For many investors, retail shares are often the first shares they come across on the ASX because they are familiar with the brand or it is actually somewhere they shop.

Retail stocks as businesses are also often easier to understand compared to some of the high tech companies on the ASX and this can make the decision to invest in the sector just that little bit easier.

Although there’s a whole range of different retailers on the ASX, it is important for investors to remember that it is one of the most difficult and competitive sectors to operate in because there are virtually no barriers to entry.

Most businesses in the retail sector are also exposed to the swings of the economic cycle and consumer confidence levels can have a big impact on sentiment amongst investors.

It is important, therefore, for investors to look for companies that have a proven track record combined with a positive growth outlook.

Here are four retail shares that I think meet this criteria:

Nick Scali Limited (ASX: NCK)

Nick Scali is a speciality furniture retailer operating 48 stores across Australia and is a proven performer, delivering an average annual total shareholder return of 19.5% over the past 10 years. The company is one of the few retailers that seems to have been unaffected by the rise of internet shopping and has really taken advantage of the housing construction and investment boom over the past few years. Nick Scali reported stronger-than-expected sales growth earlier this year and investors will be keen to see if this momentum has continued when the company delivers its full year result next month.

RCG Corporation Limited (ASX: RCG)

RCG is a holding company for a number of athletic and sports clothing brands including The Athlete’s Foot and it recently announced the acquisition of footwear retailer, Hype DC. The company operates in a number of niche markets and this has so far worked well for the company and investors. The shares have climbed more than 220% over the past five years, and although the shares appear expensive at the moment, I expect the company to be well supported based on the sharp increase in earnings growth anticipated for FY17.

Vita Group Limited (ASX: VTG)

Vita Group is a telecommunications retailer that operates 121 Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) branded retail and business outlets. The company has more than tripled its underlying earnings per share over the last three years and this has been reflected in its share price which has increased by 583% since the start of 2013. Even with such a rapid increase in the share price, the shares are still reasonably valued considering Vita Group is expected to continue to benefit from the uptake in digital devices and smartphones.

Premier Investments Limited (ASX: PMV)

Premier Investments is a specialty fashion retailer and owns brands including Just Jeans, Portmans and Smiggle. The company has delivered exceptional returns under the guidance of Mark McInnes and appears to be laying a solid foundation for further expansion into international markets. Importantly for investors, Premier Investments has been able to lift operating margins and sales even in the face of a weaker Australian dollar and a competitive retail environment. Although the shares have underperformed over the past three months, I don’t think the shares are a screaming buy just yet and investors would be wise to keep a close eye on the shares moving forward.

If you need to make room in your portfolio for a retail stock, you might want to consider selling these three shares first.

3 Rotten Shares to Sell, and 1 to Buy Today

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Motley Fool contributor Christopher Georges owns shares of RCG Limited. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.