase.

Every city and town includes at least some retail salespersons. It’s a job you can find everywhere. For most types of retail sales, there’s no standard education requirement. Training usually takes place on the job and takes anywhere from a few days to a few months. While formal education isn’t necessary, several Oregon community colleges offer programs in retail sales and service and retail management that can make workers more competitive in the labor market.

Retail Jobs Are Widespread – and Numerous

Retail salespersons is consistently one of the top occupations in terms of help wanted ads and vacancies. As I write this, there are almost 900 current job listings on the Oregon Employment Department website for retail sales. Recruitment shouldn’t hit the skids any time soon. This occupation is expected to grow at a slightly slower rate than the 12 percent expected for overall employment over the next 10 years. However, many more openings are anticipated due to the need to replace current workers who move on to their next jobs or retire.
Job growth is expected to be greatest in the East Cascades area, with retail salespersons jobs growing by more than 11 percent between 2017 and 2027. Portland and the Mid-Valley can anticipate growth of about 9 percent. Several areas of the state, including the Northwest, Eastern Oregon, and the southern portion of the state represented by the Rogue Valley and Southwestern Oregon areas, anticipate growth of less than 7 percent over the 10-year period.

Growth in an occupation doesn’t tell the full story. More job openings across the economy are anticipated due to the need to replace workers who are permanently leaving their occupation – mostly due to retirements as the workforce ages – than due to economic growth. Across all occupations, 91 percent of total openings are anticipated due to replacements. Retail salespersons has an even higher share, at 94 percent replacements. While job growth might be slow in some regions, many job openings are anticipated in retail sales over the next 10 years and beyond.

Wages and Employment by Retail Sector

Retail trade includes many different types of stores, from Home Depot to Famous Footwear and NAPA Auto Parts to the Circle-K on your local corner. Many retail salespersons work in general merchandise stores, which employed 8,900 of these workers in 2017. Miscellaneous store retailers employed more than 8,000, while building material and garden-related retailing accounted for almost 7,400 retail salespersons.

Retail sales is a job that many people are qualified to work without much additional training or skill-building. Occupations that are easily accessible to a lot of workers tend to pay lower than average wages. This is the case for retail salespersons: the median wage in 2018 is just above $12 per hour. The median is the wage at which half of workers in the occupation earn less and half of workers earn more. The 10th percentile wage (the wage at which 10 percent of workers earn less and 90 percent earn more) for retail salespersons hovers at the minimum wage, with the 25th percentile coming in at less than $0.50 above the minimum wage. This shows that much of the retail workforce is clustered at or just above the minimum wage. 
Wages vary depending on the type of retail store. In general, the more specialized knowledge a retail job requires, the higher the wage offered. It might not be surprising to hear that retail sales workers at motor vehicle and parts dealers earn the most – cars are a big-ticket, occasional retail purchase and most car salespersons have to know their brand, and their customer, pretty well. Among retail jobs, car sales is not an entry level position – you often need to have a proven track record at sales to be taken on in this role. Median pay for retail salespersons at motor vehicle and parts dealers comes in at $19.17, more than 50 percent higher than the average for all retail salespersons and about the same as the overall median wage of $19.09 for the 2.0 million payroll jobs in Oregon.


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.

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 payment for sale. 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, 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.

Retail salespersons is the state’s largest occupation. Many retail sales job opportunities are anticipated over the next 10 years, in all areas of the state from tiny towns to large cities. While many of the jobs pay near minimum wage, workers can move up the wage ladder with more experience. These jobs are also very accessible, with low entry requirements, and provide a good opportunity for newer workers to gain work experience.

 


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