How to Become a Retail Sales Associate

How to Become a Retail Sales Associate: Career Path Guide

To become a retail sales associate, you generally do not need formal education or even related work experience. Most employers can provide you with on-the-job training, in order to allow you to competently sell their products.


Some employers however, may require that you have related post-secondary education, and/or related work experience.


Although there is a relatively low barrier to entry for this career, not everyone is cut out to work as a retail sales associate. If you want to become a retail sales associate, you should determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits.


Does the following describe you?


• You are able to take direction from supervisory and management staff

• You are able to remain composed and calm when dealing with upset customers 

• You are punctual, presentable, and well-mannered

• You enjoy working with people, including the general public

• You enjoy having clear rules and methods for your work

• You have an interest and knowledge in the specific types of products you are selling

• You are interested in a career path that offers plenty of room for growth


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a retail sales associate. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Retail Sales Associate

There are typically no formal education requirements for retail sales associate jobs. In some cases however, employers may prefer to hire candidates with formal education in an area related to the type of goods sold by the retail store.


A store that specializes in nutritional supplements for example, may prefer to hire candidates for retail sales jobs that have (or are working towards) a post-secondary education in nutrition, or a related field.


Candidates that have a related post-secondary education may be preferable over those who do not, because they have a demonstrated knowledge base related to the types of products being sold in the store. This will enable them to competently answer questions posed by the store’s customers, regarding the products they are purchasing.


Retail sales associates who sell expensive or complex merchandise may require special knowledge or skills, which may be acquired as the result of formal education. For example, those who sell computer systems need a basic knowledge of electronics and computer software and hardware to be able to answer customer questions.


Success Tip: It is worth noting, that retail sales associates that have a university degree or college diploma may be more likely to advance to executive management positions within a large retail organization.




What is a Retail Sales Associate?

A retail sales associate is an employee of a retail store who facilitates the sales of that store’s goods to the general public by providing information to customers regarding the store’s products. Retail sales associates may sell retail merchandise (such as clothing, furniture and automobiles) or they may sell replacement parts and equipment (such as car parts).



Retail Sales Associate Job Description

Retail sales associates are responsible for assisting customers with the selection and purchase of merchandise. This includes helping customers find the products they want within a store, answering any questions they have about those products, and processing customers’ payments when they are ready to make a purchase.


Depending on the size and type of their employer, as well as the specific responsibilities of their job, retail sales associates may be required to help the store grow its customer base by soliciting new business, when they are not busy serving customers.


Retail sales associates may work in a wide range of retail stores, selling a wide range of products. They may work general department stores, or they may work in stores that specialize in certain types of goods. Either way, they may be responsible for selling the following types of goods:


• Electronics, software and computer hardware

• Clothing, jewelry and apparel

• Books and magazines

• Food and groceries

• Nutritional supplements

• Furniture and home décor

• Pet supplies

• Musical instruments 

• Sporting goods

• Recreational and hobby-based products

• Automobile and automobile parts

• Mechanical equipment

• Many other types of goods



Retail Sales Associate Job Duties

• Greet customers

• Help customers identify their needs, such as what type of product they are looking for

• Demonstrate products for customers and/or fit or measure merchandise for customers

• Promote in-store specials

• Provide product care information to customers

• Answer any questions the customer may have

• Process payments and refunds for customers

• Wrap or pack purchase for customers

• Stock shelves

• Ensure display areas are clean, organized and presentable

• Count inventory and order items when necessary

• Maintain awareness of current sales promotions, returns, exchanges, and security practices



Who Creates Jobs for Retail Sales Associates?

Retail sales associates are hired by virtually any type of company, small or large, that sell general goods, or specific kinds of products (such as automobiles or nutritional supplements). According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industries that employed the most retail sales workers in 2012 were as follows:


• Clothing and clothing accessories stores - 21%

• General merchandise stores -19%

• Motor vehicle and parts dealers - 11%

• Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers - 9%

• Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores - 7%


Many retail sales associate jobs are part-time, although there are also plenty of jobs that are full-time.  




Experience Needed to Become a Retail Sales Associate

Many retail stores do not require candidates to have previous retail experience in order to be considered for a job. Having related experience may be helpful however, and will certainly help reduce the learning curve once hired.


Related experience for retail sales associate jobs typically includes anything relating to:


• Providing the general public with customer service (answering questions about products, programs, services, etc.)

• Selling goods of any sort to the general public

• Experience working with specific products (for example, having played hockey if selling hockey equipment)



Characteristics Needed to Work as a Retail Sales Associate

Taking enjoyment from your job is the best way to ensure you succeed at it. In order to enjoy performing the duties of a retail sales associate, you need to possess some key personality traits, including:


• You enjoy working with people and speaking to the general public

• You enjoy having clear rules and organized methods for your work

• You enjoy the idea of a career that offers room for advancement into different operational areas

• You enjoy work that allows you to be on your feet, sit down, and work with merchandise

• You are able to take direction from supervisory and management staff

• You are able to remain calm and courteous when dealing with difficult customer 



Career Advancement for Retail Sales Associates

Career advancement for retail sales associates is typically based on level of experience and job performance. Those who show the following characteristics are the most likely to advance to positions of greater responsibility and pay:


• Customer service-oriented approach to work activities

• Attention to detail

• Commitment to constantly improving their work efficiency

• Commitment to reaching sales goals

• Competence and product knowledge


Retail sales associates that demonstrate these qualities will have many opportunities for advancement, especially within larger retail organizations. They may qualify for pay increases, move into a busier location, or move into supervisory and management positions.


With additional education and training, retail sales associates may move into occupations in different areas of retail operations. They may become a retail buyer, visual merchandiser, human resources officer, district sales manager, or even open their own small business. 



Retail Sales Associate Career: Working Conditions

Work Setting: Retail sales associates typically work in comfortable, indoor conditions. Some may have to spend some of their time working in outdoor conditions, such as those who sell home improvement and horticultural products. They may work in shopping malls, strip-malls, or stand-alone retail stores.


Work Environment: Retail sales associates spend a lot of their time speaking to the general public. They may encounter individuals who are friendly and pleasant, as well as those who are upset or generally unpleasant to deal with. They also spend some time being coached by managers, and may occasionally feel pressure to meet sales targets, or generally improve their performance.


Working Hours: Retail sales associates can work a wide variety of hours, which will typically fall within the hours of operation of the store for which they work, and may include evenings and weekends. Many retail sales associates work part-time hours, although working full-time hours is not uncommon in this occupation.



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Retail Sales Associate Salary

The salary level of retail sales associates can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• The region in which they work

• Their level of experience

• The size and type of their employer

• The type of products they are selling

• Whether or not they receive commissions or other performance bonuses


Retail Sales Associate Salary Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Retail Salespersons and Sales Clerks occupational group earn an average wage of $15.17 per hour, and an average salary of $24,642 per year.


Retail Sales Associate Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of Canadian workers in the Retail Salespersons and Sales Clerks occupational group is $29,928 per year.


Retail Sales Associate Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Retail Sales Workers occupational group $21,410 per year.



Careers Similar to Retail Sales Associate

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Retail Sales Associate, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Fashion Merchandiser

Retail Buyer

Retail Manager

Sales Representative

Visual Merchandiser



Being a Retail Sales Associate: Interview with a Retail Sales Associate

Do you want to hear what a career as a retail sales associate is like, from the perspective of someone working in the field? Read the interview we've conducted with Leah, Retail Sales Associate with LUSH Fresh handmade Cosmetics, in Edmonton, Alberta.


Being a Retail Sales Associate - Interview with a Retail Sales Associate



Retail Sales Associate Career: References

To find out more about what a retail sales associate does, how much they earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:


Occupations in Alberta:Retail Salesperson.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Sales:Retail Sales Workers.” (March 30, 2018). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.


Please Note: Some of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.




How to Become a Retail Sales Associate



Scholarships for Becoming a Retail Sales Associate

Looking for Canadian or American scholarships to help you on your way to becoming a retail sales associate? We’ve got you covered! Here's how to find the best-suited scholarships:


• On, our scholarship listings are sorted by major

• The “Applicable Majors” section below shows what majors apply to this career

• Search scholarships by major on our All Scholarships by Major page


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Retail Sales Associate: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a retail sales associate. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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