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How Do I Become a Retail Sales Associate?

Good customer service skills are important to becoming a retail sales associate.
A car salesman is one example of a retail sales associate.
Woman selling sunglasses.
Someone looking to work in clothing retail should keep up with the latest trends in fashion and style.
Many retail sales associates start out as cashiers.
A retail salesperson is generally expected to be informed enough about product specifics to answer detailed customer inquiries.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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Retail sales associates are salespeople who work in specialty shops, department stores, and home improvement retailers, among other retail establishments. Some of the responsibilities of a retail sales associate include assisting customers by providing excellent customer service, generating sales, advising customers on items to purchase, answering questions, and having extensive knowledge of the products they sell. To become a retail sales associate, you'll usually need to have some sales experience already.

Many people who become retail sales associates start out as a cashier on a register or in the customer service department. This way, they get to learn the way the business works, as well as the best ways to deal with customers, before being expected to make sales. Those who excel in these departments may then be able to be promoted to a retail sales position.

Retail sales associates typically have high school diplomas, but specific educational requirements beyond high school are generally not necessary. Someone with experience as a sales associate already will find it much easier to find new jobs; it will generally require just an application and a short interview process. It is especially important for someone who is trying to become a retail sales associate to appear confident and knowledgeable in an interview, as well as to dress professionally and arrive on time. An interviewer might even have applicants try to sell him or her something to assess their sales skills.

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Once a retail store has hired a new sales associate, he or she will likely have quotas to meet. Those who want to be successful will need to work hard to meet their sales goals, or risk being fired. Many salespeople earn a commission when they make a sale, particularly in specialty shops or auto dealerships. Retail sales associates should be knowledgeable about their particular industry; for instance, an auto salesperson should know what type of car would better suit an individual or a family, and a clothing salesperson should keep up with current trends in fashion and style.

It is important for a retail sales associate to always make the sale without making it seem as if he or she is trying to talk the customer into purchasing something. Salespeople need be personable, have friendly personalities, and enjoy making conversation with different people. They should greet customers who come into the store or their department and make thoughtful suggestions for purchases based on the customer's needs.

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sunnySkys
Post 8

@betterment - That's crazy! I bet there are still a lot of stores that will hire you if you fill out an application and seem somewhat normal during the interview. I can't imagine every store starting to require some college education to be a retail sales associate.

betterment
Post 7

Becoming a retail sales associate didn't used to be very difficult. However, I have noticed in the last few years a lot of places aren't hiring the way they used to. They've upped their standards by a lot!

I was looking into applying for a retail job recently, and they wanted several years of experience and at least an associate's degree. I thought it was ridiculous considering that the job isn't that difficult and doesn't pay that well! And you certainly don't need a college education to work in retail. On the job training should be sufficient.

LoriCharlie
Post 6

@ceilingcat - There are a lot of potential drawbacks to working in retail sales, but that's true of any industry. I worked in restaurants when I was in college, and you have to put up with the same scheduling issues (although I did make more money than my friends who worked retail.)

ceilingcat
Post 5

I've never worked as a retail sales associate, but I had a few friends that worked in department stores during high school and college. There are a few department stores that treat their employees nicely and actually pay a fair wage, but a lot of stores don't treat their employees very well!

I would never want to work retail and put up with having to work holidays, weekends, evenings, and any other time a manager chooses to schedule you. Plus you're always at risk of being fired if your sales even slip a little bit. No thank you!

suntan12
Post 4

@BrickBack - I think that the best time to get a retail job is when these companies do their seasonal hiring in September and October. I know that a lot of companies offer employee discounts for these seasonal employees and some even end up hiring some of these seasonal employees as permanent hires.

It is also a nice way to see if you want to work in the retail field because some people make a career out of it. I know lots of people that started out as sales associates and are now working in the buying office as associate buyers and department store buyers. Jobs in retail sales can really lead to a lot of other career opportunities.

BrickBack
Post 3

I used to work as a sales associate behind the cosmetics counter and I loved it.

My store manager and the cosmetics company representative were always really supportive and I really loved going to the training seminars that helped me learn how to be a good sales associate for my cosmetics line.

We learned how to sell multiple items to a customer by presenting groups of merchandise together. For example, if a customer was looking for an eye liner, I would offer to apply makeup on her eyes for a few minutes and demonstrate an eye cream, eyeliner, an eye brow shaper, an eye shadow primer along with eye shadow with mascara and concealer.

Not everyone would buy all of these products, but I would get a lot of customers to buy way more than that one eye liner. The one thing that I didn’t like about the job was putting out the merchandise. I hated stocking the cases. I always preferred selling. I also loved the free makeup that we would get every quarter.

subway11
Post 2

I work as a retail store manager too, and I have to say, people don't realize what a hard job it is! Sometimes I get really frustrated because of the way that the sales associates treat the managers in my store.

I mean, I can understand how frustrating it is when you have to close and then open back to back, or if you get a bad schedule during the holidays -- and as a sales associate, you really don't have a lot of control over that -- but try to cut us managers some slack.

As my store, we really try to be fair, but some people end up closing on Christmas Eve, while others get stuck opening on Black Friday at 5 AM. That's just how it's going to be. So if you are a sales associate, try to be nice to your managers -- they're just doing their job, just like you.

Moldova
Post 1

You can also move up from being a retail sales associate to a retail store manager. I used to work as a sales associate, but since I made it a point to work hard, I was actually able to promote to a manager within a year. The best way to do this, I think, is to do your work (of course) but also try to volunteer for other things, like moves or merchandising. Even if you just end up following a manager around, that experience can really help when you ask for that promotion.

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