Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills: What Are Retail Employers Looking For?

Matt Shelly
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Traditionally, retail jobs are considered soft skills positions. Unlike in fields such as nursing, data entry, or carpentry, which rely on workers performing quantifiable hard skills, retail skill sets are usually less tangible. The abilities to communicate, assist customers, develop marketing ideas, or close a sale aren't measurable with time or accuracy counts. As the retail industry changes, though, hard skills are becoming more popular among employers.


Common soft skills required in the retail industry include communication and enthusiasm. Retailers want a sales force that can work as a team, engage the customer, adapt to changes, and close profitable sales. Soft-skills training for such employees, before and during employment, can include workshops on sales trends, role-playing, and mentoring. At the same time, retailers need sales people with certain hard skills. In a review of the Canadian grocery store sector, experts found that employees lacked computer, math, reading, and document-use skills, all of which could benefit productivity and profitability.


An employer may look for candidates with hard skills that fit the company's niche. For example, food retailers need salespeople who understand safety regulations, or companies may require certifications or previous education in food safety. A small business that sells home audio and video equipment might prefer to hire sales staff that can also install the equipment. Work at a makeup boutique might require that you know how to apply the product in a fashionable manner. Hard skills and soft skills both play a role in the creation of a valuable retail employee.


Not all retail jobs are sales positions. A growing number of companies are diversifying into online markets, which means businesses need application developers, online and telephone customer service staff, and employees capable of managing Internet marketing campaigns and producing original content. According to an article in The Guardian, retail and other non-tech companies are in dire need of employees who possess digital skills as well as an understanding and enthusiasm for retail products. If you're interested in working in a retail space, ask yourself how you can take hard skills you already have and put them to work in a way that offers customer service, company branding, or sales benefits.


Instead of looking at hard skills versus soft skills, you should consider a combination of skills. Soft skills training only gets you so far if you can't handle basic technology on the job. At the same time, hard skills are only valuable to retailers if they bolster profits in some way. To match your hard skills with retailers who are looking for solid employees, check out the job opportunities listed in Nexxt's retail community. When crafting your resume, remember to display your skills—both hard and soft—in terms of how they benefit the prospective employer.


Photo courtesy of stuart miles /


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  •  Carol P
    Carol P
    Employers complain on the news that they can't get enough qualified people but the 40+years people are being laid off. SS should have been lowered 4 years!
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    thanks for the comments!@Marilyn - Many companies have begun to realize this very thing. Instead of treating the sales team as the lowest rung, they should focus on building their skill level, because it benefits the entire company.
  • Marilyn Harding
    Marilyn Harding
    Very interesting, but at the same time retail sales jobs are some of the lowest paying out there, and there is little job security as many retailers want to hire part-time employees offering no benefits. That's the rub. If retailers want their sales staff to do more and be better educated then they have to change their hiring practices and pay scale. It works both ways. I have held management positions in retail and the sales team was always considered the lowest rung in the company.    
  • Stephen P
    Stephen P
    Very informative for us workers in the Retail field.

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