What Does a Retail Associate Do (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Dec 21, 2021

Retail associates assist customers, process payments, and keep sales floors stocked and organized. Learn how to gain sales experience in this entry-level role.

[Featured image] A retail associate in a black button-up shirt and glasses stands in the doorway of a clothing boutique.

Retail associates help customers as they shop, often serving as the final step in the sales journey. As an entry-level customer service position with minimal educational requirements, a retail associate job can be a good first step toward a career in sales. Let’s take a closer look at what retail associates do, how much they make, and how to get the job.

What is a retail associate?

A retail associate helps customers while they shop, answers questions, and assists in daily store operations. In this role, you serve as a representative of the retail brand and play an important role in the store’s overall success. Retail associates might also be referred to as sales associates or representatives.

As a retail sales associate, your day-to-day job duties and responsibilities might include:

  • Greeting customers

  • Answering customer questions related to merchandise and store policies

  • Recommending products or services based on customer needs

  • Processing customer payments and refunds 

A retail associate is also responsible for daily store operations, including:

  • Opening and closing of the store in accordance with operating hours

  • Stocking, organizing, and taking inventory of merchandise 

  • Keeping the store clean

Retail associate requirements and qualifications

Most retail sales positions have no formal education requirements. Some employers prefer candidates with at least a high school diploma or equivalent, particularly for those selling more expensive items. Most companies offer on-the-job training for new associates. During these sessions, you’ll typically learn about customer service, store policies and procedures, and how to process payments.

While a college degree isn’t usually required, having one could help you advance to a supervisory position, such as a store manager. 

In addition to previous job experience, these qualities and skills can help set you apart from other job seekers:

  • A professional attitude 

  • Product knowledge 

  • Interpersonal skills, including verbal communication, empathy, and the ability to work as a team

  • Basic computer skills

  • Time management

  • Ability to multitask

How much do retail associates make?

The median salary for retail sales workers in the United States was $13.13 per hour in May 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. You’ll usually get an hourly wage, commissions, or a combination of the two. Your wage can also vary based upon the company you're working for, how much experience you have, and where you live.

Why pursue a career as a retail associate?

As a retail associate, you can gain experience, knowledge, and skills that will serve you well whether you advance toward management in retail or choose a different career path.

Many retail sales jobs work nights and weekends, plus the ability to work part-time. This gives you the flexibility to earn money while working toward a degree or managing other life commitments.

Tips for getting a job as a retail associate

Do your research. 

Research stores you might be interested in working for, particularly those located nearby. Learn what you can about their products and services. This will help you demonstrate that you’re interested and engaged with potential employers. 

Reach out. 

Contact your target stores via phone, website, or in person to learn about any open retail associate positions, as well as the preferred way to apply. Check job boards, but remember that stores might have open positions they haven’t yet listed. Be proactive.

Prepare your resume. 

Be sure to highlight any previous work experience, and include specific sales numbers if you have them. If this is your first job, focus on any school or extracurricular accomplishments. Try to highlight experiences that demonstrate leadership, time management, problem solving, and math skills.

Practice common interview questions. 

It’s normal to feel a bit nervous when interviewing for a job. Build confidence by rehearsing some answers to common questions. Retail hiring managers might ask:

  • Why are you interested in working at this store?

  • What do you think is required to be successful in sales?

  • How would you respond to a rude or angry customer?

  • What does outstanding customer service look like to you?

  • Tell me about a time when you’ve worked as part of a team?

  • What hours are you available?

Follow up. 

If you don't hear back about your application, follow up by email or phone one to two weeks after you apply. Express your interest in the role and ask about any next steps you can take. 

Get started with Coursera

If you think a job as a retail sales associate might be a good fit, start taking steps now to set yourself up for success. Learn about how you can earn a bachelor’s degree online to open up new career paths in sales and beyond. As you prepare to apply for jobs, brush up on your sales skills with The Art of Sales: Mastering the Selling Process Specialization from Northwestern or the Sales Training: Building Your Sales Career course from HubSpot.

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Related sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Retail Sales Workers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/retail-sales-workers.htm." Accessed December 21, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Dec 21, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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