What Is a Sales Associate? (And How Do I Become One)

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A sales associate works in a store to sell products to customers. Like cashiers, they can work to process customers’ payments, but typically have other responsibilities, like helping customers find products that fit their needs or restocking shelves.

[Featured image] A sales associate holds a stack of product brochures.

In the retail business, a sales associate can make or break a sale and a customer's experience in a store. From welcoming guests to ringing up purchases, stores depend on their sales associates to create a pleasant shopping experience for their customers and drive sales.

Keep reading to learn more about what retail sales associates do, how to become one, and how you can advance your career through experience and education.  

What does a sales associate do?

As a sales associate, you represent the business you work for to the shopper. That means you can help increase profits for the company and improve the experience for customers at the same time. Sales associates will have plenty of opportunities to interact with customers, making it a good job for people who like to help others and can put on a friendly demeanor. Your daily sales associate duties might include: 

  • Greeting and interacting with customers at the door and throughout the sales floor 

  • Listening to a customer’s needs and suggesting appropriate products

  • Upselling or encouraging customers to buy other products that may complement their needs 

  • Checking and maintaining inventory of products 

  • Learning as much as you can about a product so you can answer customer questions 

  • Helping with marketing campaigns, loyalty programs, and store promotions 

  • Creating displays and hanging signs 

  • Processing customer payments at a cash register

  • Wrapping, packaging, or bagging purchased products

  • Promoting sales and new products 

  • Stocking shelves with new inventory 

  • Processing returns and exchanges 

How much does a sales associate make?

Retail sales workers, including sales associates, in the United States earn a median hourly wage of $13.13, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. How much you make may fluctuate depending on local minimum wage laws. Some sales associates may also earn more if they receive a commission. 

Sales associates can work part-time or full-time, and full-time workers may also get additional benefits, such as health care or paid time off.

7 tips for getting a job as a sales associate

If becoming a sales associate sounds like a career path you’d like to explore, these seven tips can help you get started.  

1. Prepare your resume and interview. 

Taking some extra time to sharpen your resume and prepare for an interview can help you stand out above other applicants. In a resume, note anything that will show you have the skills to be a good sales associate. This can include previous work experience or other roles where you’ve had to interact with people, like volunteer work or involvement in school clubs.

Before an interview, brush up on the store's history, research the products they sell, and be prepared to talk about why you want to work there. Do a practice interview at home before going in for the real thing.  

2. Consider the skills needed for the job.  

Beyond a positive attitude and customer service sensibilities, there are many skills a good sales associate may have. They include:  

  • Business sense: Having a good sense of where to place products and signage can boost sales for the store.

  • Communication and people skills: Being able to explain a product to customers and answering questions will be key to being an effective sales associate. Confidence to approach customers and make suggestions will also be important.

  • Ability to work under pressure: This will be especially useful during busy times like holidays and weekends. Be prepared to multitask and potentially deal with difficult customers.

  • Enthusiasm for the products you sell: Genuinely liking a store’s products can help you convey the products’ strengths to a customer

  • Basic math: Money handling or the ability to count change with and without technology will be useful.

  • Physical stamina: Being a sales associate likely means you’ll be on your feet for several hours at a time. Many positions also need associates to be able to lift heavy items. 

3. Apply during busy seasons.

Many retailers need extra support on the sales floor during their busy seasons and are more willing to hire new workers. Working as a seasonal worker can get your foot in the door in the retail industry, and provide you with experience to put down on your resume to make you more competitive for other positions in the future.

The winter holiday season is generally the busiest time of the year for many stores, but some tourist destinations may be busier in the summer months.

4. Make sure you're comfortable around computers.  

Almost every industry relies on computers these days, and retail is no different. From ringing up purchases to keeping up with inventory with specialized software, you'll need to make sure you're conversant with computers and other technology. If you're not, consider taking an introductory computer course online before you apply for jobs. 

5.  Consider other retail positions. 

Many sales associate jobs are entry-level positions, and if you have the right skills and make a good impression, a store manager may hire you without experience. But if you find that you're having a hard time landing the job you want, consider applying to other retail roles such as stock person or delivery driver. This can familiarize you with a retail environment and make you a more competitive candidate when you apply for positions in the future.

6. Apply to places you know and like.

Stores often try to hire people who fit the image of the product they sell. If you have a particular clothing brand you wear a lot of, try applying to that business. If you like to read, look for jobs at your local bookstore. Having a true appreciation for the products that you sell will make you a more effective and genuine salesperson. Hiring managers will also appreciate people who are already familiar with their products.

7. Consider a degree. 

While there aren't necessarily any educational requirements to become a sales associate, most retailers want you to at least have a high school diploma or a GED. If you're still in high school, consider taking courses that may help you pursue a career in sales, like business, marketing, communications, and psychology. 

And while college degrees aren't necessary for sales associate jobs, they can help your resume stand out and put you on a faster track to managerial positions. You can even pursue a college degree while you work.

Next steps

While there’s usually no formal education requirement to become a sales associate, building the right sales skills can enhance your resume and make you stand out as a candidate. Get job ready for a career in sales with the Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate or learn more about becoming effective at selling with The Art of Sales: Mastering the Selling Process from Northwestern.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Retail Sales Worker, https://www.bts.gov/ooh/sales/retail-sales-workers.htm." Accessed March 29, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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