Skip to main content

The Ups and Downs of Working in Retail

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Should you get a job in retail? Read on to find out!

Should you get a job in retail? Read on to find out!

Working in Retail: Is It for You?

Are you considering an entry-level career in retail? Find out what you're getting into before you apply!

In today's economy, if you don't have a skill of some sort, you can't really afford to be too picky. But do you really want to be stuck in a job you absolutely can't stand? There are always perks and drawbacks to any job. Here you can learn about what to expect when working in your average retail environment! Not all of these points will apply to every retail job.

Retailers can be quite different from each other. For example, if you prefer a calm, casual work environment, you would probably be better off working at a small store that is owned by a smaller company instead of a large corporation with stores all over the country. If you prefer a fast-paced, busy, and possibly more competitive work environment, you would do well as an employee of a large corporate retailer.

The Benefits of Working in Retail


One of the best benefits of working in retail is, of course, the discount! This can range from 10%–50%, but in my experience usually falls around 20%–40%. That can really add up! Considering you probably won't be making very much money this can really help out depending on what your employer has for products.

Access to Clearance Items and Sales

A discount isn't the only way a retail employee can save some money. When you work in retail, you will usually be the one marking down merchandise on a regular basis. Therefore you will be the first to see the best clearance prices, and you will know where to find them. Most retailers usually have plenty of fliers around with coupons as well. Or they may just apply the current coupon to every employee's sale.

Availability of Trendy Items

This is the perfect job for the style-conscious person. This job allows you to keep up with all the latest trends without having to check the magazines.

Flexible Schedules

If you need a job with flexible scheduling, this is a great way to go! If you work for one of the larger retail stores, you will have many co-workers who are usually more than willing to take your shifts or switch shifts with you, so you don't have to plan around your job. As long as you give enough notice, most retail employers will have no problem giving you certain days off as long as the day you are requesting is not a busy holiday or you can find someone to cover for you.

Shifts are often only 3–6 hours long, so you may find that even on days you work, you will still have almost the whole day to do whatever you please. This is very convenient for anyone who is attending college and looking for a part-time job. Just let them know when you have class, and they will only give you shifts that do not conflict with that schedule.

Availability of Jobs

There are plenty of jobs available! If you have been looking online for a job, you have no doubt come across quite a few empty retail positions, although there are certainly not as many as there used to be. Many companies have eliminated several full-time positions in favor of a part-time position that will cost them less per hour and require fewer benefits. If this is what you are looking for, you are in luck! There are also many full-time positions, but they will definitely be harder to find.

Special Skills Are Not Needed

You don't need any special skills to work in retail. This does not mean retail workers lack intelligence or ambition in spite of how they are treated from time to time. It simply means it is a great job for teens or young adults attending college who need time to learn skills they can take into other careers.

It is also a nice position for older people who have retired but still need a source of income. Or as a second job for anyone who does have skills but may not be making what they need in their career field. No college is required.

You'll Enjoy It if You're a People Person

If you like talking to people and consider yourself a friendly person, you will find success in a retail career. You will meet all kinds of people, and quite often, you will meet a customer who just wants to talk to someone while they shop.

Patience is required. You will encounter those who are unhappy with their shopping experience, but if you can smile and treat them well, they may say something to your supervisor resulting in recognition or a promotion for you!

You Might Need to Get Dressed Up

If you enjoy looking your best, there are many retail positions that will require you to dress up. This doesn't always mean dresses and suits, but a nice pair of dress pants and a professional-looking top will do the trick. You almost never have to get dirty (unless you're talking about dust), so you can show up wearing your best clothing every day, and you won't be out of place!

You'll Get Great Customer Service Experience

You are getting great customer service experience! Customer service in some form is a part of almost every job out there. If you find yourself working as a salesperson making commissions, this is even better! The ability to sell products is a great skill to have for many professions.


The Drawbacks of Retail Work

Limited Hours

The most common complaint about retail jobs is the lack of hours available. With retailers trying to cut costs, you will probably only get 12–20 hours a week. If you are lucky, you may find part-time positions for 20–30 hours a week, but this is less common at least in my experience.

There is something you can do about this, however. Always talk to your employer and let them know you are more than willing to pick up extra hours and ask them to give you a call whenever someone calls off, no matter how short the notice may be.

Also, talk to your co-workers and let them know if they have any shifts they can't work that they can come to you for guaranteed coverage. If you do this and if you consistently accept extra hours when they are offered, you may find yourself scheduled for more hours anyway!

Low Pay

I'm going to be honest with you. Unless you are working full time, you probably will not be making much above minimum wage, even if you have experience.

Competition for Jobs

There is a large amount of competition for each job opening. As I said before, this position does not require any real skills. Therefore, many people qualify for the job. You will have to have an outstanding interview in some cases to land the job. Always make sure to maintain eye contact and smile! Retailers are looking for friendly, enthusiastic sales-oriented employees.

The Schedule

Your schedule will probably be all over the place. Most retailers I am familiar with will open around 8 or 9 and close around 9 or 10. They will also require people to help put away products that come in on trucks every week. This may mean that you will be asked to come to work at the crack of dawn, or you may have to work some very late nights depending on when they receive their shipments.

This is a good question to ask at the interview. You will almost never have a set schedule in an entry-level retail job. You may work a closing shift one night and have to get up for the early shift the next day! While this can be a pain, hours are hours, and the more you show you are willing to work any schedule, the more your managers will use you.

Employee Discounts That Promote Overspending

Working in retail may make you buy things you really don't need. You may laugh, but I have seen this become a real problem for some people. When you find yourself marking down a beautiful purse or an expensive shirt, you may think to yourself what a great deal you are holding in your hands. You may start to think, "Well . . . it used to be $60, and now it's only $10. I can afford that."

You start to think about how great you would look with that product and how people will think you must be doing well to afford such nice things. Where it really starts to get you is when you don't know when to say no to a good deal. There will always be great deals somewhere in the store. But if you buy every single one, you won't be saving money anymore! What do you really need with 20 purses or 50 pairs of shoes?

The Customers

The biggest drawback to working in a retail job is how you are treated by many customers. Many people seem to be of the opinion that because you are in a customer service position, that means they can treat you however they please. You can be the sweetest, friendliest, most helpful person working there, and some people will just walk all over you.

The problem is that many customers know that if they throw a fit, they can usually get whatever they want. They also seem to think that if you are only a cashier, you must be lazy or unintelligent. So they will question everything. They will argue with you that $X is NOT 30% off of $X, even when it clearly is. This is when you get out your handy calculator and calmly and sweetly show them they are being a complete fool.

They will insist that although they don't have any coupons with them, you must give them any current coupons regardless of whether or not you are allowed to do so. They will try to tell you the item in question was on a clearance rack, even though it is clearly supposed to be on a full-price rack right next to it.

Some customers will merely be annoyed and decide not to buy the items, while others will scream at you and ask for your manager. Some might even throw the items at you. If you are unable to handle conflicts with others, this is not the job for you.

Sometimes you will have to clean up after inconsiderate customers. This can wear on the nerves of some. Seeing people throwing clothing where it doesn't belong or tossing garbage on a display you just cleaned can be quite frustrating, and you absolutely can not say a thing about it.

Those who work in shoe stores can tell you stories about customers leaving shoe boxes and tops strewn across the aisles with all the stuffing spread out on the floor as well. If this makes you so angry you have to say something; you may want to look elsewhere for a career.

The Management

This drawback is very similar to the last one. You may not be treated the best by your managers. Being a retail manager can be stressful, and they will sometimes take it out on you. Remember the scenario I described where a customer is irate and asks for your manager? Well, don't expect your manager to take your side. They will inevitably come up and give the customer exactly what they wanted, all while apologizing to them and telling them anything they want to hear.

They can be power hungry and will not always treat you with respect because you are the lowly cashier. This can be the case in many types of jobs, however. It really depends on the individual store and you might get lucky and have a great relationship with all your supervisors.

Sales Quotas

You will most likely be required to try to sell a card of some sort. Whether this is a credit card or simply a club card, not everyone will want to sign up or even let you finish your sentence. Customers are often in a hurry and don't want to listen to a sales pitch about some card when they have a wallet full of cards for every store.