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Retail Sales Workers


The Industrial Revolution and its techniques of mass production encouraged the development of specialized retail establishments. The first retail outlets in the United States were trading posts and general stores. At trading posts, goods obtained from Native Americans were exchanged for items imported from Europe or manufactured in the eastern United States. 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 local post office and became the social and economic centers of their communities. They were sometimes known as dry goods stores.

A number of changes occurred in the retail field during the second half of the 19th century. The growth of specialized retail stores (such as hardware, feed, grocery, and drugstores) reflected the growing sophistication of available products and customer tastes. The first grocery chain store, which started in New York City in 1859, led to a new concept in retailing. Later, merchants such as Marshall Field developed huge department stores, so named because of their large number of separate departments. Their variety of merchandise, ability to advertise their products, and low selling prices contributed to the rapid growth and success of these stores. Retail sales workers staffed the departments, and they became the stores' primary representatives to the public.

The 20th century witnessed the birth of supermarkets and suburban shopping centers, the emergence of discount houses, and the expansion of credit buying. Today, retailing is the largest private sector employer in the United States. Clothing and department stores are the largest employers of sales workers, followed by building material and supplies dealers, and other general merchandise stores. All of these retailers, as well as many others, hire sales workers. The advent of e-commerce has had a major impact on retailing, resulting in the demise of many brick-and-mortar retail stores and shopping malls.