Sales and related occupations accounted for 65 percent of workers in this industry in 2002. Retail salespersons, who comprise 56 percent of employment in the industry, help customers select and purchase merchandise. A salesperson’s primary job is to interest customers in the merchandise and to answer any questions customers may have. In order to do this, the worker may describe the product’s various models, styles, and colors, or demonstrate its use. To sell expensive and complex items, workers need extensive knowledge of the products.
In addition to selling, most retail salespersons electronically register the sale on a cash register or terminal; receive cash, checks, and charge payments; and give change and receipts. Depending on the hours they work, they may open or close their cash registers or terminals. This may include counting the money in the cash register; separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers; and making deposits at the cash office. Salespersons are held responsible for the contents of their register, and repeated shortages are often a cause for dismissal.
Salespersons may be responsible for handling returns and exchanges of merchandise, wrapping gifts, and keeping their work areas neat. In addition, they may help stock shelves or racks, arrange for mailing or delivery of a purchase, mark price tags, take inventory, and prepare displays. They also must be familiar with the store’s security practices to help prevent theft of merchandise. Cashiers total bills, receive money, make change, fill out charge forms, and give receipts. Retail salespersons and cashiers often have similar duties.
Office and administrative support occupations make up the next largest group of employees, accounting for 18 percent of total employment in the industry. Stock clerks and order fillers bring merchandise to the sales floor and stock shelves and racks. They may also mark items with identifying codes or prices so that they can be recognized quickly and easily, although many items today arrive preticketed. Customer service representatives investigate and resolve customers’ complaints about merchandise, service, billing, or credit ratings. The industry also employs administrative occupations found in most industries, such as general office clerks and bookkeepers.
Management and business and financial operations occupations accounted for 3 percent of industry employment. (Only managers located at the individual stores are counted in this industry. Higher level managers for national or regional chain stores with multiple locations are typically employed at headquarters establishments.) Department managers oversee sales workers in a department or section of the store. They set the work schedule, supervise employee performance, and are responsible for the overall sales and profitability of their departments. They may also be called upon to settle a dispute between a customer and salesperson.
Buyers purchase merchandise for resale from wholesalers or manufacturers. Using historical records, market analysis, and their sense of consumer demand, they buy merchandise, keeping in mind their customer’s demand for style, quality, and low price. Wrong decisions mean that the store will mark down slow-selling merchandise, thus losing profits. Buyers for larger stores or chains usually buy one classification of merchandise, such as casual menswear or home furnishings; those working for smaller stores may buy all the merchandise sold in the store. They also plan and implement sales promotion plans for their merchandise, such as arranging for advertising and ensuring that the merchandise is displayed properly.
Merchandise managers are in charge of a group of buyers and department managers; they plan and supervise the purchase and marketing of merchandise in a broad area, such as women’s apparel or appliances. In department store chains, with numerous stores, many of the buying and merchandising functions are centralized in one location. Some local managers might decide which merchandise, among that bought centrally, would be best for their own stores.
Department store managers direct and coordinate the activities in these stores. They may set pricing policies to maintain profitability and notify senior management of concerns or problems. Department store managers usually supervise department managers directly, and indirectly oversee other department store workers.
Because they may be the only managers in smaller stores, clothing and accessory store managers combine many of the duties of department managers, department store managers, and buyers. Retail chain store area managers or district managers oversee the activities of clothing and accessory store managers in an area. They hire managers, ensure that company policies are carried out, and coordinate sales and promotional activities.
Various other store-level occupations in this diversified industry include pharmacists, hairdressers, material moving workers, food preparation and serving workers, and security guards.