How to Answer the Top 10 Retail Interview Questions

Can you sell me this pen?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a woman standing outside a shop with a speech bubble over her head saying 'Come in, please' and a man in front of the shop window smiling up at her

With plenty of retail experience under my belt, I’ve endured my fair share of failed and successful interviews. During the failed interviews, I faced challenging questions which — quite frankly — I wasn’t prepared for.

So, to help you become fully equipped for your big day, and to avoid those awkward, long silences while you conjure up some form of response, I’ll guide you through the top 10 unexpected questions that might come up in a retail interview, along with suggestions on how to answer each one.

1. “Why do you want to work for our company?”

Hiring managers seem to love this question. Sure, they know that you’re trying to get a retail job, but why there? What makes them special?

Naturally, if you’re not passionate about the brand and just want a job to get by, this will show! So, to successfully answer this question, explain how your goals relate to those of the company’s, and show how much you admire the brand.

For example, when I interviewed for one of my favorite high-street brands, I was extremely enthusiastic about the marketing, brand profile and current stock, which gave me a huge advantage over other candidates.


The values that the CATS clothing brand champions — individuality, freedom of expression — are ones that truly resonate with me. I also find the origins of the brand and its creator, who had very little opportunities yet fought against the odds, extremely inspiring.

2. “Can you provide an example of when you went above and beyond for a customer?”

Although this is a fairly common retail interview question, it’s one that many candidates fail to prepare for! Hiring managers pose this question to gauge your motivation and willingness to go the extra mile.

That said, if you’re someone who just shows up to clock in, this is when you’ll be caught out. By asking for an example, interviewers will identify whether you’re a top performer or not.

To pass your interview with flying colors, you’ll need to have a few scenarios prepared that display your willingness to go above and beyond for a customer. A great example that always stands out for me concerns a Zappos employee who sent one of their customers a pair of expedited shoes to their wedding (due to a miscommunication in delivery) and refunded the order for the inconvenience.


While working as a cashier at Jung’s Grocery Store, I had an elderly lady turn up at the counter. I saw how she struggled with even opening her purse, let alone with carrying her groceries, so I closed the till for a few minutes and carried the bags outside, where her husband was waiting in the car.

3. “If a customer is rude to you, what do you do?”

With many customers hiding behind keyboards these days, there’s been an increase of absurd and rude emails, and as a customer service advisor, you’re going to receive the brunt of it. So, to judge whether your blood boils or whether you can win the customer over, interviewers typically ask this question.

When answering, explain how you always remain sympathetic to the customer and don’t take it personally when abuse is being hurled your way. You can use an example of when a customer has shouted at you in the past and how you stayed calm, let them vent and then helped solve their complaint.


Having worked in retail for several years, I’ve encountered my fair share of angry customers! Typically, what works is keeping my voice low, maintaining eye contact, and really listening. Showing them that I care about understanding their perspective and finding a solution tends to appease most people.


4. “How would you promote or sell a product?”

While great customer service is a vital skill to possess when interviewing for a retail role, you’ll also need to have some sales skills in the bag. To show just how good you are at selling a product, you’ll probably be put to the test. Some interviewers will ask you to “sell” them a pen, but you’ll usually be expected to offer an explanation of your own.

To do so, you can use an example from previous work experience where you were assisting a customer to buy an item and then suggested an accompanying one that would go with it. For example, when I was working the changing rooms, I would always recommend an accessory to go with a piece of clothing that the customer was trying on.


I would start by asking specific questions to understand the customer’s mindset and needs. If someone came in for a pair of shoes for a wedding, I would ask about the rest of their outfit, but also about the special occasion itself. Forming a connection with customers is vital in sales. Plus, the more you know, the more spot-on recommendations you can make.

5. “The credit card machine is broken. How do you deal with it when you have a long queue of customers?”

When working in retail, tech-related issues are bound to occur. So, to get an insight into your problem-solving and communication skills, you’ll usually be asked this behavioral interview question.

When answering this question, explain the steps that you’d follow to solve the issue. For example, the first step would be to notify your manager and then to arrange for a sign to be displayed to show that the credit card machine is down. Once you’ve done that, you would then apologize to the customers for any inconvenience caused.


I would announce the problem to the customers in line, and find out who is able to pay by cash. Then, I would offer to hold people’s items and advise where the closest cash point is. Immediately after, I would contact my manager and arrange for a sign to be put up until the problem gets resolved.

6. “What do you hope to gain from this position?”

To avoid high staff turnover, interviewers want to know that you’re going to stick around for a while. So, to get an understanding of your career goals, hiring managers will typically ask you this question.

To show that you’re genuinely interested in the role, you can explain how you want to develop your collaboration skills and grow as a professional and potentially learn about leadership by advancing in the organization.


Due to the flexible nature of the job, I would be able to complete my studies while working shifts, which is important to me. At the same time, being a sales advisor would teach me a lot, allowing me to grow my empathy and communication skills further. These will be vital in any position I advance to once I graduate.

7. “You’re locking the store and a customer wants to come in. What do you do?”

When answering this question, you’ll need to show your logic and ability to go the extra mile after a tough shift. When I was in a similar situation in the past, I had already cashed the till, meaning that the takings had already been submitted for the day and the register was closed. However, I allowed the client to browse and offered to save the items aside for them so they could come and purchase them the following day.

If you’ve been in a similar scenario, use this to show how you followed company rules but also stayed beyond your shift to accommodate the customer.


The right thing to do, always, is acknowledge the customer and ask what they need. I’ve done this in the past; by quickly understanding what they’re looking for, I was able to either find a product and set it aside for them to pick up the next day, or advise them on placing an online order with next day delivery.

8. “It’s the end of your shift and your replacement doesn’t turn up to work. Do you leave?”

Like the above question, an employer wants to know whether you’re reliable or not. They also want to understand if you’d be willing to go out of your way to help the business and its team members when needed.

When answering this question, explain how you would remain in the workplace until your replacement turns up because it’s important to help your colleagues out. You could go into further detail on how you wouldn’t want to place too much pressure on your coworker by leaving them on their own.


Unless I have an obligation that absolutely cannot wait or be rearranged, such as a class or an exam, I always wait for my colleagues to turn up, contacting them first to ensure they are indeed coming. If not, I always inform my manager and wait for them to find a solution before heading off.

9. “A customer asks you a question and you don’t know the answer. How do you respond?”

If you’re working in a specialist store, the customer will expect you to know all the details on the products that you sell, and a lack of knowledge may even deter them from making a purchase. However, it’s important to be honest instead of playing the guessing game and potentially facing a complaint later down the line.

When providing your answer, explain how you would be honest with the customer and guide them to a colleague or manager who is more knowledgeable about the product specifications that they’re enquiring about.


I would be honest, saying that I unfortunately do not have an answer, apologize and immediately try to find a solution. That could be by asking another colleague to help, either in person or over the phone, or looking for additional information in the product database.

10. “What do you enjoy most about working in retail?”

Working in retail can be challenging at times, but most people love it because they get to deal with products that they love and enjoy helping their customers. Giving an honest answer is key here!

You could also choose a particular responsibility that you enjoy or a skill that you mastered — for example, if you work in fashion, you can explain how you like styling clients or offering tips, and how you feel thrilled when a client returns for your advice and suggestions.


The thing I enjoy the most about this job is interacting with people from all walks of life. Everyone you meet will have different perspectives, opinions and preferences, and this can lead to making pleasantly unexpected connections. Although some customers can be difficult to deal with, I find that the majority of people are, in fact, very interesting to talk to.

Final thoughts

How you respond to job interview questions is crucial for your success. The goal is to give an answer that leaves a great impression on hiring managers and effectively secures your chance of bagging the job. And by following the tips listed above, you’ll be one step closer to landing that retail position at your favorite store!

Have you experienced any tough interviews? If so, what questions did they ask you, and how did you answer them? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is a partial update of an earlier version originally published on October 11, 2014, and contains contributions by Electra Michaelidou. In the update, we added an example answer for each listed question.