Top 20 Skills Needed to Work in Retail (with Tips)

Considering a career in retail? Build your skill set for success.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Skilled worker in retail showing skills

Have you ever visited a shop and been really impressed with the person helping you find what you needed or bagging up your items at checkout? Because I can certainly think of a few retail workers who stood out to me with their friendliness, positivity and eagerness to help!

Despite having one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs on the market — or the worst job out there, according to Bloomberg — some retail workers really do brighten your day with their customer service skills and professionalism. But what exactly is good customer service, and how do you develop it?

In this article, we’ll go over the top 20 skills that help employees stand out in the retail industry and outline some tips on how to develop and showcase them!

What are retail skills?

Retail skills refer to the various technical and soft skills that a retail worker must exhibit in order to succeed in their career. As retail jobs come with a variety of responsibilities, from answering questions regarding products to handling payments, processing returns, and putting together item displays, retail employees are required to develop quite the diverse skill set.

Top 20 retail skills

When we talk about sales and customer service skills, what exactly are we referring to? These umbrella terms encompass several skills an employee needs to stand out, like:

1. Communication skills

When interacting with colleagues and customers (and especially customers!), retail workers must be effective communicators. This is absolutely essential for workers in managerial positions, who must not only possess the skills themselves, but also pass them on to their team members.

Through close mentoring and the use of smart tools, such as the iSpring Learn learning management system, team leaders can greatly enhance retail employees’ communication skills. Besides offering role-play-based and scenario-based training, iSpring’s LMS enables managers to keep all training resources in a single platform that can be accessed at any time.

2. Attention to detail

Working in retail requires its share of vigilance and alertness. If a customer enters the changing room with three items and leaves with two, you’re going to have to notice. The same goes for when you’re handing out change and stacking products; you must pay attention and notice if they’re faulty!

3. Empathy

If a customer comes in and starts to complain about how they were given a faulty spice rack last time they came to the store, you need to be able to suppress your laughter or judgmental thoughts.

“The world has greater problems” simply isn’t the right response. Instead, you need to be able to put yourself in their position, validate their experience and reassure them that you’ll swiftly take care of it.

4. Tech skills

In most scenarios, retail workers must be comfortable working with computers. Point-of-sale software, supplier order software and inventory management software are just some examples of commonly used programs that retail employees work with in their day to day.

5. Numeracy skills

As a retail employee, your duties will likely include handling payments, giving change, and cash balancing, which is another way of saying “counting money”. At the end of your shift, you need to ensure that the amount in your cash drawer matches the amount that’s expected to be there based on the day’s transactions.

6. Cultural awareness

Working in a retail business is guaranteed to put you into contact with people from all kinds of backgrounds, be that over the phone or in person.

To do a good job, therefore, it’s important to be patient, self-aware and observant: that’s how you can eliminate any unconscious biases you may have and best cater to people whose verbal and non-verbal communication styles might differ to yours.

7. Active listening

Active listening means being fully engaged in the conversation when someone is talking to you. It means maintaining open body language (not crossing your arms, for example) as well as eye contact, and nodding occasionally without interrupting.

The more a retail employee can do this, the more heard and satisfied their customers will feel.

8. Teamwork

The ability to collaborate with others is desirable in all professions and at all seniority levels. In retail, employees need to be able to communicate well with one another, show willingness to help one another, and take accountability for their actions for their department to run smoothly.

9. Conflict resolution

Sadly, working in retail means you’ll often have to deal with rude individuals with zero self-awareness. Even if your job allowed you to argue with every single one of them, it would quickly get mentally exhausting.

That’s why you need to know how to diffuse escalating tension when you work in retail. Not to mention, you’ll sometimes have to deescalate conflict with your own colleagues, too, and not just customers.

10. Organizational skills

For a store to run smoothly, certain things must be kept in certain places. If a key or an important file goes missing, it can create a lot of delays and frustration, both for the rest of the team and the customers. That’s why anyone working in this setting must develop their organizational ability!

11. Time management

Managing your time effectively is a transferable skill that all employers are looking for in prospective employees, regardless of industry. But when juggling multiple tasks and dealing with impatient customers especially, good time management skills are essential.

12. Problem solving

As aerospace engineer Edward A Murphy Jr famously said, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” And anyone who’s worked in retail can probably vouch that this is true!

Problem solving is a vital skill to have when working in a customer-facing position. Knowing how to keep your cool when something doesn’t go as planned and appease the frustrated customer in front of you is essential.

13. Trustworthiness

Retail employees are often trusted with large amounts of money and expensive products. Thus, being able to demonstrate trustworthiness, reliability and integrity is an essential quality that hiring managers are looking for.

14. Patience

Sometimes, customers will view the retail workers behind the cashier as their therapists. Indeed, retail workers often get to hear all sorts of personal stories on top of some unreasonable or ill-expressed demands. Hence, patience in retail roles is key.

15. Persuasion

Mastering the art of persuasion can make you a star employee in the retail industry, as with it you’ll be able to drive more sales. But being persuasive in the workplace goes beyond that: your negotiation ability can also help in arriving at a mutual understanding with dissatisfied customers.

16. Resilience

In most cases, retail workers work long hours on an irregular schedule, face rude customers, carry out monotonous tasks and receive fairly low wages. When stress levels are high and pay is low, workers are likelier to suffer from poor mental health and even experience burnout, which is why resilience is essential if you are to thrive in this line of work.

17. Adaptability

You might be walking out at the end of your shift only to have your manager call you right back in, as they’re short-staffed (again) after a colleague called in sick at the very last minute. Though it’s imperative to know how to say “no” at times, thriving in a retail position will require a bit of flexibility on your part so you can navigate last minute changes.

18. Commercial awareness

Knowing the product that you’re selling inside and out is the first step to being able to sell it to someone. That’s why retail workers must demonstrate excellent product knowledge and know what things work and what things don’t when looking to increase profits.

19. Multitasking

Working in any fast-paced environment will require its fair share of multitasking. Given the varied responsibilities of retail workers, the need for multitasking becomes even greater in their jobs. They might have to handle a payment while answering the phone and monitoring the sales floor, for example.

20. Stress management

Working in retail often means working under pressure — particularly during the weekends and holiday periods. If you don’t develop healthy ways to cope with the stress, you could be setting yourself up for trouble: according to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, service industry workers (including retail employees) are highly vulnerable to developing an alcohol abuse habit.

How to develop your retail skills

You can think of workplace skills as a kind of muscle: the more you put them to practice, the stronger they become. Here is how you can develop retail skills:

  • Seek feedback. Ask for a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor and request specific pointers on where you could improve.
  • Take an online course. Once you’ve identified the skills you could strengthen, find a free or affordable course to get started.
  • Volunteer outside of work. Selfless work helps decrease your overall stress levels and boosts happiness and confidence, all the while diversifying your skill set.
  • Prioritize networking. Nothing prepares you for breaking the ice and forming connections instantly quite like talking yourself up to strangers does.
  • Set realistic career goals. Don’t try to learn a dozen different skills at once! Have something to work towards while giving yourself enough time to improve.

Where to promote your retail skills

Much like selling a product or service, retail employees must also sometimes “sell” themselves to advance their career. Demonstrating your expertise in the following ways can help you do that:

In your résumé

There are many ways to showcase your expertise on a retail résumé! The most obvious one being the dedicated skills section, which will typically go towards the bottom of a chronological document, after the work experience and educational background sections.

Typing out between 10–15 skills, of which some are technical skills and the rest are soft skills, is considered best practice. The more of these skills you can match to the description of the job you’re applying for, the better!

If your prospective employer has mentioned words like “computer skills” and “foreign languages” in the job listing, for example, be sure to include these on résumé (so long as they apply to you!).

In your cover letter

In addition to mentioning your retail skills on your résumé, it’s a good idea to do the same in any cover letters you submit during your job search.

Remember: your cover letter is there to complement the information that you’ve shared on your résumé, so avoid repeating the same things without expanding on them.

Like when putting together your résumé, pick out some of the key skills your prospective employer is looking for, based on the job listing, and emphasize how your work experience so far has enabled you to become proficient in those areas.

On your LinkedIn profile

Much like the skills section on your résumé, the skills section in your LinkedIn profile should include 10–15 unique abilities.

If you’ve been working for more than 10 years, it’s good to focus only on the skills you developed and strengthened in the last decade; don’t go listing that one time you were tasked with creating a promotional flyer on Photoshop a lifetime ago.

Keeping the information you share on your LinkedIn profile up to date and relevant to the sort of work you’re looking for is the best way to get noticed and contacted by hiring managers.

Key takeaways

Though demanding, retail jobs have their positives, too: you meet people from all walks of life, form connections, enjoy a flexible work schedule, and strengthen a varied skill set which can come in handy should you decide to change careers.

To summarize:

  • Good customer service requires people to develop a variety of skills, from people skills to computer literacy.
  • Volunteering, enrolling in courses and setting specific career goals for yourself are among the most fool-proof ways of strengthening your skill set.
  • Tailoring your résumé and cover letters and working on your LinkedIn profile can boost your employability and set you apart as the ideal candidate.

Can you think of any more skills that a retail worker needs to have? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts!

Originally published on September 19, 2019.