Retail has a really high turnover rate, so during the three years I worked in a store in college, I met a lot of different retail employees. Some of them were downright terrible fits for the retail world, but some of them were excellent. And while the excellent employees I worked with varied widely in background, interests, personality types, etc., they all had several qualities and skills in common.
I’ve decided to put together the definitive lists of skills and qualities that all great retail employees share, so that you can refer to it when hiring new employees.
1. Must have a desire to make others happy.
This quality is the most important trait for anyone working in retail to possess. The entire industry, and everyone who works in it, exists to bring joy into people’s lives through providing the right products that people want. It is particularly important for store employees to possess this trait because they are the ones who actually deal directly with customers.
Retail employees who do not care if customers are taken care of, have the things they need, or even have a good experience in the store are not good for retail no matter what other traits they possess.
2. Must be a quick learner.
Retail is a very fast-paced environment, with an incredible amount of new information to learn constantly. Here’s an abbreviated list of the information retail employees must learn:
- How to fold clothing, or otherwise stack/organize products.
- How to arrange the store, and how to continue rearranging it.
- How to make a sale.
- How to run point of sale software, inventory management software, reporting software, and more. (These are often all different modules of one software.)
- The entire inventory so that they can recite it from memory more or less. (True story, I still remember every single one of the clothing items sold in my store from the years I worked there and can recognize them when I see them on women “in the wild.” Imagine what useful things I could remember if that brain-space weren’t all taken up.)
Employees basically need to know all of that information the day they start working. It’s rough. Additionally, even if you don’t expect your employees to know all of that instantly, they still need to be quick learners. Why? Because customers are well known to come in and rattle of a list of needs, and your employees should easily be able to hear a list once and remember it.
3. Must be empathetic.
A good retail employee listens to their customers, understands what they need and what they want, and puts themselves in the customer’s shoes to come up with the perfect solution for the customer’s problem. Empathy leads to active listening skills, which are crucial in being a successful salesperson.
4. Must be honest.
Everyone should be honest, of course, but it’s extra important that retail employees be honest. Retail employees are faced with hundreds of moments everyday to steal money or products from the store, or to steal customers’ identities. You cannot hire a worker who is going to jeopardize the trust that your customers have in your store.
Furthermore, honesty (with tact) is a good quality to have in a salesperson. A salesperson who works hard to make sure that your customers take home only what will add value to their lives, instead of just trying to make any old sale, will encourage your customers to trust your brand and return to make purchases in the future.
5. Must be patient.
While this is a quality that can be learned on the job (I say that as someone who did learn it on the job), it makes everyone’s lives easier if the person you hire comes to you an already patient person.
There’s a lot of craziness in retail. Customers get angry, sometimes for surprisingly extensive periods of time; customers’ children run around destroying your store; a customer might ask you to run back and forth to the back 30,000 times for one particular top in seven different colors and sizes.
During all of that (which could totally happen in one shift), you have to stand there and smile and nod, which are not the natural behaviors for such situations. As a manager, you have to go out of you way to hire people who can keep that smile glued on no matter what. Kind of like the opposite of the English guards.
6. Must be friendly.
Friendliness is a good quality for retail workers to have because they have to talk to so many strangers every day. It can be difficult, though not impossible, for a not naturally friendly person to deal with the sheer amount of interaction that comes with a retail job. From my experience, my coworkers who were not naturally friendly people often got fed up with the job far faster than almost anyone else, and quit fairly quickly.
7. Must be a good multitasker.
Retail, like I said, is extremely fast paced. It is very common to have to do a whole floor set while dealing with a flood of customers. If an employee can’t fold and talk at the same time, you will be completely sunk.
Of course, a retail employee must also have a good understanding for when they need to put down the folding and give their attention to one customer completely. It’s a balance.
8. Must be confident.
Confidence is an important trait for salespeople to have. No one wants to purchase something from someone who isn’t positive that the item they’re selling is a great item. But with that said…
9. Must be humble.
You also want to make sure to hire someone who is humble. Retail can be a tough environment to work. Customers will berate you, ask you to fetch them a thousand things, and otherwise wipe their shoes with you.
You need to hire someone who is ready to accept a decent amount of poor treatment with the aforementioned smile on their face. (Please note that retail workers should not be forced to deal with physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Managers need to protect their employees when customers go from obnoxious to harmful.)
10. Must be able to handle physical exertion for 5+ hours.
This seems kind of silly, but here’s the truth: Retail workers spend every single minute of their shift on their feet. Most shifts are five hours or more. You have to hire someone who can handle that. They don’t need to be in great shape – but they do need to be able to keep up the pace of the floor.
That’s my round-up of the top-10 traits to look for in retail employees when you’re hiring. What other traits do you look for in a new hire?
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