Clothing, Accessory, and General Merchandise Stores

Significant Points
  • Sales and administrative support jobs account for 84 percent of employment in the industry.
  • Most jobs do not require formal education; many people get their first jobs in this industry.
  • Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores offer many part-time jobs, but earnings are relatively low.
  • Many workers in this large industry transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force, so there will be numerous job openings.

Nature of the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Goods and services. Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores are some of the most visited retail establishments in the country. Whether shopping for an item of clothing, a piece of jewelry, a household appliance, or even food, you will likely go to one of these stores to make your purchase or compare selections with other retail outlets.

Industry organization. General merchandise stores sell a large assortment of items. Stores include department stores—including discount department stores—supercenters, and warehouse club stores, as well as “dollar stores” that sell a wide variety of inexpensive merchandise.

Department stores sell an extensive selection of merchandise, with no one line predominating. As the name suggests, these stores generally are arranged into departments, each headed by a manager. The various departments can sell apparel, furniture, appliances, home furnishings, cosmetics, jewelry, paint and hardware, electronics, and sporting goods. They also may sell services such as optical, photography, and pharmacy services. Discount department stores typically rely more on self-service features, and have centrally located cashiers. Department stores that sell large items, like major appliances, usually provide delivery and installation services. Upscale department stores may offer tailoring for their clothing lines and more personal service.

Warehouse club stores and supercenters, the fastest growing segment of this industry, sell an even more eclectic mix of products and services at the retail level and at low prices. These stores typically include an assortment of food items, often sold in bulk, along with an array of household and automotive goods, clothing, and services that may vary over time. Often, such stores require that shoppers purchase a membership that entitles them to shop there. They offer very little service and usually require the customer to take home the item.

Compared with department stores, clothing and accessory stores sell a much narrower group of items that include apparel for all members of the family, as well as shoes, luggage, leather goods, lingerie, jewelry, uniforms, and bridal gowns. Stores in this sector may sell a relatively broad range of these items or concentrate on a few. They often are staffed with knowledgeable salespersons who can help in the selection of sizes, styles, and accessories. Many of these stores are located in shopping malls across the country and have significantly fewer workers than department stores.

Recent developments. Over the past few years, many department stores in this industry have consolidated, seeking more efficient operations in order to stay competitive. Some clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores are also moving toward obtaining goods directly from the manufacturer, bypassing the wholesale level completely. Additionally, many large retailers try to reach as many different consumers as possible, and so have added online stores, discount outlets, and sometimes high-end boutiques, since more apparel and accessories shoppers enjoy designer and other high-society items. E-commerce also continues to be a popular way for consumers to shop and for stores to showcase all of their items for sale.

Some larger national retailers, such as superstores, have begun to institute radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) into their logistics and inventory systems. They have many different goods to keep track of, making RFID a cost effective investment.

Working Conditions [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Hours. About 29 percent of the workers were employed part time. Most employees work during peak selling times, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Weekends are busy days in retailing, so almost all employees work at least one of these days and have a weekday off. Longer than normal hours may be scheduled during busy periods, such as holidays and the back-to-school season, when vacation time is limited for most workers, including buyers and managers.

Work environment. Most employees in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores work in clean, well-lit conditions. Retail salespersons and cashiers often stand for long periods, and stock clerks may perform strenuous tasks, such as moving heavy, cumbersome boxes. Sales representatives and buyers often travel to visit clients and may be away from home for several days or weeks at a time. Those who work for large manufacturers and retailers may travel outside of the country.

The incidence of work-related illnesses and injuries varies greatly among segments of the industry. In 2006, workers in clothing and accessory stores had 2.7 cases of injury and illness per 100 full-time workers, while those in general merchandise stores had 6.7 cases per 100 full-time workers. These figures compare with an average of 4.4 throughout private industry.

Employment [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores—one of the largest employers in the Nation—had about 4.4 million wage and salary jobs in 2006. In contrast to many industries, this industry employs workers in all sections of the country, from the largest cities to the smallest towns. Many of the industry’s workers are young—31 percent were under 24 years old in 2006, compared with about 14 percent for all industries (table 1).

OOH Earnings Table Extraction Wizard - output frame
Table 1. Percent distribution of employment, by age group, 2006
Age group Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores All industries


100.0% 100.0%




12.3 4.3


18.8 9.6


19.5 21.5


17.6 23.9


16.1 23.6


11.2 13.4

65 and older

4.6 3.7

Department stores accounted for about 36 percent of jobs in the industry, but for only about 7 percent of establishments. In 2006, about 7 out of 10 workers were employed in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores having more than 50 workers.

Two-thirds of clothing, accessory, and general merchandise store establishments employ less than 10 workers.

Occupations in the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Sales and related occupations accounted for 65 percent of workers in this industry in 2006. Office and administrative support occupations make up the next largest group of employees, accounting for 19 percent of total industry employment (table 2).

Sales and related occupations. Retail salespersons, who make up 41 percent of employment in the industry, help customers select and purchase merchandise. Their primary job is to interest customers in the merchandise and to answer any questions the customers may have. In order to do this, they may describe the product’s various models, styles, and colors or demonstrate its use. To sell expensive and complex items, workers need extensive knowledge of the products.

In addition to selling, most retail salespersons register the sale electronically on a cash register or terminal; receive cash, checks, and charge payments; and give change and receipts. Depending on the hours they work, they may open or close their cash registers or terminals. Either of these operations may include counting the money in the cash register; separating charge slips, coupons, and exchange vouchers; and making deposits at the cash office. Salespersons are held responsible for the contents of their register, and repeated shortages often are cause for dismissal.

Salespersons may be responsible for handling returns and exchanges of merchandise, wrapping gifts, and keeping their work areas neat. In addition, they may help stock shelves or racks, arrange for mailing or delivery of a purchase, mark price tags, take inventory, and prepare displays. They also must be familiar with the store’s security practices to help prevent theft of merchandise. Cashiers total bills, receive money, make change, fill out charge forms, and give receipts. Retail salespersons and cashiers often have similar duties.

Office and administrative support occupations. Stock clerks and order fillers bring merchandise to the sales floor and stock shelves and racks. They also may mark items with identifying codes or prices so that they can be recognized quickly and easily, although many items today arrive preticketed. Customer service representatives investigate and resolve customers’ complaints about merchandise, service, billing, or credit ratings. The industry also employs administrative occupations found in most industries, such as general office clerks and bookkeepers.

Management, business, and financial operations occupations. Management and business and financial operations occupations accounted for 2 percent of industry employment in 2006. Buyers purchase merchandise for resale from wholesalers or manufacturers. Using historical records, market analysis, and their sense of consumer demand, they buy merchandise, keeping in mind their customer’s demand for style, quality, and price range. Wrong decisions mean that the store will mark down slow-selling merchandise, thus losing profits. Buyers for larger stores or chains usually buy one classification of merchandise, such as casual menswear or home furnishings; those working for smaller stores may buy all the merchandise sold in the store. They also plan and implement sales promotion plans for their merchandise, such as arranging for advertising and ensuring that the merchandise is displayed properly.

Department managers oversee sales workers in a department or section of the store. They set the work schedule, supervise employee performance, and are responsible for the overall sales and profitability of their departments. They also may be called upon to settle a dispute between a customer and a salesperson.

Merchandise managers are in charge of a group of buyers and department managers; they plan and supervise the purchase and marketing of merchandise in a broad area, such as women’s apparel or appliances. In department store chains, with numerous stores, many of the buying and merchandising functions are centralized in one location. Some local managers might decide which merchandise, among that bought centrally, would be best for their own stores.

Department store managers direct and coordinate the activities in these stores. They may set pricing policies to maintain profitability and notify senior management of concerns or problems. Department store managers usually directly supervise department managers and indirectly oversee other department store workers.

Clothing and accessory store managers—often the only managers in smaller stores—combine many of the duties of department managers, department store managers, and buyers. They are almost always employed at the specific retail establishment.

Table 2. Employment of wage and salary workers in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores by occupation, 2006 and projected change, 2006-2016.
(Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2006 Percent
Number Percent

All occupations

4,352 100.0 7.5

Management, business, and financial occupations

99 2.3 5.8

General and operations managers

40 0.9 -1.7

Professional and related occupations

88 2.0 25.3

Merchandise displayers and window trimmers

18 0.4 7.3


23 0.5 26.2

Pharmacy technicians

26 0.6 41.0

Service occupations

211 4.9 14.1

Security guards

29 0.7 -6.9

Fast food and counter workers

31 0.7 26.0

Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners

52 1.2 20.2

Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists

19 0.4 0.5

Sales and related occupations

2,834 65.1 9.3

First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers

324 7.4 7.3


689 15.8 5.0

Retail salespersons

1,789 41.1 11.2

Office and administrative support occupations

815 18.7 -1.6

First-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers

72 1.6 6.0

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

29 0.7 10.4

Customer service representatives

60 1.4 28.8

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

55 1.3 3.5

Stock clerks and order fillers

486 11.2 -7.4

Office clerks, general

26 0.6 7.0

Transportation and material moving occupations

163 3.7 5.5

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

127 2.9 5.3

Note: Columns may not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment

Training and Advancement [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Many jobs in the clothing, accessory, and general merchandise store industry do not require more than a high school diploma. Most of the skills needed for these jobs can be learned through on-the-job training from an experienced employee.

Sales and related occupations. Generally, no formal education is required to become a retail salesperson or cashier; in fact, many people get their first jobs in this industry. A high school diploma or less is sufficient for most people in retail sales, since most of their tasks can be learned through on-the-job training. However, almost all managers of retail sales workers require some retail experience or education beyond high school.

In most small stores, an experienced employee or the manager instructs newly hired sales personnel on how to make out sales checks and operate the cash register. In larger stores, training programs are more formal and usually are conducted over several days. Some stores provide periodic training seminars to refresh and improve the customer service and selling skills of their sales workers. Initially, trainees are taught how to make cash, check, and charge sales; eventually, they are instructed on how to deal with returns and special orders. Other topics usually covered are customer service, security, and store policies and procedures. Depending on the type of product they are selling, sales workers may be given specialized training in their area. For example, those working in cosmetic sales receive instruction on the types of products that are available and the types of customers most likely to purchase those products.

Salespersons should enjoy working with people. Among other desirable characteristics are a pleasant personality, a neat appearance, and the ability to communicate clearly. Because of the trend toward providing more service, it is becoming increasingly important for salespersons to be knowledgeable about the products and merchandise that are available. Some employers may conduct a background check of applicants, especially of those seeking work selling high-priced items.

Some salespersons are hired for a particular department, whereas others are placed after they have completed training. Placement usually is based on where positions are available. Salespersons called “floaters” are not assigned to a particular department; instead, they work where they are needed.

Advancement opportunities for salespersons vary. As those who work full time gain experience and seniority, they usually move to positions of greater responsibility or to positions with potentially higher commissions. In larger companies, having several years of experience or some postsecondary education may help a salesperson move quickly into a first level managerial position. Salespersons who are paid on a commission basis—that is, they earn a percentage of the value of what they sell—may advance to selling more expensive items. The most experienced and highest paid salespersons sell big-ticket items. This work requires the most knowledge of the product and the greatest talent for persuasion. In some establishments, advancement opportunities are limited because one person, often the owner, is the only manager, but sales experience may be useful in finding a higher level job elsewhere. Retail selling experience is an asset when one is applying for sales positions with larger retailers or in other kinds of sales of, for example, motor vehicles, financial services, or wholesale merchandise.

The National Retail Federation offers the National Professional Certification in Customer Service for customer service and sales-related occupations. Certification is voluntary and is earned by passing an exam and applying for certification.

Office and administrative support occupations. There are no formal educational requirements for most office and administrative support jobs in retail trade. A high school education is preferred, especially by larger employers. Many of the workers who seek to enter jobs in this industry are recent immigrants, so employers may require proficiency in English and may even offer language training to employees. Advancement opportunities from these jobs may be limited, but in larger companies may include moving into a supervisory position.

Management, business, and financial operations occupations. Traditionally, capable salespersons with good leadership skills, but without a college degree, could advance to management positions. However, a college education is becoming increasingly important for obtaining higher level managerial positions such as department manager, store manager, or buyer. Many retailers prefer to hire persons with an associate or bachelor’s degree in marketing, merchandising, or business as management trainees or assistant managers. Many colleges and universities offer educational programs in retail management, retail merchandising, retail marketing, retail sales, and fashion and apparel merchandising. Additionally, computer skills have become extremely important in all parts of this industry in areas such as inventory control, human resources, sales forecasting, and electronic commerce, and especially for business and financial operations occupations.

Outlook [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores will have many job openings over the 2006-16 period, fueled by the large number of workers who transfer to jobs in other industries and must be replaced. Employment growth will be steady and determined mostly by consumer behavior and preferences.

Employment change. Overall, the number of wage and salary jobs in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores is expected to increase 7 percent over the 2006-16 period, compared with the 11 percent increase projected for all industries combined. Growth of this industry is extremely dependent on consumers’ spending habits and the health of the economy. Growth will be the result of continued increases in spending on clothing, accessories, and general merchandise, together with an increasing number of consumers, and will keep in line with the overall growth of the economy. Many wholesale clubs and superstores will expand and create many jobs in this industry, especially in sales and related occupations. Job growth will also stem from the continued growth and popularity of family clothing stores, where the store is not catering to a specific age or gender. Employment in full-service department stores will slowly decline as more people buy from warehouse clubs and superstores.

Alternative retail outlets such as mail-order companies, home shopping, and the Internet will continue to take some business away from traditional retail stores. However, this trend will be minimized as traditional retailers increase their presence in these outlets. Although online sales are expected to grow rapidly, sales at traditional retail stores are projected to continue to account for a major portion of total retail sales. Also, although electronic commerce is expected to limit the growth of some retail jobs, it will increase job opportunities for other occupations, such as Internet sales managers, webmasters, technical support workers, and other related workers.

Many stores in this industry, particularly clothing and accessory stores, are highly sensitive to changes in the economy and to changing tastes of consumers. Guessing wrong on upcoming trends, especially several years in a row, or being unable to weather a recession can cause even large, well-established stores to go bankrupt or out of business. As a result, changes in employment can be volatile and may include periods of rapid increases and decreases in the number of jobs.

Worker productivity is increasing because of technological advances, particularly among clerks, managers, and buyers. For example, computerized systems allow companies to streamline purchasing and obtain customer information and preferences, reducing the need for buyers. However, employment of sales workers such as retail salespersons who interact personally with customers will be less negatively affected by technological advances because direct customer contact will remain important.

Job prospects. Numerous job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave jobs in this large industry. Jobs will be available for young workers, first-time jobseekers, persons with limited job experience, senior citizens, and people seeking part-time work, such as those with young children or those who wish to supplement their income from other jobs. Persons with a college degree or computer skills will be sought for managerial positions.

Earnings [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Industry earnings. Hourly earnings of nonsupervisory workers in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores are well below the average for all workers in private industry. This reality reflects both the high proportion of part-time and less experienced workers in these stores and the fact that even experienced workers receive relatively low pay compared with experienced workers in many other industries (table 3). Earnings in selected occupations in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores appear in table 4.

Table 3. Average earnings of nonsupervisory workers in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores, 2006.
Industry segment Weekly Hourly



Total, private industry

$568 $16.76



General merchandise stores

314 10.61



Clothing and clothing accessory stores

265 11.31

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

482 15.35

Shoe stores

263 10.58

Clothing stores

234 10.61

Benefits and union membership. Many employers permit workers to buy merchandise at a discount. Smaller stores usually offer limited employee benefits. In larger stores, benefits are more comparable with those offered by employers in other industries and can include vacation and sick leave, health and life insurance, profit sharing, and pension plans.

Unionization in this industry is limited. Only about 2 percent of workers were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with 12 percent in all industries.

Table 4. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores, May 2006
Occupation Clothing and clothing accessories stores General merchandise stores All industries

General and operations managers

$27.16 $31.89 $40.97

First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers

16.05 14.08 16.33

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

13.11 13.38 14.69

Security guards

11.76 10.54 10.35

Customer service representatives

10.68 10.05 13.62

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

10.42 9.98 12.53

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

8.94 8.67 10.20

Retail salespersons

8.63 8.74 9.50

Stock clerks and order fillers

8.58 8.97 9.83


7.86 8.10 8.08

Sources of Additional Information [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

General information on careers in retail establishments is available from the following organizations:

  • National Retail Federation, 325 7th St. NW., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20004.
  • International Council of Shopping Centers, 665 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022. Internet:

The 2008–09 Occupational Outlook Handbook has information on many occupations in clothing, accessory, and general merchandise stores, including the following:

NAICS Codes [About the NAICS codes] Back to TopBack to Top

448, 452

Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Clothing, Accessory, and General Merchandise Stores, on the Internet at (visited September 17, 2008 ).


Last Modified Date: March 12, 2008