The top three employee skills for retail work

Having a top-notch sales team is an invaluable business asset in the world of retail. Unfortunately, finding and retaining talented employees can be a challenge for retail businesses. With the industry’s high turnover rate, you may find yourself going through endless recruitment cycles, or end up with employees who have the right qualifications but lack that special something that helps a worker excel in a sales role.

One way to avoid this situation is to focus primarily on the most important skills when assessing candidates. You can also help your current employees reach their full potential and address an existing skills gap by providing additional training.

Read on to find out what the three most important employee skills in retail are, how to spot them in potential candidates, and how to develop them in your existing employees.

Retail employee strength 1: People skills

Whether you’re managing a bakery or an antique store, your team members’ ability to make customers feel valued is key to making successful sales. The customers who are the most satisfied with the service they’ve received tend to spend the most, but more importantly, positive in-store experiences make customers want to come back.

Your employees should be able to make customers feel welcome, listen to them attentively, have the ability to match needs with the right product, and handle complaints tactfully.

How to recruit employees with good people skills


When interviewing candidates, assess how approachable and friendly your potential employee appears. Do they make eye contact and smile? Is their body language ‘open’? Do they seem fully engaged in the interview? These are all good indicators that the candidate has an aptitude for serving and interacting with customers.

Look for evidence of a thick skin and patience too: ask your interviewees about their past experiences with challenging customers (or other people), and how they handled those situations.

How to train your employees to have stronger people skills


When it comes to developing these customer-facing skills, role-playing is your best tool. Introduce employees to a range of positive and negative customer service scenarios, and let them take turns to act out the roles. To make the most of these sessions, explain your expectations clearly and give constructive feedback.

Consider also giving immediate feedback (either praise or guidance) after real customer interactions.

Retail employee strength 2: Teamwork

In order to succeed in a fast-paced retail environment, your sales associates need to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues and managers alike and work towards a common goal. Great communication skills are a large part of this and include speaking clearly, listening attentively, and competence in following both written and oral instructions. In addition to minimising errors and wasted effort, great communication skills foster greater harmony between employees, boosting productivity by 25% in the workplace.

How to recruit employees who work well in a team


Identify good communication skills by noting when candidates pay close attention to your questions and are able to give concise, well-articulated answers.

Broader team-working skills can be spotted through more interactive approaches to interviewing: conduct a group interview or set a group task and observe how your interviewees interact with other people in the process.

How to train your employees to be stronger team players


You can help your employees strengthen their teamwork skills in informal practice sessions. Focus on fun activities that encourage everyone to participate and work together in order to solve a problem.

You could also motivate employees to do their best by assessing communication skills in individual performance appraisals and providing incentives for meeting individual goals.  Promote your most effective team players into supervisory positions, where they can act as positive role models.

Retail employee strength 3: Product knowledge

Customers appreciate sales associates who are knowledgeable about products - in fact, 59% of shoppers consider it the most important aspect of their in-store experience. Ideal retail employees really understand the products they’re selling and should be able to answer customer questions in detail, create solutions that best meet the shoppers’ needs, and recommend relevant products that work well together.

How to recruit employees with excellent product knowledge


When interviewing potential employees, be on the lookout for genuine enthusiasm for the product range, be it sports equipment or gardening tools. Gauge the candidate’s interest level by asking them what attracted them to the position, and how much experience they have using similar products.

How to train your employees to have better product knowledge


Deepening your employees’ product knowledge is best done in small (but highly memorable) doses. Focus on a few key products and their main attributes at a time, and build up from there. Also, make sure that your employees can easily access essential information (such as a sizing guide for clothes) on the go, by placing infographics in strategic locations, for example.

And don’t neglect hands-on experience. Demonstrate how to use key products, and if possible, give your employees a chance to test them at home.

By keeping all of these employee skills in mind when hiring and training employees, you can be sure of a bright future for your retail business.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.