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

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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 industry, a sales associate has multiple opportunities to interact with customers and create a pleasant shopping experience. According to Forbes, stores are redesigning their sales floors, offering seamless shopper experiences across physical and online store fronts, and using social listening strategies to understand customers better [1]. With these emerging trends, sales associates play an important role in driving sales for retail businesses.

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

What does a sales associate do?

As a sales associate, you represent the company you work for. Think of yourself as the "face" of the brand, in the minds of the shopper. With excellent sales skills, you can help increase profits for your employer and improve the experience for customers at the same time. Your daily sales associate duties might include: 

  • Greeting and interacting with customers at the door and on 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, earn a median hourly wage of $14.03, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [2]. How much you make can depend on local minimum wage laws, the company you work for, and your level of experience. 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 strategies for getting a job as a sales associate

If becoming a sales associate sounds like a career path you’d like to explore, use these seven strategies to 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 previous sales experience, other work experience, volunteer work, involvement in school clubs, and other qualifications that demonstrate your sales associate potential.

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.  

Read more: 11 Interviewing Skills to Benefit Your Career

2. Consider the skills needed for the job.  

Data compiled by career sites Zippia and ZipRecruiter show that customer service is the skill listed most often on resumes and job descriptions [3, 4]. According to these sites, employers also look for the following:

  • Cashier experience to check customers out and process payments with ease

  • Communication skills to explain products to customers, answer questions, approach customers with confidence, and make suggestions

  • Sales floor experience for greeting customers and guiding them through the shopping experience

  • Cash handling and basic math experience to make change with or without technology

  • Loss prevention experience to optimize store operations and increase security

  • Product knowledge and enthusiasm to convey products’ strengths to a customer

To stand out among other applicants, consider cultivating business acumen and the ability to work under pressure. These skills can be useful when helping to place products and signage, driving sales, managing an increase in foot traffic during holidays and weekends, and handling customer objections.

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 sales associate 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. Build technology skills.  

Retail businesses make use of sales technology and software to ring up purchases, keep track of inventory, and track customer data. Build skills in Microsoft Office and Excel, favored by employers, according to ZipRecruiter's sales associate job description data [4], as well as customer relationship management tools like Hubspot and Salesforce.

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5.  Consider other sales and 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. 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.

Additional sales roles include sales representative and sales development representative.

6. Apply to places you know and like.

Stores often try to hire people who fit the image of the product they sell. Apply to places that you actually buy from, such as your favorite clothing stores, book stores, or electronics stores. Having a true appreciation for the products that you sell will make you a more effective and genuine salesperson. Hiring managers will also appreciate your familiarity with their products.

7. Consider getting a degree. 

You may find a number of job openings for sales associate position that don't require a college degree. 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. A college degree could help your resume stand out and put you on a faster track to managerial positions.

According to Zippia's research, 38 percent of sales associate job applicants have a bachelor's degree, 18 percent have an associate's degree, and 32 percent have a high school diploma [5].

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Sales Development, interviewing, Sales, Time management, Cold Calling, teamwork, Personal Advertisement, Audience, Personal Branding, Resume writing, cold emailing, objection handling, Prospecting, video prospecting, sales engagement, Customer Relationship Management Software, empathy, Proactivity, Creative Problem Solving, Coachability, Communication

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Lead Management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Sales Process Engineering, Inbound Sales, Sales Enablement, Content Creation, Customer Success, Sales, Outreach Sequence, Social Selling, Customer Experience, Inside Sales, Sales Presentation, Data Analysis, Data Management, Data Visualization (DataViz), Sales Team Management, Onboarding

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

1

Forbes. "The 5 Biggest Retail Trends for 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleykohan/2022/12/23/the-5-biggest-retail-trends-for-2023/?sh=54e0e0ba7176." Accessed January 12, 2023.

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