With a variety of shopping needs to cater for and thousands of customers to serve, it’s unsurprising that the retail sector is of the largest industries in the UK. If you’re looking to start a career in retail, one of the best jobs to apply for is a sales assistant.
This entry-level job will get you learning the basics and gaining essential transferable retail skills. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that over 3m people currently work in retail.
So, what is a sales assistant?
Whether you want to work on the shop floor of a supermarket or you’re more interested in working in a clothes store, the purpose of the sales assistant doesn’t change. A customer service position, you’re there to assist customers and make sure their shopping experience is enjoyable so they come back. A sales assistant helps create repeat business which in turn generates money for the business.
You’ll report to a retail manager or supervisor. They delegate your tasks and are the first port of call if there are any issues, either from you or the customers.
What does a sales assistant do?
The expectations of a sales assistant will differ depending on what the shop specialises in, but the general duties tend to be the same no matter what products the store is selling.
One of the main duties is greeting and serving customers from the moment they enter the shop. Sales assistants are expected to advise customers and answer any queries they may have, from stock availability and details of special offers to a product’s price. Because this is an important part of the job, it’s essential for sales assistants to understand the products so they can give as much information as possible.
Because this is first and foremost a sales job, one of the most frequent tasks is working on the tills and handling customer’s transactions. This not only involves selling the items, but refunding for them too.
Every retail store will have messy customers, and not everything will be put back in its rightful place, so a sales assistant also helps keep the shop floor clean and tidy. As well as tidying up, you’ll be restocking goods when they’re selling out, and ensuring they’re attractively displayed, particularly if it’s in a sale or on offer.
When it’s time for stock to be replenished or if new products are coming in, it’ll be your responsibility to assist in the deliveries. This can involve taking products off a supplier’s truck and arranging the delivery in the first place.
What are the working hours?
Your working hours will change depending on the store’s opening hours and whether you decide to work full-time, part-time, evenings or weekends.
Rotas are often split up into shifts, so each week you could be working different hours on different days. Although this is ideal if you’re looking for flexible hours, if you want to work the same days every week, you’ll need to mention it to the employer at the initial interview stage.
The good points…
When you’re working with a good team and you’re meeting your sales targets, this job can be really good fun and exciting,” says Catherine Garragan, a shoe shop sales assistant in Chester. Plus many employers will offer staff discount, especially in clothes shops where you’ll be expected to buy their stock to wear as a uniform.
If you’re working with the public you can expect to come across some ill-mannered and angry people during your career. So you’ll sometimes need to have some serious patience. And because this isn’t an office job, sales assistants spend most of the day on their feet.
Your main task as a sales assistant is to ensure that customers have an enjoyable shopping experience and spend lots of cash so the business can keep going. As part of this service you'll be expected to:
- Welcome and advise customers (so practise your smiling)
Ensure goods are well displayed (an organised shop is a happy shop)
- Handle payments
- Arrange ordering and delivery
- Receive deliveries from suppliers
- Keep the shop floor clean and tidy
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The finer details...
The hours you work will be dictated by the opening hours of the shop, so you may work part-time, full-time, evenings or weekends. You can expect to work irregular hours as a sales assistant and there’s always plenty of part-time and shift/flexible working options in this job. Shifts can change around busy times such as Christmas or during the summer holidays, so expect more shifts and some overtime tidying the shop.
With so much to do and flexible working options, it's no surprise that a whopping three million people currently work in retail.
Money, money, money
Junior position sales assistants start at around £11k per year which can rise to £25k with experience.
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Sales assistant toolkit
So you want to be a sales assistant? Here's what you need to get the gig...
The good points...
“When you’re working with a good team and you’re meeting your sales targets, this job can be really good fun and exciting,” says Catherine Garragan, a shoe shop sales assistant in Chester.
...and the bad
“You can spend long hours on your feet and it can get really tiring - plus some customers can be really rude!”
Is there study involved?
There are no minimum qualifications to work as a sales assistant and experience counts more than certificates in this job. However, good numeracy and literacy skills will be a bonus, or to give your CV a real boost you could take an Award, Certificate or Diploma in Retail Skills.
While you can take an Award before applying for jobs in retail, you need to have a work placement to take the Certificate or Diploma. Visit the National Retail Skills Academy for more details on courses.
And what can you do with all these new qualifications? Well, there are plenty of opportunities to climb the ladder in retail and a sales assistant can look to move up to a position as a supervisor, store manager, area manager and even in to senior management.
Need additional qualifications? Find a course at our Learning Zone
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
If you’re confident, love working with the public and can boast bags of stamina – this is the job for you! Other skills that will help you in this career include:
- Being a strong team player
- Polite and helpful
- Good with numbers
- Plenty of patience (there'll always be people asking silly questions)