Can Older Workers Find Jobs in Retail?

Updated on February 25, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Retail promotions for high spending individuals need good customer care skills.
Retail promotions for high spending individuals need good customer care skills. | Source

Over 50 and Looking for Work

Have you considered a career in the retail sector? You may be an older worker, but that doesn’t mean that you’re on the scrapheap. Many people choose to work beyond the state retirement age, so 50 is the new 30. You’ve still got plenty of time to learn new skills and apply for promotion. The hourly rate of pay in retail stores may not be so hot, but you’ll get lots of social interaction, and a reason to get out of bed each day.

Retail or shop work is one of the largest employment sectors. In both the US and UK, the retail sector employs 10% of the workforce. One third of these (in each country) are employed by just ten large retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2017 more than 29 million people were employed by US stores.

Independent stores may see older workers as being more reliable.
Independent stores may see older workers as being more reliable. | Source

What Are the Pros and Cons of Working in Retail?

50+? 60+? You’re as old as your level of energy. Providing you're physically fit enough to carry out the store duties, there's no barrier to your being employed. But most retailers won't tolerate staff taking repeated sick leave. So, a good level of overall health is essential if you want to work in retail.

Don't let biological numbers stop you applying for mall work. Jobs in the retail sector are open to everyone regardless of age. If it’s a while since you’ve applied for a job, I recommend you practice with this interview prep app. It prompts you with the type of questions you’ll be asked when applying for a customer associate job and will help increase your confidence.

Pros: Age is not a barrier to working in the retail sector.

Cons: You'll be expected to do the same physical work as your younger colleagues.

How to Get Hired on the Spot, Legit Tips and Tricks

24-Hour 7 Days a Week Business

Retail is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation. When the store is closed, or in quiet periods, cleaning takes place, and shelves are restocked. Till receipts are tallied, damaged or out of date stock is trashed, and general site maintenance carried out. Deliveries take place through the night, runaway trolleys are collected, and car parks swept. This means there are job opportunities in the retail sector at all times of the day and night.

Pros: Whether you are a night-owl or an early-bird, there are working patterns to suit you.

Cons: Stores expect workers to be flexible, and the shifts you’re offered may not be your first choice.

Are Flexible Working Hours Good or Bad?

Having a flexible hours contract can be a two-edged sword. Flexibility for a bad employer means you’re always on call. Working for a good employer should mean you get to choose whether or not you accept overtime hours. However, most retail stores expect all staff to be available to work during peak busy periods like Black Friday, Christmas, Easter, and the January sales. Many stores forbid their staff from taking any holiday leave in December and January.

Pros: The availability of overtime gives you the option to earn more money.

Cons: If your normal contract is part-time, extra hours are paid at the base rate (i.e. not at time and a half).

A sales associate checks labels for a store's inventory stock-take.
A sales associate checks labels for a store's inventory stock-take. | Source

Retail Sector Pay and Working Conditions

Stores are notorious for paying low wages. A statutory minimum wage exists in many countries to help boost take-home pay. However, employers have fought back by removing paid breaks, reducing annual leave allowances, and charging for uniforms and training which used to be supplied free.

Shop workers are still among the lowest paid employees, and many are part-time workers which puts them at a disadvantage when applying for promotion.

The pay and working conditions you can expect varies depending on where you work. The retail sector consists of a few major employers, plus thousands of smaller one or two store businesses. As well as basic pay some employers will pay a bonus based on performance or profits. Others may pay a sales commission. The length of paid annual leave you are offered tends to increase with long service, but it’s usually around the legal minimum.

Pros: The low-pay means there may be less competition for entry-level jobs.

Cons: The low wage makes it hard to survive on this job alone if you are a single person household.

6 Tips on How to Survive Working in Retail

Convenient Work Locations

There are thousands of retail stores and shopping malls, so there's a good chance you'll be able to find work in a store near to you. For example, Walmart, the US’s largest retailer, has 3,002 stores (2020) located in 2,658 cities. 64% of these stores are open 24 hours a day and they all need to employ cheerful and helpful staff.

Pros: You may not need to travel far to work.

Cons: You have no excuse for being late!

You Need to be Physically Fit for Shop Work

Working on the shop floor is physically demanding. As a general sales assistant, you'll be standing on your feet all day. Even working as a checkout operator can involve long periods of standing in some stores. You may be required to lift heavy boxes as part of your duties, and you’ll walk miles up and down the aisles helping customers find items on the shelves.

Pros: You are judged on your ability to do the job, rather than on paper qualifications.

Cons: If you’re not physically fit, you may find it difficult to work in retail.

You will be expected to know your stock, and the range of sizes available.
You will be expected to know your stock, and the range of sizes available. | Source

The Customer is Always Right

Retail work involves handling debit, credit, and store payment cards, so you need to be able to concentrate while dealing with difficult clients. Get a payment wrong and you could lose your job.

Many people say that working in retail would be great if only there were no customers. Customer service is usually based on the premise that “the customer is always right”. Sometimes it’s difficult to remain polite when you're dealing with someone who's being awkward. However, if you want to succeed in the retail sector, you must remain calm and show a sunny face to the world.

The video below shows you some of the worst types of customer you are likely to meet if you choose to work as a sales associate.

7 Worst Customers You Will Encounter In Retail

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • raymondphilippe profile image

    Raymond Philippe 

    4 weeks ago from The Netherlands

    I read your article with interest. The pros and cons for the elderly are clearly explained. I don't know what the situation is in the US and UK, but in the Netherlands more and more retail chains are closing.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    4 weeks ago from UK

    I have noticed in recent years that there are more 'older' people working in retail. Some work beyond retirement age. They often have a lot of experience and can give good advice about the products they are selling.


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