Sales workers sell goods as street and market salespersons; work as shop assistants, cashiers and ticket clerks, door to door or contact salespersons, counter attendants; call centre or Internet salespersons.
- Around 16 million people were employed as sales workers in 2018. Employment in the occupation grew by 4 per cent between 2006 and 2018.
- Employment is projected to grow by a further 4 per cent over the period 2018 to 2030, adding almost 600,000 new jobs. In addition to that, retirements and other causes of employment termination will create demand for an estimated 7.4 million workers between 2018 and 2030. Total demand for sales workers is projected at around 8 million between 2018 and 2030.
- Sales workers’ jobs generally do not require specific qualifications.
- In the workplace, servicing, attending, selling, influencing and being autonomous are the most important tasks and skills of sales workers.
- In 2030 almost two in three workers will hold medium-level qualifications. The share of highly-qualified workers will increase by about 9% to regard over a quarter of the total sales workers.
- Technology is expected to be the key driver of change regarding job tasks and affect sales persons’ skills profiles in various directions.
- The rapid and significant rise in online sales created new job opportunities and enriched the skills requirements for sales workers.
- The loss of market share of traditional retailing to e-shopping can be expected to lead to job cuts, especially for shop salespersons, cashiers and ticket clerks.
Tasks and skills
Sales workers1 sell goods as street and market salespersons; work as shop assistants, cashiers and ticket clerks, door to door or contact salespersons, counter attendants; call centre or Internet salespersons. They can also be sales demonstrators or work at service stations. Their main tasks vary: displaying and demonstrating items for sale; giving information on products; advertising; soliciting business opportunities; buying or contracting a regular supply of products to be sold; determining product mix, stock and price levels for goods to be sold; and operating cash registers, optical price scanners, computers or other equipment to record and accept payment for the purchase of goods and services.
According to Eurofound's Job Monitor, servicing, attending, selling, influencing and being autonomous are the most important tasks and skills of sales workers.
Figure 1: Importance of tasks and skills for sales workers
Note: The importance of tasks and skills is measured on 0-1 scale, where 0 means least important and 1 means most important.
What are the trends for the future?2
The employment level of sales workers is expected to grow by 4 per cent between 2018 and 2030, a further increase following the 4 per cent growth over the period 2006 to 2018. 15 of analysed European countries – mostly in western and northern Europe – are expected to increase the employment of sales workers; in the remaining 13 countries a decline in employment is forecasted.
Figure 2: Future employment growth of sales workers in European countries (2018-2030, in %)
This slight growth in employment understates the growth in demand for people to work as sales workers. Over the period 2018 to 2030, an estimated 7.4 million people are projected to leave the occupation for one reason or another such as retirement 3. Given the projected increase in employment over the same period (almost 600 thousand new jobs), this will result in there being around 8 million job openings that will need to be filled between 2018 and 2030.
Figure 3: Future job openings of sales workers (2018-2030)
Sales workers’ jobs generally do not require specific qualifications. Qualification requirements in this occupation are also influenced by an additional employment pattern: sales workers are frequently employed by small family companies, where the personnel selection is driven more by personal networks rather than qualifications.4 Nevertheless, between 2018 and 2030 almost two in three workers will still hold medium-level qualifications, but the share of highly-qualified workers will increase by about 9% to regard over a quarter of the total sales workers.
The wholesale & retail trade dominates as a key employment sector of sales workers (with 84% share).
More information on employment trends for this occupation can be found here.
Which drivers of change will affect their skills?
Technology is expected to be the key driver of change regarding job tasks and affect sales persons’ skills profiles in various directions. On top of that, the deskilling process5 is recognised as one of the main threats in trade and sale industries.6
- The rapid and significant rise in online sales created new job opportunities and enriched the list of skills: skills in line with e- and m-commerce7 will become necessary in some markets, as well as skills relevant to Internet customer support, as an ever-growing part of retail moves to the Internet. At the same time, several jobs in retailing are considered of high risk of automation8.
- Technology also impacts traditional retailing. Some form of new technology is present in almost every conventional shop. This requires sales workers to gain mastery of a range of technologies and tools, such as food preparation machines; scales; credit card readers; security cameras or self-checkout machines. Additionally, as technology is increasingly present in every facet of the supply chain (browse, order, payment, delivery), sales staff will have to develop or improve their ICT skills, upgrade their informatics literacy, and have better understanding of online channels of distribution, electronic stock records, online product comparison, online retail, electronic payments and product tracking.9.
- The loss of market share of traditional retailing to e-shopping can be expected to lead to job cuts, especially for shop salespersons, cashiers and ticket clerks. However, face-to-face sales will continue to be important. More than half of UK retailers recognise their workforce’s gaps in customer handling skills.10 Communication skills, problem solving, customer handling, cultural awareness, courtesy, trustworthiness and work ethic are all pivotal in making a difference to customers, and so offer the company a competitive edge, especially in relation to online sales and growing international competition. The growing ageing European population11 will demand that skills such as communication and customer handling are also adjusted to the needs of these consumers, where relevant.
- Important changes in consumer demand (such as increasing consumer sophistication) coupled with high competition in online sales also have a toll on skills: sales workforce needs to have adequate facilitation and service skills for customers who are increasingly aware of market possibilities (e.g. in retail trade of ICT goods)12; or for a particular customer cohort (e.g. older customers with low ICT skills). Sales workers in some online retail companies may need to have enhanced knowledge on product specificities, keep abreast of trends in their product markets that may increasingly cover several regions or countries; and of regulations on consumer protection in different countries. 13
- International commerce, both among different companies and within them, and market globalisation continue to grow. Therefore, foreign language capabilities, at least basic knowledge of English, will be pivotal for most sales workers, especially those working in the accommodation and catering subsector.
- Growing competition among retailers (online and traditional) is believed to boost employers’ demands for greater productivity of their employees. Research identifies the increased multi-skilling capability demanded among sales workers, as they take on a broader range of roles, from warehousing to sales administration.14 15 Such developments will subsequently amend the respective skill profile.
“Stock up on Strong Communication Technologies. The technologies your sales team implements dictate everything from how accurate their lead information is to how immediately they can follow-up with a prospect. Consider communication tools like advanced voicemail-to-email, which will ensure follow-ups are always in near-real-time. Or, presence and geo-location tools that enable remote, traveling and at-home salespeople to work as efficiently as your in-house players.”
Source: 7 Best Practices of Top-Performing Salespeople, hoovers.com16
- Risk of automation: As a part of its Digitalisation and future of work project, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in occupations where employees report little access to professional training that could help them to cope with labour market changes. Sales workers are reportedly an occupation with low risk of automation.
How can these skill needs be met?
The share of salespersons with high qualifications is expected to increase. At the same time, there will still be a risk of a skills shortage overall, due to the several trends and changes affecting skills in this occupational group. Some key policy steps could support tackling these challenges at Member State level; and support current and future workers in this occupation in strengthening their skills profile. The role of employers/sectoral associations is also critical, as skills upgrade and expansion of the existing workforce will primarily boost employee productivity and thus, corporate results.
The ongoing developments in the aforementioned drivers stress the need to keep sales workers’ skills up-to-date. Targeted trainings and VET programmes would be helpful, accompanied by suitable communication and motives to allure participants and employers. Family companies and SMEs, both of which are especially prevalent in retailing, may need tailored training approaches and additional support, as typically training provision is a challenge for such companies.
The development of reskilling programmes will also become necessary so to tackle and/or prevent deskilling, allowing all workers to retain their value in the labour market. Specifically for older workers, ongoing adult learning and training opportunities would be necessary especially concerning basic competences such as English, informatics literacy, e-commerce and m-commerce.
All web-links were last accessed December 2nd, 2019.
 Defined as ILO ISCO 08 group 52 Sales Workers occupations. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08.
 2018 Cedefop skills forecast.
 The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. For more information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors, can be found here.
 World Economic Forum, (2016), “The Future of Jobs”, viewed 31 May 2016, .
 Deskilling is defined as the process in which the introduction of technologies makes skilled labour force in a sector redundant.
 UNI Europa Commerce Conference Action Plan 2015, viewed 31 May 2016.
 Electronic and mobile commerce.
 Osborne, F., (2015), “Technology at work. The Future of Innovation and Employment”, viewed 31 May 2016.
 ILO 2011, “Global Dialogue Forum on the Needs of Older Workers in relation to Changing Work Processes and the Working Environment in Retail Commerce”, viewed 31 May 2016.
 UKCES, (2015), “Sector insights: skills and performance challenges in the retail sector”, viewed 31 May 2016.
 EUROPOP, (2013), Projected population in the main scenario, own calculation.
 UKCES, (2015), “Sector insights: skills and performance challenges in the retail sector”, viewed 31 May 2016.
 European Sector Skills Council Commerce, (2014), ”Employment and skills report”
 ILO Sectoral Activities Programme, (2008), “Vocational education and skills development for commerce workers”, viewed 31 may 2016.
 Australian National Retail Association, (2012), “Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry”.
 Accessed May 2016.