Occupations in retail sales and customer care

As outlined on the Job Bank website, those working in retail sales usually apply one or more of the following skills:

  • Operate cash register;
  • Operate computerized inventory record keeping and re-ordering systems;
  • Provide advice about merchandise;
  • Prepare merchandise for purchase, rental or lease;
  • Prepare sales, rental or leasing contracts and accept cash, cheque, credit card or automatic debit payment;
  • Assist in display of merchandise;
  • Greet customers;
  • Discuss type, quality and quantity of merchandise or services sought for purchase, rental or lease;
  • Conduct sales transactions through Internet-based electronic commerce;
  • Estimate or quote prices, credit or contract terms, warranties and delivery dates;
  • Maintain sales records for inventory control;
  • Respond to customer inquiries, complaints, and requests.

Retail sales and customer care

The Job Bank website goes on to explain:

  • The retail industry has a significantly higher proportion of youth employees compared to the rest of the Ontario workforce. One-in-three retail workers are 15 to 24 years old. This is mainly due to low educational and skills requirements for many retail positions. The greater availability of part-time work also provides flexibility for youth to work outside of typical school hours.

The following occupations make up the large majority (about two thirds) of the retail workforce:

  • Retail salespersons;
  • Retail and wholesale trade managers;
  • Cashiers;
  • Store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers;
  • Retail sales supervisors.

Retailing covers so many sectors, categories and sizes of merchants, that this article cannot go into detail on each type of opportunity.

The starting pay may be only minimum wage ($14.00 per hour in Ontario), but there are certainly opportunities for advancement, for those with sufficient English proficiency, a willingness to work shifts that may not be predictable and may include weekends and nights, and a good appreciation of customer desires. For others, this type of work, on either a full- or part-time basis, may simply be a stepping stone to other types of work, as English proficiency and training advance.

Because of the high turnover rate in retail, newcomers should be encouraged to be persistent in applying for work, in order to stay top-of-mind and demonstrate commitment and interest.

Retail sales in some sectors is very seasonal and retailers may hire temporary help for just months at a time. This is especially true for the big box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples, and Canadian Tire.

Amazon, is an online retailer only, but offers employment in many areas, including in warehousing and fulfillment.

Value of English language proficiency

For newcomers who do not yet speak English well enough to deal with customers, there may be warehousing, stocking, preparation, and production positions available, even with CLB 4 (or even less if the owner or manager speaks the same language as the newcomer.) But for those with sufficient English, probably at CLB 6 or 7, starting opportunities also include customer service and sales and checkout.

Very often, newcomers starting out in the retail sector, especially if their English language proficiency is still relatively low, find entry level positions in grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, and other food-related businesses. (See also, our separate post on Restaurants and Quick Service.)

Regulation and certification in retail sales and customer care

There is no specific licencing of employees in a retail environment (other than for food handling). Some training programs may award certificates, upon successful completion, but these are not required, in order to be hired by a retailer (assuming that no food is being handled).

Special recruitment efforts to hire refugee newcomers in retail and customer service

Two, major retailers in Canada currently have hiring programs in place specifically for refugee newcomers across the country, with Starbucks Canada aiming to hire 1,000 and IKEA Canada aiming to hire 250.

Within the GTA, ACCES Employment has teamed up with Starbucks for a barista training program. Those who complete the course may then be hired by Starbucks, but they are also free to be hired by other retailers. Although it may not be offering a training program, Skills for Change is working with IKEA to recruit refugee newcomers within the GTA.

Other retailers in the GTA, such as Adonis and Paramount Foods, have also been making a special effort to hire refugee newcomers or have been very open to doing so.

The Japanese retailer, UNIQLO, which recently opened stores in the GTA,, has hired refugee newcomers in Japan, the United States, and several European companies. It may be worth seeing what opportunities they offer to refugee newcomers in Canada.

WeWork, a fast-growing operator of a network of shared office spaces, including within the GTA, has also made a commitment to hiring 1,500 refugee newcomers globally and might be a source of customer service job opportunities in Canada, although it has recently had to implement cutbacks across the company. See WeWork is hiring, mentoring, and training 1,500 refugees (Fast Company, Jun. 18/18) and also this post on the WeWork website.

Training programs for newcomers in the GTA

There are several training programs in the GTA for basic retail sales and customer care skills. Some of these include or are limited to operation of a cash register or food handling. Some offer occupation-specific language training and initial job placement. Organizations offering such programs on an ongoing basis or at various times of the year, which vary in length from just two or three days to 9 weeks, include:

  • ACCES Employment;
  • Agincourt Community Services Association;
  • Centre for Immigrant and Community Services;
  • COSTI;
  • New Circles;
  • Skills for Change;
  • The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO);
  • Toronto District School Board (TDSB); and
  • YWCA.

An Ontario Works referral may be required. See below for current programs on retail and customer service in our database. Our databases of Programs & Events can also be searched, filtering by “Retail” and/or “Customer service”, under “Sector”.

Job market outlook

The job market outlook for retail, in general, in the GTA, may only be fair, especially as online sales continue to grow significantly. However, due to high turnover rates, and in some cases, seasonality, retailers are constantly hiring new employees.

Entrepreneurial opportunities in retail

For those with experience in retail and who have an entrepreneurial aptitude and spirit, starting one’s own business may be a viable option. In this regard, see some of the media articles listed below, as well as our separate post on Entrepreneurship – starting a business in Canada.