What Skills Do You Need to Work in a Grocery Store?


Looking for a job, particularly your first job can be nerve-wracking. If you’re still in high school or newly graduated, a grocery store job can be an excellent first job. But what skills do you need to work in a grocery store?

Here’s what I know from my 2 decades of grocery experience:

The grocery business requires the ability to work well with a variety of people; both customers & fellow employees. It’s also a physically demanding job. Due to shopping patterns & holiday business,  it also helps to be flexible with your schedule as nights, weekends & holidays are almost always required.

Working in grocery stores provides a great experience in a wide array of tasks.

From customer service to dealing with difficult customers – these are the kinds of tasks that can carry over into just about any other profession.

But what does it take to work at a grocery store? What kind of skills do you need? What if you don’t have any experience?

I’ve got answers to all of your questions about the necessary skills required to work in a grocery store.

What does a checker do at a grocery store?

Grocery store cashiers, also called checkers, are the very last person customers come into contact with at the store.

As a result, they will often receive the brunt of customer complaints. If a customer had a difficult time finding their favorite coffee, or if the store was out of a sale item, the checker will hear about it.

Checkers need to be calm and collected when this happens. By being able to solve problems quickly and with a good attitude is a vital part of being a checker.

But simply ringing up groceries and problem-solving aren’t the only things checkers do.

Cashiers need to be able to ring up items quickly, but slow enough for people watching prices to catch errors. They need to have basic math skills, so they can distribute proper change.

Checkers are also responsible for cleaning their surrounding area and oftentimes must put away items left behind by customers.

They also need to be able to lift heavy items. Typically not more than fifty pounds. Think about items like large bags of dog food, ice, and cat litter.

Checkers need to show up to work on time and be available to work flexible schedules. Their schedules are likely to change from week to week, so communication with supervisors is a must.

And as with almost every position in a grocery store, it pays to be flexible on when you work.

What skills do you need to be a stocker?

Grocery store stockers are responsible for making sure the inventory makes it to the shelf for customers to purchase.

Stockers often work overnight; at least in large high-volume stores. This is because stocking grocery stores can get kind of hectic. If you’ve ever shopped at a grocery store that has full pallets of merchandise in the middle of the aisle, you know what a pain it can be.

But even the stores without overnight stockers likely have these employees come in early like 4 or 5 am.

So, just like checkers, you’ll need to be flexible with your availability. That’s not to say that stockers don’t work during the day. They do, they just tend to do the majority of their work during off-peak hours.

Stockers need good communication skills.

Oftentimes, when customers are wandering down aisles looking for something, they’ll stop the first associate they see. If that happens to be the stocker, they’ll need to be able to communicate professionally with that customer.

Much of the time that’s just showing someone where something is located. But it might also involve them wanting to place a special order, request the store carry an item it doesn’t usually carry, or suggestions on which products to buy.

Stockers need to use pallet jacks and keep their area orderly.

Have you ever noticed how nice freshly stocked shelves look? Thank the stocker for that. Higher-volume stores (and higher-end stores like Whole Foods) also typically have stockers go through the store in the early afternoon and tidy up the shelves and displays for the evening rush.

Stockers keep not only the shelves and end caps neat, but they also have to keep the shelves in the back of the store neat.

Stockers are responsible for helping unload the trucks when they arrive at the store. They check the inventory and rotate it as necessary. And they also assist in ordering inventory when merchandise is running low.

But stockers also need to be able to lift heavy items.

While a checker may have to lift a single bag of dog food once or twice during their shift, stockers will have to move multiple bags of dog food, and cases of products several times during their shift.

Occasionally, they may need to sweep and mop up spills in the grocery store aisles.

What do you do when you work at a grocery store?

When you work at a grocery store, you are part of a team. Your primary job will depend on your position. But you may have to perform jobs that are outside of your “job description.”

  • For example, a cashier may have to clean the bathrooms or a stocker may have to bag groceries.
  • A produce worker may need to help out in the stock room and management may need to help run the registers.

Grocery stores that are filled with dedicated employees that help each other out, run like a well-oiled machine.

Some stores, like a Safeway or a Kroger, have employees work in different departments with regularity. Other companies like Whole Foods Market tend to keep each department separate. So if you work in 1 department, you aren’t likely to be asked to work in the other departments unless it’s an emergency.

Not sure what all the different positions are in a grocery store?

I break it all down for you in this recent article. I get into every position and what the job description is and requirements.

After all, if you’re going to excel at it and make the most money possible, it needs to be aligned with your skillset.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Do I need previous experience to work at a grocery store?

Nope, You don’t need any previous experience to work at a grocery store.

When I first walked into a Whole Foods Market (more decades ago than I care to mention), I had never, ever, worked in a grocery store.

I filled out an application and they called me later that day and asked if I could work that evening for $4.25/hr. And just like that, my grocery career started!

While you don’t need any previous experience, there are some skills that you should have.

First and foremost, you should have a positive attitude. It can be really stressful working at grocery stores, especially the days leading up to a major holiday. So you must be able to keep your cool under pressure.

Here are some other skills that you need to work at a grocery store:

  1. Attention to detail

Grocery stores operate with a lot of people doing a lot of little things. 

Some employees place product orders. Others stock the shelves. Some answer phones or ring people up. Yet others retrieve shopping carts from the parking lot to make sure new customers have a cart when they arrive.

Depending on your position within the store, you may be counting money, moving around inventory, or finding damaged goods. A keen eye for detail is imperative in these situations.

  1. Follow-through

People are counting on you. Your boss is counting on you. Customers are counting on you. Your fellow employees are counting on you too. So do what you say you’re going to do. Be consistent. 

These are skills that not everyone chooses to cultivate and they will serve you in any career or job you choose to get. Now, or later in life.

  1. Communication skills

Clearly communicating with customers, coworkers, and supervisors will get you far. Dave Ramsey was fond of saying (not sure if this is his quote or if he was quoting someone else) “to be clear is to be kind”.

So don’t be blunt, but do be straightforward. Communicate your needs and respond to others when they have a request for you.

You’ll be working with dozens, if not hundreds of others, and encountering tens of thousands of customers every month. A lot of people from a lot of different walks of life. Knowing how to get along with almost everyone is a skill not everyone has.

It may lead to your future promotion or simply kudos from customers.

  1. Be open-minded and flexible

Having a growth mindset will lead to your ultimate happiness while working at a store.

Be a team player and help out in different departments. Pick up those shifts when coworkers call in sick if you are available. Think about how your actions affect others. Put yourself in the shoes of that angry customer or that sad fellow employee.

Doing these things will help you stand out and get the eye of your supervisors.

  1. Be a self-starter

Don’t just work the fastest. Ask questions. Have a good attitude and do what is necessary to help the team. But my saying was it’s better to ask for forgiveness than it is permission.

In other words, don’t just stand around and wait to be told what to do. Don’t go rogue, but if you see something that needs to be done, and you know how to do it, DO IT!

Do you want more tips for being a successful grocery store worker?

Read this recent article for all of my best tips for working in a grocery store. Over the years, I grew from entry-level stocker to store manager of some of the best stores in Whole Foods Market history. 

I’ve hired thousands and mentored people who later surpassed me into large regional leadership roles. So I know a thing or two about what being successful means.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

  1. Be Dependable

As with follow-through, people are counting on you. When you forget your schedule, call out sick when you aren’t really sick, or show up an hour late that puts a huge burden on other people.

Which other people? Your friends and co-workers at the store.

Be someone they, and your boss, can truly count on and you’ll go far!

How much do grocery stores pay?

If you would’ve asked me how much grocery stores pay 20 years ago, I would’ve said “peanuts.” Grocery stores aren’t known for paying a lot of money.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. (source)

Fortunately, many stores are going well above and beyond as it relates to minimum wage. In fact, when I was running the original Whole Foods store in San Francisco 18 years ago, our starting wage was $10.00 and many cashiers who had been there a little while were closer to $20/hr.

Here are the best-known stores from highest to lowest paying:

      • Costco & Whole Foods Market comes in at the highest at $15.00.
      • Target starts off at $13.00 per hour and will increase its wages to $15.00 per hour by the end of 2020.
      • Trader Joes starts off at $12.03 per hour
      • Walmart’s minimum is $11.00 per hour.
      • Safeway starts at a disappointing $9.76 per hour
      • Kroger starts at a disappointing $8.15 per hour

(source & source & source & source & source & source)

But different positions may have a different starting pay rate. You may be surprised to see how many people it takes to keep a grocery store up and running!

For example, a cashier may start off at $13.00 per hour at Target, but someone who stocks shelves may start off at a different rate; especially if they are working what’s called the “graveyard shift”.

That’s when they stock shelves overnight, often arriving for work at 10 pm.

But the pay isn’t the only thing you should be thinking about. You should take a look at the entire benefits package. You may be surprised to know that lots of grocery stores offer great benefits to part-time employees. Even health insurance and 401K matching!

To read more about what grocery stores pay the most and which ones offer benefits, read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Did I answer all of your questions about what skills you need to work in a grocery store?

Working in a grocery store can be very rewarding. There are a variety of positions available, so you’re sure to find work that you enjoy doing.

Fortunately, most grocery stores don’t require any experience to get your foot in the door. They will provide on-the-job training. They will also give you the flexibility you need to participate in extracurricular activities.

If you find the right store, you may find that it is more than just a part-time after school job.

What grocery store are you going to work at?

 

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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