Top 10 Skills Needed to Work in Retail

Illustration of two women, a retail assistant and a customer, in front of a clothes rack

Working in retail goes far beyond folding clothes and greeting customers. As a retail worker, you’ll need to offer the entire shopping experience. From the minute your client walks through the door, you need to be alert but not invasive, helpful but not forceful, and above all, friendly and approachable.

So, if you’re planning to get a job at the local Nike store and eager to work your way up the retail ladder, make sure you’re armed with these top 10 retail skills.

1. Communication Skills

Whether you’re a sales assistant, merchandiser or store manager, communication in retail is key. You need to be able to clearly and effectively explain products to customers, answer their questions politely and respond to complaints respectfully. And with the rise of online sales, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to converse with customers over the phone or with colleagues in other stores, making effective communication a high priority in the field.

2. Customer Service Skills

Other than being able to communicate coherently, retail workers should also be equipped with a wide range of customer service skills. You don’t want to be remembered as that rude, distasteful assistant from the local supermarket. Instead, you must be a ‘people person’; someone with a friendly, positive and helpful attitude.

Retail is all about changing customers’ lives through a product and offering a superior shopping experience. Employees should, therefore, go out of their way to help customers overcome problems. They also need to have patience and maintain a ‘customer-first’ mindset, especially when dealing with rude shoppers.

3. Attention to Detail

Depending on the store that you want to work for, attention to detail can be high in the priority of skills needed. In most instances, window displays need to be perfect, piles of clothes should be folded in exactly the same way with the logo clearly showing, and hangers must be facing one direction.

Besides the order and display, change needs to be collected and handed out correctly. Stocktaking needs to be accurate, and the floor needs to be assessed for any potential robberies, making attention to detail a top skill in the retail world.

4. Computer/Tech Skills

Information technology skills are a prerequisite for almost any job you apply for, but also comes in handy when working in retail. As a cashier, you might handle an electronic cash register or point of sale system to process transactions. While inventory control and financial management might be done through a management information system. You might also be placed with the responsibility of managing online customer orders. Either way, technical ability is yet another professional skill to add to your CV when applying for a retail role.

5. Mathematical Skills

Nobody likes to be given the incorrect change at a store. Nor do they like being accidentally overpriced for an item. A good retailer is someone who has skills in numeracy. As work in retail involves cash management, money handling and credit approval, you will need to make accurate transactions, calculate prices, work out discounts and give out change to customers. So, before going for that job at the Apple store, make sure you’ve got your numbers together!


6. Selling Skills

Working in a store requires basic sales skills like persuasiveness and product knowledge. You need to have a knack of encouraging shoppers to make a purchase and converting them into loyal customers. This involves a lot of listening, persistence and authentic communication. Selling is probably one of the most critical sales assistant skills to hold as it will help you make that deal and give you a competitive edge.

7. Commercial Awareness

To sell a product, you need to be able to explain its features and benefits. Besides product knowledge, you should also have a thorough understanding of the industry it belongs in.

Want to work for Samsung? Make sure you know enough about electronics and technology! Interested in that role at Topshop? Brush up on your style and fashion sense. Without industry or product knowledge, you’re bound to fail in retail. To succeed, research industry trends and market information, and simply build up your commercial awareness.

8. Fast-Learning Skills

The retail industry is busy and constantly changing. Not only does this require flexibility but also the ability to learn quickly. As a sales assistant or buyer, you will be faced with new products, trends and prices on a constant basis.

Stores update their inventory at least once a month, so it will be necessary to learn about new items, as well as different layouts and displays. Are you able to quickly adapt to changes and new information? Can you recite relevant information to customers? If so, add fast-learner to your set of skills and your CV will immediately shine.

9. Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking is an essential ability to have on your retail skills list. You will have the responsibility to handle one or more customers at the same time, while also making sure the store is kept tidy.

In a smaller shop, you might also be in charge of the cashier, which means juggling several jobs at once. Abilities, like prioritising, time-management and maintaining stress-levels, are crucial in retail, so if you find that you’re quite the multi-tasker, consider yourself a great candidate for any retail role.

10. Physical Stamina

Ever come across a miserable sales assistant? Chances are, they’re exhausted. Working in retail can be physically demanding, especially if you’re doing full-time shifts. It involves being on your feet all day, possibly carrying heavy boxes and having very little time for a lunch break. Physical stamina is yet another skill needed for retail, so be sure to build up that energy when planning to work for your local store.

Working in retail requires certain skills that you might haven’t even considered. Although several of these abilities need practice and experience, many do come naturally. Building on them will undoubtedly land you the retail role of your dreams and possibly even get you prepared for higher positions or alternative career choices down the line.

What other skills have you required in a retail role? Are there any key abilities we failed to mention in our list? Let us know in the comments section below.