While a college degree is not required to become a retail salesperson, a retail-related degree can be helpful for those looking for advancement opportunities. Related programs include associate's and bachelor's degrees in retail merchandising and retail management.
Two-year associate degrees often require courses in business education and staff management. Though associate's programs cover business and management principles, they are more deeply explored in bachelor's programs. Those enrolled at a 4-year institution will often focus on the business and management fundamentals, as well as merchandising. Along with experience, these degrees will prepare students for most jobs in the retail industry.
Associate of Applied Science in Retail Management
An associate degree program in retail management is optimal for a retail salesperson who would like to make the transition into a management position in as little time as possible. In 2 years, students gain the skills necessary to pursue a career in management, marketing or merchandising within the retail field. An associate-level program in this field includes aspects of business education such as finance, accounting and economics. Staff management training covers leadership, human relations and communication.
A high school diploma or GED is required for enrollment to an associate's degree program in retail management. A minimum high school GPA or standardized test scores may be requested, but are less commonly required.
In an associate-level degree program, most courses focus on business and management principles, with a mild emphasis on the explicit exchanges of sales and economics (which may be further explored in a 4-year program). Topics often include:
- Retail management principles
- Conflict resolution and negotiation
- Statistics of business
- Management of supply chains
- Internet marketing and consumer behavior
- Accounting and finance
Associate of Applied Science in Fashion and Retail Marketing
This 2-year program prepares graduates for a career in management, marketing or merchandising within the retail industry. Coursework focuses on the fundamentals of business and management, but also includes training in marketing that is specific to the world of fashion. Such programs are a good idea for retail salespersons with a creative flair. Students learn to supervise staff, solve problems, relate to customers, understand consumer behavior and tailor visual marketing strategies.
The main requirement for an AAS in Fashion and Retail Marketing is a high school diploma or its equivalent. Admissions advisors may seek students who demonstrate above-average creativity and communication skills.
Coursework combines general education units with a fairly rigid schedule of core courses, with some room for electives. Students tend to prefer electives which complement their degree, such as classes related to marketing or e-commerce. Common courses include:
- Apparel marketing
- Customer service
- Human relations
- Analysis of fashion
- Business management
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Bachelor of Arts in Merchandising Management
Graduates with a 4-year degree in merchandising management are prepared for a wide variety of careers related to retail, sales, marketing and business. Classes focus on computer skills, business principles and management fundamentals. Students also learn about aesthetics, consumerism and visual merchandising. A student with salesperson experience and a bachelor's degree in merchandising management is qualified for most retail opportunities.
A high school diploma or GED is the most common requirement for a bachelor's program in merchandising management. Applicants who have earned an associate's degree in a related field may be able to transfer credits. Additional admissions requirements may include a minimum high school GPA and the submission of standardized test scores.
A bachelor's degree in merchandising is divided between core coursework, electives and general education requirements. The central curriculum for this degree program might include courses in:
- Principles of management
- Fashion merchandising
- Visual merchandising
- Business principles
Popular Career Options
Those with an associate's degree in fashion marketing may work for fashion houses, apparel brands, private boutiques, clothing manufacturers, textile firms or other business related to the production, design or sales of clothes and accessories. Jobs may include:
- Retail sales associate
- Visual merchandiser
- Retail manager
- Fashion buyer
- Merchandise planner
Most graduates who possess a bachelor's degree in merchandising management are seeking career advancement in a retail or sales-related venue. Positions for which they may be qualified include:
- Visual merchandiser
- Retail buyer
- Retail manager
- Retail planner
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a retail supervisor in 2015 was $38,310 and $113,860 for a sales manager. However, many entry-level salespersons make little more than minimum wage. Salaries are based on the retailer, its merchandise and the economy, according to the BLS. Some salespersons also earn commissions based on their abilities to sell products. A 7% growth is expected for sales associates between 2014 and 2024.
Hands-on training gives aspiring retail salespersons the bulk of the skills needed to work in the field. However, an associate's or bachelor's degree can help to advance one's career, especially for those interested in management positions.