From the moment a customer sees your retail store, to the moment they purchase a product or decide to recommend you to a friend, they will be influenced by your team’s retail skills.
They will notice your store’s layout, the way they are greeted, the ease of making a purchase, and a lot more.
Skills in retail jobs are wider and more varied than many people outside of retail realize. Let’s look at 20 retail skills to guide your store staff to success.
What types of skills are needed in retail jobs?
The skills needed in retail jobs are important, whether your store sells clothes, electronics, home goods, or even banking services. No matter what area of retail you’re in, your staff will need a mixture of hard and soft skills. These skills are the basis for selling products to customers, and range from empathy and persuasion to product knowledge and math. You’ll see more about each of them below.
20 retail skills to look for when hiring store staff
It’s important to remember that while many applicants will have some of the skills listed below, few will have them all. It’s easier to teach people how to stack shelves than it is to teach empathy. Think about that when deciding on your next hire.
Soft skills in retail
Soft skills aren’t always easy to measure. They’re intangible. They’re also vital for a good retail store staff member. Look for them in your hiring process.
1. A friendly attitude
Your staff doesn’t need to follow customers around the store, constantly asking “how may I help you?” In fact, that can be quite off-putting. But they do need to have a friendly attitude. Friendliness is about being approachable, naturally welcoming, and easy to get along with. Make sure whoever you hire is quickly able to make your customers feel comfortable.
A staff member with a helpful attitude will have a certain way of thinking. Their first thought when asked a question will be “do I know the answer?” If they don’t, their second thought will be “where can I find the answer?”
One of your staff’s most important duties is building and strengthening customer relationships.
A helpful staff member will achieve that goal quickly.
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3. Eagerness to learn at pace
There’s always something new on the retail store floor: new products, new processes, new technology, and new company policies, to name but a few. Your staff will find it much easier to be helpful when they have the knowledge to do so. If they’re eager to learn, they’ll gain that knowledge faster.
Put yourself in their shoes. It’s something that’s a lot easier said than done. A good sales associate can get a read on their customers quickly. They will determine what their customer is feeling and what’s motivating them.
This is a great help when offering suggestions and making sales pitches. For example, an empathetic staff member in a tech store will see the difference between an excited early adopter, desperate to get the latest kit, and a technophobe who is only buying a laptop because they can’t work without one.
5. Patience and understanding
Not every customer will know what they want straight away. Some customers will want things explained to them in multiple ways, or even in the same way, multiple times.
A staff member with patience and understanding will match their pace to your customers’.
6. Good time management skills
There’s been a lot of debate in recent times about the need for office staff to work 9-5, and whether arriving at work on time really matters. In retail, there’s no question. It does. Your customers will expect your team to be on the floor and ready to offer support as soon as the store opens.
Their job often involves restocking merchandise, cleaning display cases, and making calls to suppliers. If these tasks are not completed at the right time, they can be missed altogether. At the very least, uncompleted tasks will create a scattered and panicked atmosphere in-store.
You can help your staff manage their time better. For example, you could offer them insights into your store’s traffic fluctuations or teach them how to prioritize back-office tasks.
7. Ability to multitask
It isn’t uncommon for a staff member to be scanning your in-store computer for an item one customer has asked for when another customer approaches them to ask a question. Being able to multitask is an essential skill. They need to point their second customer in the right direction, without losing focus on their first.
A staff member who’s really on top of their game will also be able to gather new stock for the display when they pick up the item their first customer has requested. Customers must always take priority, but if your staff member can do two or three things at the same time, they’ll be worth their weight in gold.
💡 PRO TIP: Encourage store staff to send the carts they save to no-shows by email at the end of their shift. This is an accessible way to recover abandoned store sales and attribute more revenue to your store–even if the transaction happened online.
8. A willingness to adapt
“Expect the unexpected.” Oscar Wilde must have been thinking about a career in retail when he said that. Every day, there’s a new challenge. It’s impossible for even the greatest staff member to know what’s going to happen every minute of every day.
Every customer who interacts with your staff will have a different expectation. A change in the weather might make fewer people visit your store. A late delivery could cause some customers to miss out on a product they’ve been desperate for.
Whatever the situation, a good staff member will adapt and deal with it in the most appropriate manner.
Look for candidates who take the time to think before answering a question.
9. Resilience to handle all types of customers
Being able to adapt isn’t always easy. It takes more than quick thinking. It takes resilience. Your team will have to deal with customers who pose objections that seem to make no sense.
There will be customers who promise to buy but never do. There will be customers who buy something every week and return something a week later. There will be customers who shock with the unexpected.
Dealing with so many challenging situations can test the best of us. A resilient staff member isn’t someone who doesn’t feel frustrated. That person doesn’t exist. A resilient staff member is someone who can deal with the frustrations and come back stronger.
10. An ease of persuasion
A huge skill in retail is persuasion. It’s all part of the sales process. Persuasion doesn’t mean your team convinces people to buy something they don’t need. That’s manipulation, and although you might get some short-term wins, this technique will eventually come back to bite you.
Persuasion is all about listening, understanding a customer’s needs, overcoming objections, and being able to explain why a product is right.
11. Storytelling skills
A long time ago, in a land far away, a retail assistant shared a story with a potential customer. That customer turned out to be the undercover CEO. She loved the story so much that she promoted the retail assistant to CMO.
That was an awful story, but storytelling skills are important in retail. A good storyteller will share success stories with future customers. They might entertain their listeners with the tale of how a product came to be, or the first time it was ever seen in a particular country.
These kinds of stories are engaging. They take the customer away from the physical purchase to a dream of what could be. Explaining benefits through story is almost always more powerful than reciting cold, hard facts. Get your staff to try it and see the difference.
Hard skills in retail
Hard skills are more practical. They’re tangible and usually easier to measure than soft skills. Hard skills can be easier to teach than soft skills, too. Candidates with the right soft skills are likely to be able to learn many of the hard skills listed below.
12. In-depth product knowledge
Even if you hire someone with a lot of experience in your industry, they’ll still need to learn about your product catalog. The deeper their understanding, the more questions they can answer from customers, and the more helpful they can be in the sales process.
Being eager to learn will help with their development, but there are ways you can offer support too. Start by guiding them to your most important products. What makes them special?
Don’t just focus on the features. Think about the benefits for your customers. Why are your products better than the rest?
Regular training is also important. There will be new products coming out all the time and advances in the products you already have. Keep infographics and leaflets in the break room so staff can reference them to fill in knowledge gaps.
You could also hold “unboxing sessions” to see what the process would feel like for customers. Have a list of the “top 10” products your store sells each month, as a focus point for learning. Or you can ask your staff to use your products; doing is always the best way of learning.
💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify POS, you can assign different roles and permissions and set boundaries on what store staff can do in your POS system without manager approval—like changing a product’s price or applying a custom discount to a sale.
13. Active listening
This might seem like a soft skill, but active listening is as much about showing you’re listening as it is about the listening itself.
Done well, active listening is about paying full attention to the person speaking.
You will watch their body language, listen to every word closely, and also listen to their tone. The same sentence can mean two completely different things, so keep an ear out for how it’s said.
Another aspect of active listening is your staff’s body language. Being open, nodding and shaking their head appropriately, and keeping their attention on the customer are things that will be noticed.
The right soft skills will help here, but learning this hard skill can inform some soft skills too. Repeating back what a customer has just said means that your staff member really has to listen. That can’t be faked, and it takes patience and understanding.
14. Strong communication skills
Active listening will help with this, as will many of the soft skills mentioned earlier, but strong communication can be taught. There are certain techniques that offer practical help and contribute to growing confidence.
Your staff will need to be able to clearly articulate their message when greeting customers, answering their questions, and selling to them. You can’t predict every situation, but role-playing possible scenarios will prepare your staff for most possibilities. Use real-life examples to get things started.
15. Customer service and retail sales skills
Many people would put sales and customer service in two completely separate boxes. Customer service is all about dealing with complaints, refunds, and general feedback. Sales is getting a potential customer to buy. That’s one way of looking at things, but a better way is to understand that customer service skills are sales skills and vice versa.
Good sales is all about listening, understanding the needs of your customer, and finding a solution for them.
Most of the time, if they’re already in your store, the solution they need will be on your shelves. But sometimes it won’t be, so pointing your customer in the right direction and explaining how your products can help in other areas is much better for a longer-term relationship.
Good customer service is all about listening, understanding the needs of your customer, and finding a solution for them. The difference this time is that you’re not likely to be offering your customer a product. You’re going to be offering guidance, support, and occasionally even a refund.
Retail sales is about knowing how to close a deal, and it’s also about knowing when to close a deal. Sales is really about building relationships. Good salespeople do this quickly, and they do it in a way that lasts.
16. Product styling and display skills
What does your customer see the first time they look through your window or at an outdoor display? The way your staff makes your store look is as important as anything they ever say.
They will know which items go well together, what trends are worth following, and which products are likely to catch a customer’s eye. Once a customer comes into your store, a staff member who knows their stuff can also advise on the best looks for when the customer gets home.
This isn’t just about clothes. A furniture store might recommend chairs to go with a particular table or home color scheme. A tech store might recommend the best smart-watch and smart-phone combination. A cafe might suggest the best cakes to go with chai latte.
17. Retail industry knowledge or expertise
An understanding of your industry will give any staff member a significant head start. Being able to answer questions about your products is fantastic, but how do your products compare to your competitors’?
Are there industry regulations to follow? Do your customers expect a minimum standard or maximum price point? Are you offering those things? If not, why not? It’s great to stand out, but your staff will need to know why you do things differently.
18. Math and money skills
This is slightly less important than it once was. Before credit cards, debit cards, and digital wallets, when cash was the only currency, math skills, and mental arithmetic were vital. A simple 0 in the wrong place could annoy your customer or lose you a lot of money.
A lot can now be done with automatic shop tills and calculators, but math skills are still important, and understanding things like percentages matter.
If you’re offering 35% off all items, what will the final price be? Being able to do quick calculations and not making your customers wait will greatly benefit any sale.
Cash still exists too, so being able to count money, check for counterfeits, and work the cash register are important retail skills.
📌 GET STARTED: With Shopify, creating discount codes that work for both online and in-store purchases is simple. To find out how often your returns discount code is used, view the Sales by discount report in Shopify admin.
19. Retail tech experience
Your staff need to understand your point of sale (POS) system, so it’s important to have one that’s easy to use. Advanced inventory management, custom staff permissions, and unified reporting will help too.
iPads, digital catalogs, and other technical support systems can take your store to the next level, but only if your team uses them with proficiency. Whenever you adopt new technology, make sure you provide the training to go with it.
💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS comes with tools to help you control and manage your inventory across multiple store locations, your online store, and warehouse. Forecast demand, set low-stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.
20. Physical fitness
Working in retail isn’t manual labor or lifting weights, but in most retail jobs, there‘s a certain requirement for physical fitness. Restocking shelves, moving from place to place, and carrying heavy boxes to and from the warehouse are all tiring tasks.
You can help reduce the physical work needed by using automation and technology where possible, but most retail jobs are physically demanding. Make sure whoever you hire is able to cope.
Hire staff with the right retail skills
What makes a great retail staff member? It’s the combination of soft and hard skills that we’ve guided you through in this article. Remember when you’re hiring that most people won’t have all the required skills, but some retail skills are easier to teach than others.
Whether you run a lifestyle business, a growing boutique, or have multiple retail locations, use this article as a guide to help you find staff with the right retail skills for success.
Manage growing retail teams with Shopify POS
Shopify POS has built-in tools to support your retail team’s growth. Add unlimited staff accounts, and set roles and permissions to manage the features your staff can use and the information they can view in just a few clicks.