15 Top Skills Needed to Work in Retail

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

Retail skills

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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 are eager to work your way up the retail ladder, make sure you’re armed with these top 15 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 online sales making up a large percentage of total retail 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 clearly, 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, so being attentive to detail is a top skill in the retail world.

4. Computer skills 

Information technology skills are a must for almost any job you apply for, but it 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 résumé/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 overcharged 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. If you need to brush up on your selling skills, consider online training that will give you all the knowledge and information that you need to succeed. 

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 product or industry 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 résumé/CV will immediately shine.

9. Multitasking

Multitasking 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 till, which means juggling several jobs at once. Abilities like prioritizing, time management skills and maintaining healthy stress levels are crucial in retail, so if you find that you’re quite the multitasker, 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.

11. Cultural awareness

In customer-facing roles, staff interact with people of all ages and backgrounds on a day-to-day basis. That’s what makes cultural awareness one of the most fundamental soft skills for retail employees.

Cultural competence eliminates prejudice from interactions with customers, allowing for greater empathy and better communication. It also teaches retail workers to be more mindful around non-verbal communication and cues, which can differ drastically from one culture to another. This helps minimize misunderstandings and makes customers feel seen.

12. Active listening

Customers (even the ones who are totally in the wrong) want to feel heard. And there’s more to that than simply standing there and looking at someone in silence until they’re done talking.

Active listening comprises several abilities, such as asking specific questions, making validating statements, and demonstrating genuine interest. This helps those working in retail jobs establish trust with unsatisfied customers and diffuse difficult situations.

13. Negotiation skills

Negotiation is one of those interpersonal skills that requires a certain degree of emotional intelligence. Being able to quickly identify what someone else is feeling is vital when trying to reach a mutual understanding or reinforce boundaries.

Negotiation skills also come in handy when working in smaller stores, where customers often try to bargain with shop owners for better deals. To handle tricky situations, retail employees must develop the ability to remain calm and empathize while standing their ground.

14. Teamwork

Effective retail management and customer satisfaction rely on the ability of staff members to work together. To achieve great collaboration, employees must demonstrate willingness to help one another, take accountability for errors, and problem-solve well.

Luckily, there are many ways to promote teamwork in any workplace. Managers and bosses who encourage conversations and invest in solid training plans can help bring out the best in their employees while driving their business forward.

15. Conflict resolution

Conflict tends to thrive in fast-paced, stressful work environments — and retail jobs happen to belong to that category. According to the CDC, the rise of online shopping has worsened retail staff reductions in physical stores, leading to increased fatigue and stress for workers.

From disagreements with colleagues over daily tasks to dealing with disrespectful customers, retail workers must know how to handle conflict. This is crucial in maintaining good relationships and protecting mental health.

Final thoughts

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.


Originally published September 19, 2019. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.