Excellent retail associates drive successful retail stores.
Retail associates are the face of your brand, welcoming customers and answering their questions, stocking inventory, and creating an exceptional shopping experience.
But hiring the right retail associate is tough. Each one comes from a different background and has different goals and experiences.
In this guide, remind yourself of the key responsibilities of retail associates, learn how to hire the best candidates in 2024, and discover what the future holds for this role.
What is a retail associate?
A retail associate is a professional working in a retail setting, such as a department store, specialty retailer, or a pop-up shop.
Also known as sales associates, retail associates assist customers with their shopping needs, answer queries about products or services, process transactions, and maintain store cleanliness and product displays.
Retail associates play a crucial role in providing excellent customer service and contributing to the overall customer experience, which can significantly influence your store's sales and reputation.
What does a retail associate do?
- Greet customers
- Manage inventory
- Visual merchandising
- Clean the store
- Mitigate theft
- Answer questions
- Recommend products
- Check out customers
- Open and close the store
Retail sales associates are the face of your company. Walmart hires customer hosts because it understands that greeting customers is an important part of offering outstanding customer service.
When your sales associates greet customers, they can:
- Establish a welcoming atmosphere
- Answer any questions shoppers might have
- Help shoppers find a specific product
The evolving role of the retail associate...— Natalie Berg (@Natalie_Berg) February 15, 2022
Forget product reviews. This is going to become more important as retail becomes increasingly service-oriented. 👇 pic.twitter.com/8SZ41jk6K4
Your retail associates are in direct contact with your inventory every day. They sell your products to your customers and replenish your shelves. Hence, they should be the ones to keep track of what is in stock and what needs to be reordered.
Inventory management affects your bottom line. “Higher levels of inventory accuracy can actually drive sales,” says Adrian Thomas, CEO and president of Datascan. “A store that can get its inventory accuracy in line with its book accuracy and book inventory will see a 4-8% increase in sales.”
💡 PRO TIP: Want to control which staff can count, receive, and adjust inventory quantities? Set roles and permissions to set boundaries on what staff can and can’t do when logged in to your POS system, like accessing its inventory management tools.
You have probably heard the expression "you eat with your eyes first". Presentation in retail–visual merchandising–is as important as in food.
It is up to your retail associates to keep your sales floor immaculate and inviting. Displaying your products in an attractive manner, and even arranging the layout of the store so that traffic flows smoothly, is all part of that process.
Clean the store
Your sales associates will be responsible for keeping your store clean. Encourage them to create a daily cleaning checklist and to always have the customer experience front of mind.
Cleanliness is not only important for first impressions and customer experience but also for safety. If your sales associates don’t keep a regular cleaning schedule, your employees or customers could get injured because of clutter in the entrance and in the aisleways.
Theft is demoralizing for retailers and affects profit margins. It is easier to prevent theft if you train your sales associates to prevent it as well. Customers can't steal if your floor plan discourages it, and you are attentive to their needs. When you are helping someone, it's harder for them to steal.
Answering customer questions is an important part of a sales associate's job. Your representatives have the opportunity to build relationships with customers while sharing their knowledge of your brand and products. In return, shoppers get an experience they can’t replicate online.
Customer service skills are largely dependent on how well you train your staff. If you don't give your sales associates access to answers, they can't answer questions.
Providing recommendations for products is part of a retail associate's job. They need to have a good sense of the products your store sells and the problem-solving skills to figure out what customers want.
If a Lego store ran out of the Millennium Falcon build set, for example, a savvy retail associate might suggest the Imperial Star Destroyer build set. They could also recommend the R2D2 build set to a Millenium Falcon fan to tide them over while waiting for new stock to arrive.
Check out customers
Processing a purchase is the last step in an associate's interaction with a customer. There's more to it than just running credit cards and cash registers.
Typically, retail associates ask customers about their shopping experience and if they need anything else. You'll get customer feedback quickly that way and give your shop associates a chance to impress.
💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS has a fully-customizable checkout experience. Create shortcuts to keep your most-used apps, promotions, and products at your fingertips so you can fly through checkout.
Open and close the store
Opening and closing your store involves more than simply turning a key. A good retail associate will make sure they’re on time and that the store is set up for success before they open or close those doors. That means:
- Tidying up the sales floor and making sure it’s presentable to customers
- Taking inventory
- Making sure POS stations are in proper working order (running any needed software updates, or charging batteries if you have handheld POS devices)
- Make sure cashier stations are stocked (pens, receipt paper, shopping bags, etc)
- Handling cashout/reports of registers
- Turning on/off the lights
Businesses will often have a sales manager oversee or perform the opening and closing of a store, rather than an entry-level employee. Whoever you decide to allocate this duty to, a store opening and closing checklist is a good idea.
Retail associate skills
- Point of Sale (POS) experience
- Ability to multitask
- Basic math skills
- Time management
- Inventory knowledge
A good retail associate requires a number of skills. If you can find someone with a great attitude and the desire to learn, most of these retail skills can be taught.
Empathy is recognizing, sharing, and feeling another person's emotions and thoughts. Retail associates need empathy to understand the needs of their customers as well as their fellow employees.
A Harvard Business Review study found that empathic companies outperform their callous counterparts by 20%.
Retail associates are part of the staff of your business. Your staff needs to be able to work well together in order to serve customers effectively.
Good interpersonal skills are essential in any field that involves people. Service quality will only be as good as a retail associate's communication skills.
There are many forms of interpersonal skills that you should consider, beyond verbal communication. Understanding body language, how to approach people, and how to build relationships are all part of communication. Customer and employee communication will reflect your brand.
Retail associates ultimately sell your products or services. You'll be better off if you give them the right kind of sales experience. Make sure they:
- Genuinely care about your customers instead of just hitting sales targets
- Upsell without being too pushy
- Make shopping a positive experience for every customer
💡 PRO TIP: Try using apps to upsell and cross-sell more effectively. Apps like Marsello and Frequently Bought Together integrate with Shopify POS and recommend products to store staff based on what they’ve added to a customer’s cart, making it easier than ever to suggest relevant products, increase basket sizes and order value.
Point of Sale (POS) experience
Your POS will handle all of your customers’ financial transactions and track your inventory. It's not essential that your associates be familiar with your specific POS system, but it will simplify your business. Make sure that your associates can accurately perform customer transactions using your POS system so that your records won't be affected.
“With a growing team, it is great to be able to onboard new staff members very quickly,” says Paulinho Chin, Ecommerce Director for Filling Pieces. “The Shopify POS checkout process is intuitive—they watch a video of how the Shopify POS app works and they’re often good to go.”
📌 GET STARTED: With Shopify, it’s easy to customize your POS system and extend its capabilities. Find apps built by our trusted partners the Shopify App Store to help you do anything–from counting foot traffic, to launching a loyalty program and more.
Ability to multitask
Most stores cannot afford to have a one-to-one customer to retail associate ratio. Associates must therefore be multitaskers.
For instance, a good retail associate working in an Allbirds store would have to restock their men's tree runner sneakers while also keeping an eye out for any customers who might have questions. Retail becomes a fast-paced environment on high-sales days like Black Friday, so having employees who can multitask well can bring success to your business.
Basic math skills
Your associates will deal with money, count inventory, and maybe even give customers estimates. For them to be successful, they must be familiar with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
A good retail associate manages their time well. This will both increase their individual productivity and maintain a friendly work environment by not overburdening other team members.
Display a chart showing how long certain tasks should take and reward employees who meet those time markers with gift cards or extra in-store discounts.
You can't sell something you don't understand. Knowing your products is an essential skill for your sales associates, so they can tell your customers why they should buy your products in a genuine and persuasive way. Only then will they be able to find products your customers will find useful.
“Inventory is easier to manage when stock levels are balanced in real time as you sell online and in person,” says Felix Illett, Head of Sales, Master Zimi. “We can sell with confidence knowing the inventory availability we show customers online is accurate, and the inventory levels our staff see in the POS system is, as well.”
💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS comes with tools to help you control and manage your inventory across multiple store locations, your online store, and warehouse. Forecast demand, set low-stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.
How to hire a retail associate
- Build job description
- Place ads
- Interview candidates
- Extend offer
There are several ways to find retail associates that suit your store, including word of mouth, Indeed, or the local paper's classifieds. The approach you take can impact the quality of hire you find, so let’s look at how best to hire a retail associate.
1. Build job description
To begin, your retail sales associate job description needs to be clear. Here are the things you should include at a minimum:
- Job title
- Part-time or full-time requirements
- Minimum age requirement
- Minimum education requirement
- Pay rate
2. Place ads
Place ads on sites and platforms that will reach your target employee. Promote your job listing to local workers on some of the following online job boards:
3. Interview candidates
Once you get some applicants, it's time to interview them. The resume only tells you where they've worked, not whether they would be a good fit for your team.
Refer to the skills and qualifications you're looking for in an associate when preparing your interview questions. You can ask questions about:
- Credential verification
- Experience verification
- Competency-based questions
- Behavioral questions
- Outside-of-the-box questions
4. Extend offer
The final step in the hiring process is to extend an employment offer to the candidate(s) you think is right for the job. Attach an employment contract to your offer to protect both you and the potential employee. A contract should include the job description, the salary or hourly wage (including any benefits), and the terms of employment.
When both parties sign the contract, you've got a new retail associate.
Future of the retail associate
The retail landscape is constantly changing. With ecommerce set to account for 23% of all retail sales by 2027 and social commerce taking off globally, the retail store and by proxy retail associates have had to evolve to keep up with technology and consumer habits.
Here are the main trends for which you can train your retail associates and offer customers something new.
In-store retail can stay competitive by offering virtual shopping. Customers browse a store's catalog online, then either via video, chat, or text, they can see items in real time in the store with the assistance of in-store associates.
There are now even metaverse-based shopping platforms like Obsess. Obsess creates metaverse stores to help you sell your physical and digital products. Included in its client list are Nars, Ralph Lauren, and General Mills.
Experiential retail is another way the role of a retail associate has evolved. Live music, accessible technology in-store, creating community spaces, and more are all part of this. Casper, for example, offers customers a 30-minute shopping experience to test its sleeping products in store.
- Free in-store pickup
- Price matches
- In-store returns and exchanges for items bought in their online store
- Having some items only available in their brick-and-mortar stores
- In-store only deals
💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify, you can get your products found by more nearby shoppers looking for what you sell on Google. Sync your store’s products with Google, create free listings, and manage online and in-store pickup orders from Shopify.
Find the right retail associates for your store
Your retail associates are the key to getting your customers to spend money in your store and to keep coming back.
If you do a good job of hiring and training the right people for your store, you’ll find that your sales will increase and your business flourish. Invest in your retail associates; they are the key to your business’s success.
Retail associate FAQ
Is a retail associate the same as a cashier?
No, a retail associate and a cashier are not the same. A retail associate is someone who works in a retail environment, performing tasks such as customer service, stocking shelves, and helping customers find what they need. A cashier is a specific role within a retail environment, usually responsible for operating a cash register and processing payments.
What's the difference between a sales associate and a retail associate?
A sales associate is someone who works in a retail setting and is responsible for selling products and services to customers, while a retail associate is someone who works in a retail setting and is responsible for stocking shelves, assisting customers, and managing inventory. Sales associates typically focus more on customer service and sales goals, while retail associates focus more on backroom tasks and operations.
What is the average salary of a retail associate?
The average salary of a retail associate can vary widely depending on factors such as location, store type, and the associate's level of experience. It's best to check local job listings or salary comparison websites for accurate information.
Do retail associates require any specific qualifications?
While a high school diploma or equivalent is often required, most retail associate roles prioritize skills such as customer service, communication, and basic math over formal education. Some stores may provide on-the-job training.