Working in retail often gets a bad rap – long hours, low wages, lost weekends, not to forget the crabby customers and seemingly unattainable sales targets. But I’m here to defend the industry and demonstrate the merits of getting your foot into the sales door.
The retail environment is a great place to learn a wide range of skills that can be used across many different industries and in most work places.
So beyond the perks of discounted merchandise, product samples and socialising, here are five skills you can pick up from working in retail.
1. Effective communication
Interacting with customers effectively requires strong communication skills – beyond the standard ‘Can I help you?’ approach. Learning how to use good questioning techniques – that is open-ended questions that solicit information – and then actively listening to the responses are a key part of communicating well and are skills that will serve you and your customers well.
Anyone who’s ever had to man the retail floor solo while other staff were on their lunch break or at the bank will appreciate the importance of multi-tasking (aka juggling). It’s almost guaranteed that when you’re understaffed you’re going to get inundated with a flurry of phone calls, an unprecedented delivery of stock, and a customer that needs the last size eight, which is inconveniently located on a mannequin in your front window display. Tackling that calls for multi-tasking skills of magnitude!
3. Negotiating and influencing
If you’ve ever managed to (legitimately) avoid working a shift at the post-Christmas sales, then you’ve probably employed some impressive negotiation techniques! Rosters aside, when you’re exposed to situations like an irate customer returning a faulty product or one insistent on buying something, which is clearly three sizes too small, you’ll learn what it takes to negotiate and influence successful outcomes.
4. Problem solving
Working in retail involves lots of challenges – ranging from covering shifts when staff call in sick at short notice, responding to customer complaints in a diplomatic manner, sourcing or replenishing stock that you’ve sold out of, or simply trying to successfully apply a window decal in the absence of a visual merchandiser. Learning to identify (and even pre-empt) those problems, find solutions and make informed decisions are beneficial skills in any work context.
Finding new ways to sell (especially when it comes some dastardly product a buyer has decided to experiment with) or just staying motivated in those deathly quiet periods can be tough. Working in retail teaches you to get creative. This could involve picking up the art of great visual merchandising or finding unique selling points about a product or brand. Did you know that in 1952 Jack O’Neill invented the wetsuit after gluing together pieces of neoprene rubber, a material that at the time was being researched at UC Berkeley for deep sea diving?
So, whether selling merchandise to customers is your calling or just a means to get paid, working in retail provides a great foundation and a lot of useful skills that are applicable in many different contexts. From my experience and perhaps more importantly, it’s also a lot of fun!