Year in and year out, the retail industry has been the main job engine for the U.S. economy. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail industry employed 42 million workers in 2018, nearly a third of whom were retail sales associates. With minimal entry-level requirements for most retail sales jobs, salaries are generally at the lower end of the pay scale for full-time workers, but they tend to be higher than the minimum wage. In 2018, the median pay for a retail sales associate was $11.70 an hour, or $24,340 annually, according to the most recent data available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Retail jobs that pay higher than the median wage come at a premium, often requiring more experience and training. The highest-paying retail jobs are found at some of the industry's leading retailers and include a comprehensive offering of employee benefits. All pay rates listed are current as of 2018.

42 million

The number of people the retail industry employed in 2018.

Costco

With worldwide sales of $116.2 billion, Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) is the undisputed leader in the membership warehouse club space. With a starting wage of $14 an hour and an average hourly rate of $23, Costco pays its sales associates one of the highest hourly rates in the industry. Eligible employees are also provided comprehensive benefits, including a 401(k) plan and health care, vision, dental, and dependent care coverage.

Nordstrom

From its humble beginnings as a small Seattle shoe shop in 1901, Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE: JWN) has grown into one of the leading fashion specialty retailers, operating more than 300 stores in the United States and Canada. Nordstrom is renowned for offering some of the best employee benefits in the industry to both full- and part-time employees. The company also pays one of the highest median wages at $11.71 an hour.

Amazon.com

No company has disrupted the retail industry as much as Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), which surpassed $100 billion in sales for the first time in 2015. In addition to paying its workers $15 an hour (a wage increase that was implemented by CEO Jeff Bezos in November 2018), Amazon offers a full range of health and retirement benefits, along with equity in the company through a restricted stock units program.

Lowe's

Lowe's Companies Inc. (NYSE: LOW) may not be the largest home improvement store, but at $11.70 an hour, its median wage is only a little higher than its larger rival, Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD). Lowe's offers a comprehensive array of benefits, including retirement, health, dental, vision, disability, and life insurance.

Home Depot

Much of the do-it-yourself movement can be traced to Home Depot, which began introducing the concept when the store was founded in 1978. Home Depot sales associates, who proudly don the orange apron, earn a median wage of $11.33 an hour. Eligible employees have access to one of the widest arrays of employee benefits in the industry.

Sam's Club

Founded in 1993, Sam's Club was Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) founder Sam Walton's answer to Costco in the membership warehouse club space. At $57 billion in revenue, Sam's Club is only half the size of Costco, but it is still the eighth-largest retailer in the United States, based on annual sales. Sam's Club sales associates earn a median wage of $10.59 an hour, and eligible employees receive a company match with the 401(k) and stock purchase plans.

Best Buy

At Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY), one of the largest retailers of technology products in the United States, sales associates are trained in the sale of products ranging from computers and peripherals to high-end cameras and the latest flat-screen TV technology. The median pay at Best Buy is $10.58 an hour. In addition to a full range of employee benefits, the company also offers eligible employees tuition and adoption assistance.

Gap

Since its founding in 1969, The Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) has created a global fashion empire, with more than 3,300 stores operating in 90 countries. Employees at Gap stores, which include Banana Republic and Old Navy, are paid a median wage of $10.36 an hour. In addition to a 401(k) and a comprehensive health care plan, this company offers unique benefits such as a commuter program, family care, and discounts with gyms, cell phone providers, and travel providers.

Big Lots

Big Lots Inc. (NYSE: BIG) is one of the largest discount retailers targeting people who shop on a budget. On top of paying a median wage of $10.10 an hour, Big Lots has comprehensive employee benefits that include educational assistance.

Staples

With stores located throughout the world, Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS) is the leading brand in retail office supplies. Sales associates are trained in all facets of office supplies and technology, including computers and peripherals, handheld electronics, office furniture, and office services. Staples pays a median wage of $9.20 an hour, and its comprehensive employee benefits program includes tuition reimbursement and a stock purchase plan.