There are more than 1.8 million people in the UK working as retail assistants. These are the people working in the shops, helping out customers, manning the tills and restocking shelves. They might be working for big supermarkets, local shops, market stalls, clothes shops or specialised shops.
A sales assistant will probably be responsible for checking stock items and ordering goods, receiving and storing deliveries, restocking shelves and making sure that the shop looks tidy and the goods are well presented. They might also be involved with changing the layout and visual displays and cleaning the sales areas.
A good sales assistant will know their stock inside out, help customers find exactly what they need and offer specialised advice. They’ll be experts at hand selling, promoting special offers and dealing with customer complaints.
The nature of sales assistants’ responsibilities will vary from shop to shop. Some will require sales assistants to have detailed product knowledge, such as mobile phone shops or music shops, whilst small shops might require sales assistants to handle a range of duties, from ordering stock to arranging shop window displays.
For luxury goods shops, the emphasis will be on hand selling and having a highly professional demeanour.
Salary & benefits
Most sales assistants starting out will be paid the national minimum wage.
Salaries can increase with experience, while supervisors can earn around £20,000.
They might vary depending on the type of shop – for instance, high end shops which require very experienced and professional sales assistants are likely to pay more.
In some shops, sales assistants can earn commission on sales. Other perks might include bonuses and staff discounts.
Full-time sales assistants will usually work a 40-hour week. Most sales assistants are likely to work weekends, and part-time work is very common, with sales assistants working a shift pattern.
Happily, there are no formal academic requirements to become a sales assistant. Employers will be far more interested in your people and communication skills, but they will expect you to have a basic standard of literacy and numeracy. There are now a number of retail apprenticeship schemes too.
A good sales assistant should be friendly, personable and polite. They should be able to stay calm under pressure, deftly handle tricky customers and have a helpful and approachable manner.
Training & progression
Sales assistants tend to learn their trade on the job. Trainees might have specialised training for particular roles, but largely they’ll be learning under the guidance of a supervisor or manager.
More experienced sales assistants can progress to supervisor or managerial roles. With larger retail shops, there might be opportunities to fast-track onto management schemes and become area managers.
Other sales assistants use their experience to give them a leg up into buying, merchandising and other retail areas.