Essential Tips for Landing and Succeeding in Retail Jobs

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Updated April 18, 2024

Many people turn to retail employment while looking for other opportunities, whether looking for a summer or winter break sales job, a second job, or a new career. Retail can be the best job for anyone—from college-age to past retirement—to develop their people skills. If you choose a career in retail, you must be willing to promote yourself as what the employer wants and what promotes a positive customer perception of the brand.

In my day, you didn’t have to know anything to be hired or to stay in retail. It didn’t matter then, but it certainly matters now.


It’s still true that retailers recognize that some employees may be with them short-term, but they still demand an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. But in today's environment, the retail world is much more competitive.

If you are looking for a job in retail or are already working there, you need to understand that you can’t get away with being just a warm body anymore. You must consider what you can give rather than what you can get from your retail job.

10 Things You Need To Know To Hold A Job In Retail

Performance is Key—Retailers are notorious for judging every process and every employee on various retail job performance metrics. You’ll be no exception. In short, if you don't justify the cost of your pay, you will be let go.

The Customer is Always Your Customer – Retailers can’t afford to lose any customers since the cost of gaining them is so high. Customer retention in retail often comes down to always treating them with respect. If they are being unreasonable, you should involve management rather than make it personal.

Go the Extra Yard – The more valuable you become to your manager, the better shifts you'll get, and the faster you will get a raise. Managers want problem solvers who can handle all the details of their job without being told or without repeatedly answering common-sense questions.

Be on Time – Effective retail employee time management means one minute late to work is too late! That’s because the boss is already looking for you 15 minutes before you are to walk in the door. If you don’t show, they’ll either have to beg someone to stay later or work it themselves – neither of which works to your advantage. Being late is also an excellent way to alienate your co-workers, who will be far less inclined to help you when you need a favor.

Don’t Gripe About the Hours – Most retailers require that you state your hours of availability when hired. Don’t complain if your hours fall within your stated guidelines. And don’t suddenly change your availability the week you get the job. If you said, “Any and all,” it means just that.

Be Flexible—Shift flexibility is a sought-after quality in retail jobs. Staying late or picking up the odd shift when asked is a great way to increase your hours and help your manager. You will also be the first person she or he thinks of for extra hours.

Don’t Be a Drag – Gossips and naysayers who continually denigrate the retailer and its policies ruin the workday for everyone else. Not only are these mouthy people sub-par performers themselves, but they drag good co-workers down to their level. In short, don’t be the rotten apple in the basket.

Be a Team Player – Most retail locations run on a prescribed schedule of tasks and procedures. Pitch in with other coworkers to accomplish these tasks, and you’ll be a valuable team member. Bonus teamwork points come if you encourage others to do their tasks without an attitude.

Respect the Rules – Don’t Cut Corners. Adhering to retail company policies ensures a smooth workflow for all, so follow all policies and procedures faithfully without being told. It saves everyone aggravation and will probably save your job if there is a problem. And follow instructions to the letter; don’t try to make them your own.

A Cut in Hours is a Sign – While business could be off, a cut in your hours could be one of the warning signs of job security. This is often the first sign that you will soon be “performance counseled” and, with no improvement, let go. Retail management doesn’t cut the strong ones’ hours, even if it's slow.

These are not everything you need to know if you get a job in retail, but these top ten should open your eyes if you think working retail is a walk in the park.

While you should follow instructions carefully, never be afraid to make a creative suggestion that might benefit your store. Ensure you don’t step out of bounds, do them independently, and then expect congratulations.

Ask, suggest, get permission, and then do.

Retailers, consider printing this out and handing it to potential applicants to ensure they are up to the challenge, then include it among your onboarding and preboarding materials.