As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, organized trade began again with the development of medieval fairs. During the thirteenth century, more than 3,000 fairs were held on a regular basis. By the fifteenth century, weekly markets began to replace the fairs. As specialization in manufacturing developed, the medieval artisan appeared. The artisans were craft workers who sold what they produced. Most of the goods were made after they received a specific order from the customer.
The Industrial Revolution, and its techniques of mass production in anticipation of customer needs, encouraged the development of specialized retail establishments that spread widely for the retail employment. The first retail outlets in the United States were trading posts and general stores. At trading posts, goods obtained from Indians were exchanged for items imported from Europe or manufactured in the East. Trading posts had to be located on the fringes of settlements, and relocated to follow the westward movement of the frontier. As villages and towns grew, what had been trading posts frequently developed into general stores. General stores sold food staples, farm necessities, and clothing. They often served as the post office and became the social and economic center of their community. They were sometimes known as dry good stores.
A number of changes occurred in the jobs in retail field during the mid- and late nineteenth century. The growth of specialized retail stores like hardware, feed, grocery, and drugstores reflected the growing sophistication of available products and customer tastes.
The first grocery chain store, which started in the city of New York in 1859, led to a new concept in retailing. In the late nineteenth century, merchants such as Marshall Field developed huge stores that were named after their large number of separate departments. Their variety of merchandise, wide ability to advertise their products, and low selling prices contributed to their rapid growth and good success. The twentieth century has witnessed the creation of supermarket and suburban shopping centers, the emergence of discount houses, and the expansion of credit buying. Today, retailing is one of the largest industries in the United States. In fact, a number of times, grocery stores and chains have the highest annual sales in the retail field, followed by automobile dealerships, department stores, restaurants, and many others.
Part of retail career jobs, salespersons work in the hundreds of different types of retail establishments and in a variety of roles. One salesperson, for example may work in a small specialty shop where, while waiting on customers, he or she may check inventory, order stock from traveling sales workers or by telephone or mail, place newspaper display advertisements, prepare window displays, and rearrange merchandise for sale. Another salesperson may work in the furniture department of a large department store. The workers in this department alternate periods of work to provide six long days of available service to customers. Staff meetings help improve sales effectiveness and knowledge of merchandise. The work of the salesperson is supported by advertising, window decorating, sales promotion, buying and market research specialists. Such retail sales workers must have specialized knowledge. This is especially true of those who sell expensive, complicated products such as stereos, appliances, and personal computers.
Farm equipment sales workers must stock the latest equipment and machinery to meet the needs of farmers in their area. In their retail sales job, agricultural chemical sales workers sell pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to farmers in their area and must know in detail what each product does. Regardless of the type of store in which salespersons work, each one performs basic functions including creating in customers the desire to buy merchandise, answering questions concerning the store and its products. Likewise, fitting, demonstrating, or measuring items for customers, as well as completing transactions, preparing sales slips, and accepting customer exchanges and other related transactions have been part of the works.
In retail sales, the level of opportunity tends to coincide with the level of education. In many stores, college graduates enter immediately into an on-the-job training program to prepare them for management assignments like retail manager jobs. Successful and experienced non-college graduates may also qualify for these programs. Useful college courses include economics, business administration, marketing, and home economics. Meanwhile, many specialized retail programs offered by schools or colleges require their students to obtain actual sales experience.
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