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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A sales associate works in a store to sell products to customers. Like cashiers, they can work to process customer payments, but they 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 your employer to the shopper. That means you can help increase profits for the company and improve customer experience 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 have a friendly demeanour while helping others. 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 product inventory

  • 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 in Canada earn a median hourly wage of $16.00, according to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank [1]. How much you make may fluctuate depending on the company you work for, its location, your responsibilities, and your level of experience.

7 tips for getting a sales associate job

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 for an interview.

Taking some extra time to sharpen your resume and prepare for an interview can help you stand out from other applicants. In a resume, note anything showing 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.

Read more: 16 Resume Tips to Help You Apply with Confidence

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: Knowing where to place products and signage can boost a store's sales.

  • Communication and people skills: Explaining a product to customers and answering questions will be key skills for an effective sales associate. Confidence in approaching customers and making 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 product 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. As a seasonal worker, you can get started in the retail industry and gain experience to add to your resume; this will make you more competitive for other positions in the future.

Many stores are busiest during the winter holiday season, but some tourist destinations may be busier in summer.

4. Make sure you're comfortable around computers.

Almost every industry relies on computers, and retail is no different. From ringing up purchases to keeping up with inventory with specialized software, you'll need to ensure 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; however, if you have the right skills and make a good impression, a store manager may hire you without experience. If you're having difficulty landing the job you want, consider applying for other retail roles, such as stock helper 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 their product. If you have a particular clothing brand you wear often, try applying to that business. If you like to read, look for jobs at your local bookstore. A true appreciation for your products 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, retailers may want you to have a high school diploma. 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.

While university and college degrees and diplomas 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 university degree while you work.

Next steps

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 the HubSpot Sales Representative Professional Certificate.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)


Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. “Sales Assistant in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/summary-occupation/20634/ca.” Accessed June 25, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.