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The Average Pay of a Retail Worker in the US

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Just over 150 million Americans are employed. About 16 million of those folks work in retail, in one way or another. Retail jobs make up over 10 percent of the American workforce, and the industry is expected to grow by 7 percent annually over the next decade.

retail pay

If you don’t know anyone who works in retail, I have no idea why you’re reading this article – also, I would be surprised.

Whether you’re working in retail, thinking about making the jump to retail sales, or managing and hiring retail workers, knowing what the lay of the financial landscape looks like is going to be helpful.

Today, we’ll look at how much retail jobs pay so that you know where you stand.

How much does a retail job pay?

A caveat before we start – the term “retail associate” is one that employees and companies often use, but it’s a little fuzzy around the edges. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics uses much more specific terms, depending on the work being performed.

Most of the data below references BLS-defined “retail salespersons,” which doesn’t include managers, people who service or maintain things once they’re sold, or some other edge cases that you might think of as “retail.” That said, we’re working with pretty solid data here.

The average salary of a retail associate is $26,000 per year or $12.67 per hour, which is about $5.50 over the US minimum wage. The key, of course, is that retail is a ladder. This week you’re mopping floors, next week it’s the fries.

As you move up the supervisory ladder – and across industries – pay rates increase. At the top of the heap, car dealers are looking at $22 per hour. At the bottom, department store associates are bringing in $10.60 an hour.

Where you work matters

In addition to responsibilities and industry, retail pay varies by location. Retail sales workers in DC are bringing in a hot $15.40 per hour, on average. While those of you sitting in West Virginia are pulling down a mere $11.33, on average.

A lot of that discrepancy is going to depend on the cost of living in your area. Higher costs means retailers have to pay more to retain top talent.

Retail is one of the more interesting industries in the US, in that pay is largely unrelated to demand. Due to the low skill requirements for most retail jobs, anyone with a pleasant demeanor can often get a job. That’s not to say that the job isn’t demanding or that smart folks need not apply, just that many jobs are simple task repetition.

That means that employers don’t need to be near schools or governments or any other major feature to set up shop – they just need people.

Who you work for matters

If you jump over and check out Glassdoor or PayScale, you can get some more details on how employers actually pay folks.

Specialist retailers like T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Home Depot run at the higher end of the pay spectrum, due to the knowledge requirements they impose on employees. On the other end, generalists like Kohls, Walmart, and JCPenney bring up the rear.

But experience still matters. Glassdoor users from Walmart, for example, report that hourly sales associates are paid $9.40 per hour, on average. For a department manager, that hourly rate jumps up to $12.50. Assistant store managers, meanwhile, make over $46,000 per year.

This is clearly not just a Walmart thing. PayScale users reported a 25 percent pay difference between new hires and those that have been in the business for a decade.

How to figure out how much you’re worth

One of the most common mistakes I see people make is to work out their salary requirements in the wrong order. Basically, it goes something like this:

  1. I pay $XX,000 for my life
  2. I need to get paid [Y * $XX,000]

That’s it. You roll into the interview or the manager’s office and make your request, but you don’t know what you’ve asked for.

A good salary request looks like this:

  1. The going starter rate in my area is $XX,000
  2. I have Z years of experience, adding value to my work
  3. I can get an offer across the street for [$XX,000 + $5,000]
  4. I should be able to ask for [$XX,000 + $7,500]

The key to any salary negotiation is knowledge. How much do your peers get paid, how much does your industry pay, and how much can another business offer you?

Knowing that retail salespeople make $25,500 in Nevada is a good start, but it’s only meaningful if you then turn around and use that knowledge to value what you have to offer.

To learn more about the opportunities and trends in the retail market, check out Capterra’s Retail blog.

Looking for Retail Management Systems software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Retail Management Systems software solutions.

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About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a writer for Capterra. His background is in retail management, banking, and financial writing. When he’s not working, Andrew enjoys spending time with his son and playing board games of all stripes.

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