Learn About Being a Retail Associate

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

What does a retail associate do?

Retail sales associates help customers to select and purchase products in a retail environment. They work in a variety of businesses, including fashion, sporting goods, building materials and garden equipment, music stores, book stores, automotive and electronics. They may operate the cash register, take inventory, restock shelves and clean the floor space and work areas. Some of their other duties typically include:

  • Recommending specific products to meet a customer’s needs

  • Answering questions related to products or the location of merchandise

  • Demonstrating how the merchandise works

  • Informing customers about special promotions or discounts

  • Accepting cash, credit cards and other forms of payment and processing exchanges or refunds

Average salary

Salaries vary according to the geographic location and experience level of the retail associate.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $11.84 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $23.30 per hour

Retail associate requirements

There are a number of qualifications required to obtain a position as a retail associate. They include:

Education

In general, retail associates are expected to be pursuing or have completed a high school diploma or GED. Many high school students are part-time retail associates. Ambitious retail associates who aspire to managerial roles may need to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in business administration or another related field.

Training

The majority of the training for retail associates happens on the job, including customer service guidelines and how to operate the company’s point of sale (POS) system. New hires may have to complete an onboarding training that lasts one day or several days. 

Retail associates can also benefit from training in previous roles, such as customer service training or experience with cash registers.

Certifications 

Certifications are not generally required for this role. However, certification can give you a competitive edge over other candidates and demonstrate your abilities and aspirations to potential employers. Some of the top certifications for retail professionals can be obtained through the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation. They include:

  • Retail Industry Fundamentals Specialist: This is the most entry-level certification and may be a fit for anyone interested in pursuing employment in the retail industry. Candidates learn about the retail industry and the many jobs that are available there. They also develop the basic math and customer service skills they need to be successful as a retail associate.

  • Customer Service and Sales Certified Specialist: Through this certification, candidates develop a mastery of customer service and sales skills, learning strategies to engage customers on the sales floor, identify their needs and successfully close the sale.

  • Business of Retail Certified Specialist: This certification is ideal for someone who is interested in pursuing a retail management position or who just wants to understand how a business runs. Through this certification, candidates learn about merchandising, marketing, store operations, workplace safety and loss prevention.

Skills

Retail associates need to have several skills to be successful in their roles, including:

  • Communication: This includes verbal and written communication skills as well as the ability to read non-verbal cues and actively listen. Retail associates must communicate clearly and effectively to resolve problems for customers, ensure their needs are met and process their transactions at checkout.

  • Problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills include analyzing, researching and using creativity to come up with solutions. Retail associates need to employ problem-solving skills to help resolve conflicts with customers in a way that ensures the customer is satisfied with the outcome. 

  • Interpersonal skills: Often referred to as “people skills,” these are the behavior and tactics used to interact with others. Interpersonal skills allow retail associates to work effectively as part of a team. They include dependability, the ability to be receptive to feedback, showing appreciation and collaboration.

  • Numeracy skills: These are the basic math skills that a retail associate needs to operate the cash register and count items during inventory.

  • Customer service: Customer service skills include persuasive speaking, empathy, patience and time management. Sales associates need to be able to speak persuasively when communicating with customers in order to close the sale. They need to practice time management to avoid keeping customers waiting. They also need to be empathetic and patient to understand another person’s point of view, especially when resolving conflicts.

Retail associate work environment

Retail associates typically work part-time or full-time in stores and shops. Their work environments generally have the following characteristics:

  • Extended hours standing

  • Using computers, printers, cash registers and other equipment

  • Facilitating communication between the customers and management

  • May be required to work weekends, evenings and holidays

The largest employers of retail workers are:

  • Clothing stores

  • Building material and supplies dealers

  • Sporting goods stores

  • Music stores

  • Book stores

  • Car dealers

  • Electronic stores

  • Appliance stores

How to become a retail associate

These are the steps typically required to secure a position as a retail associate:

  1. Pursue your education: Retail associates are generally only expected to have a high school diploma or GED or, at a minimum, be in the process of pursuing a high school diploma. Perform a search for open retail associate positions in your area and determine the level of education generally required for the roles. If you are in high school, communication and math classes will help provide you with the education you need to qualify for the position.

  2. Acquire experience: Look for other entry-level opportunities to obtain customer service or cashiering experience. Cashier or customer service roles will give you some of the fundamental skills you need to qualify for a retail associate position and make you a more desirable candidate with employers.

  3. Consider certification: Though not required, a retail certification that verifies your abilities can give you a competitive edge over other candidates. Consider obtaining a customer service and sales credential from the NRF Foundation.

  4. Apply for jobs: Perform a search in your area for open retail associate positions and identify the roles for which you are best qualified based on your skills and work history. Complete an online application or visit the store and fill out an application in person.

Retail associate job description example

Monica’s Apparel is seeking a retail associate to help ensure our customers have a positive shopping experience. The retail associate is expected to make eye contact, smile and greet all customers as they enter the store. They will also be responsible for assisting the customer in any way necessary, including helping find clothing items to match their needs, demonstrating different ways you can wear the apparel, answering questions and taking their money at checkout. They are responsible for handling customer service issues as they arise in a courteous and helpful manner and contacting the store manager or assistant manager when assistance is required.

The retail associate must be able to use all store equipment, including the cash register and computer. They must have the ability to spend the entire shift either standing, walking or moving around the store. They must be capable of pushing, pulling and lifting at least 25 pounds and be able to use ladders and janitorial equipment as needed. They must have strong interpersonal and communication skills and be able to lead by example. A high school diploma or GED is preferred but not required. Prior experience is preferred.

Related careers

  • Merchandiser

  • Retail store manager

  • Retail assistant manager

  • Head cashier

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