Working as a retail supervisor

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Somewhere between the front lines of customer service and the upper tier of store management lies that middle realm, the zone that includes some of the duties of the manager and generally all of the responsibilities of the clerk. This position offers more pay than the latter, and is often a solid stepping stone to the former. Such is the unique spot of the retail supervisor. 

What they do:

Retail supervisors typically first assume all the responsibilities of the clerks or sales associates who work below them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This can include a wide range of basic tasks, such as: assisting customers, stocking merchandise, operating the cash register, placing special orders, answering the telephone, and so on.

The duties a supervisor takes on that are usually off-limits to clerks and standard associates involve responding to customer problems, ordering merchandise, approving breaks, setting schedules, and upper-level cash-handling responsibilities like making bank deposits. They must also handle employee concerns and issues that are not shared with the customers, and be able to mediate employee disputes.

Because retail environments vary drastically -- think of a corner comic book store and then a flagship Saks Fifth Avenue -- so do the duties of retail supervisors. In smaller environments, they tend to function more like managers. Indeed, some stores may have clerks and managers but no supervisors in between. In departments stores, alternatively, each section of the store may have its own supervisor who handles the scheduling and light managerial duties for the department (e.g. home furnishings, toys), but then reports to an assistant manager who might then report to a general manager for the whole store.

What they need:

In the world of retail, competency, work ethic and general likeability usually count for more than formal education. At the entry level, for clerks and sales associates, a high school diploma or its equivalent is often enough. Once hired in one of these positions, committed employees who prove themselves can often advance to supervisory positions without having to go back to school.

The BLS says, however, that jobseekers with bachelor's degrees can many times enter retail supervisory positions out of the gate, without having to first be a clerk or sales associate. Still, retail experience is always helpful to stand out among other candidates. For supervisors and managers, stores often have more structured training programs than they do for entry-level associates. These programs can last anywhere from 1 week to 1 year.

What they earn:

According to, the average annual salary of a retail supervisor is $41,352. The 25th and 75th percentiles are $30,287 and $59,895, respectively.

Job outlook:

Between the years 2008 and 2018, the BLS predicts a slower-than-average growth for retail supervisors. Still, a growth of about 5 percent is expected. While retail is one of the industries that generally fluctuates quickly with the ebb and flow of the economy, this figure is prone to change depending on how fast the U.S. recovers from its most recent recession.

Last Updated: 15/06/2011 - 9:45 AM

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