Employees are the lifeblood of a retail store, so stores benefit most from having high-performing sales staff. Business owners should look for employees who are adaptable, dedicated, customer-oriented, highly trainable, and possess leadership qualities to perform well in their roles. We asked experts to share their ideas on the most important skills in retail.
Here are 25 essential retail skills from the pros:
1. Buyer Empathy
Ellen Mullarkey, Vice President, Messina Staffing
Look for retail workers who show empathy for others. Empathy helps one person put themselves in another person’s shoes. Retail workers who have this soft skill are better able to understand what your customers need, which can have a significant and positive impact when it comes to getting repeat business from one-time shoppers.
2. Decision Making
Dr. Vincenzo Repaci, Senior Coach, LOVR Atlantic
Empower your staff. Where possible move decision making power to the people who have the most information and then review decisions. For example, delegate any decision with less than $100 value to floor staff with the understanding that you’ll review these decisions with them at the end of the week. Responsibility engenders respect and by reviewing and improving their decision making you’ll align them with business values.
Will Craig, Managing Director and CEO, LeaseFetcher
The key to developing exceptional retail employees is to carefully analyze their respective strengths and weaknesses and to develop aspects of their character that best suit both their skills and your wider business needs. A lot of business leaders can find it hard to develop those truly outstanding employees that are going to drive their retail enterprises forward. The truth is that outstanding employees don’t just come out of nowhere — they have to be developed. The key is to identify those candidates with the most potential to make truly exceptional employees.
4. Customer Service
Bill and Linda Files, Franchise Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, The Spice & Tea Exchange of Winter Park, Florida
In order to provide great customer service, business owners need to hire employees that are extremely invested in the brand — enough to engage the customer on the same level. Employees should be comfortable in their surroundings and feel inspired to reach for greatness. When hiring, search for employees that are moldable, passionate about customer engagement, and relatable not only on a business level, but beyond. You can encourage this by implementing an employee incentive program at your store that rewards employees bonuses when they hit their goal DPT (dollar per transaction) daily. There are no restrictions on how the DPT is reached, giving employees free reign to be creative with their personal approaches.
5. Prioritization Skills
Marc Prosser, Co-Founder, Fit Small Business
A retail business can be very demanding so you need to have employees who know how to be as productive as they can every day. This means being able to take on tasks to maximize sales. Make sure your employees are managing sales with an easy to use inventory-based POS. Vend is a retail based POS that offers excellent loyalty and inventory management features. You can update inventory details in a few clicks, and even create customized pricing for your loyal customers. Get a free trial if you sign up today.
Sonja Skvarla, CEO, Off Road
Working with founders of a retail store, we often see an opportunity to develop a store manager into a stronger leader. The owner of a retail store may be looking to focus on expansion or product buying opportunities, while there is a need to reduce the amount of day-to-day operational conversation. We start with creating an accountability chart with the store manager and the founder — creating clear boundaries, roles, and expectations for each person. This creates a defined process for work to be completed and communication within the retail store environment. Empowering your store manager to make decisions and be a leader is a key factor in their success.
Mike Sheety, Director, That Shirt
When it comes to skills you should look for in a retail employee there are many important ones — some can be developed and learned, while others can’t. Problem-solving skills are important as many issues can arise on a daily basis that need to be addressed. If an employee can adequately problem solve they will spend less time interrupting other employees and less time trying to figure out how to solve the issue. This skill can be developed, however, it can be difficult to learn. Hiring retail employees that have experience with problem-solving and/or communication can be highly valuable to the company revenue.
Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and Digital Marketing Specialist, DontPayFull
Dealing with different unwanted situations created by customers is a daily task of retail employees. In these unwanted scenarios, retail salespeople must remain calm to handle the situations in favor of the business. At the same time, they need to be keen on pacifying the agitated customer, because any agitation of customers essentially harms the business and hence sales. Only the improvisation capacity of the retail employees to handle any hostile situation can save the day for the business. Hence, instant improvisation ability at any situation is an essential skill of a retail employee.
Jeremiah Rizzo, Founder, Pollen
Retail business owners should be very careful in selecting the right employees for their business. The employee is, in many ways, the face, the look, and feel of your business. Look for employees who are proactive. The person you’re considering should want to help your customers. They should be proactive, looking for work they can be doing when not busy, and eager to help or provide assistance to your customers. This will go a long way in leaving people with a good impression of your brand.
Maggie Aland, Marketing and Review Editor, Fit Small Business
Retail employees need to learn punctuality and ensuring that they are in constant communication with management over schedules. When I Work is an employee scheduling software and online time clock that features an employee database to handle automated scheduling, shift scheduling, as well as time and vacation leave tracking. It also has an app where changes made to schedules get pushed to relevant employees’ cell phones so they can be always ready for work on time. Visit When I Work and get your free trial today.
11. Learning Initiative
Slisha Kankariya, CMO, With Clarity
Encourage them to make their own personalized process manual or script to answer phone calls or in-person meetings. This encourages them to speak in their own voice, which is a lot more credible and relevant. It will most likely help them feel empowered to make the sale.
12. Sense of Humor
Antony Zagoritis, Marketing Manager, Lapigems Gem Company
Retail is such an emotional space — most retail transactions are closed on an emotional level. We have always found a sense of humor to be pivotal to closing retail sales. Make a customer laugh and at ease and they are much more likely to proceed with the purchase.
Eva Droz, Co-Owner and Vice President of Retail Operations, Nothing But Hemp
The typical retail job likely requires you to have a skill set from customer service and sales experiences. What is at the base of those two things? Communication. Look for a good communicator, and require a person to speak well and listen well. Listening is the most important and it is a critical skill. So many people just want to be heard. If you give them the space to speak, they will give you the information you need to help them. Retail is all about listening and making connections.
14. Ability to Focus
Jeanne Martinson, MA, Diversity Strategist/Best Selling Author, Martrain
Is the person willing to surrender their technology (mobile phone) except for official breaks? You want them focused on your customers not their phone. Also, they cannot be looking for those who need their help if their head is down. Thirdly, they cannot be alert for shrinkage (theft) when they are not alert and watching. In the interview, ask about their commitment to their phone versus their commitment to you as an employer.
15. Customer De-escalation Skills
Marsha Kelly, Marketing Consultant, Best4Business
To hire the best retail employees look for vital skills of knowing how to deal with angry customers and being able to improvise in tough situations. Because it takes 10 times the amount of money and time to get new customers, retaining customers is paramount to retailers. Train your staff with training videos, or role-playing, teaching them how to leave complaining customers feeling acknowledged, heard and valued. Give them guidelines on what concessions and discounts they are authorized to give to these customers, and how to handle different types of issues (pricing, product, service, and delivery).
16. Conflict Resolution
Crystal Huang, CEO, ProSky
One of the most important skills retail employees should have is conflict resolution. Train on conflict resolution with role-play exercises where employees take two different sides of a conflict. Invite employees to share their ideas and opinions without arguing. Provide instructions that will lead to proper resolution of the conflict.
An employee who knows how to juggle more than one task and complete them all exceptionally well is a real asset to any business. Retail stores can benefit best with employees who can tend to more than one customer at a time without missing a step. The more customers that are satisfied with the swift and experienced service, the more the business can build a strong brand.
A retail business is mainly about providing the best customer service the minute customers enter the store. Active listening is at the heart of an excellent customer service and learning the best practices can win customer loyalty. Retail employees should make eye contact throughout the conversation and let the customer know they’re heard and understood.
Keeping customers satisfied and happy comes with keen attention to detail. Not only when handling customer requests and instructions, but also when processing transactions. Retail employees will need to be armed with the right information from inventory to pricing in order to offer the best buying experience to their customers. This is important in order to build a solid customer base and promote loyalty to the brand.
Like any other business, technology has made significant changes to a retail store’s processes. This makes it imperative for its employees to keep up with skills needed to operate IT-enabled systems. Make sure to provide them with training as needed and document processes to ensure continuity as turnover occurs.
Negotiation is also an important skill that retail employees should learn. Facing customers will always bring about a degree of negotiation, whether it’s to motivate more sales or to handle complaints. Knowing how to steer the conversation to a point that reaches an agreement creates customer satisfaction and builds confidence in an employee.
Upselling is a skill that any retail employee should know how to do regardless of where they are stationed in the store. Every time that a customer approaches a store representative for assistance, the employee must be able to identify if there is an opportunity to upsell. This means having a firm grasp of product knowledge and being able to approach this task from a customer service point of view instead of just sales.
Aside from upselling, cross selling is an effective strategy that can significantly improve sales when done right. Product knowledge is crucial as it gives retail employees the confidence they need to show customers that they are giving them the best purchasing advice. Additionally, understanding how to create bundles and special sales or discounts that offer more value will bring more customers to your store.
Undeniably, retail employees will need math skills in order to function well in their roles. This ability is required in every level of retail, from monitoring inventory to giving customers their change. So regardless of their skill level, it’s best to provide continuous training if you intend to promote employees to higher posts.
Retail employees will need to have product knowledge at the heart of all their skills to become successful in their job. This is what will make them effective in customer service, build their confidence, and promote a good standing for the business itself. Without product knowledge, you can’t expect your team to produce the best marketing and advertising strategies that can boost your sales.
Your business can only function smoothly with a well-trained set of employees. Therefore, it’s in an owner’s best interest to hire and nurture staff with outstanding skills in retail. Use our list of recommended retail skills from the experts as your guide to developing successful employees that you can be proud of.
Did we miss out on your recommended retail skills? Share them with us in the comments.