What retail skills do you need for a sales assistant job?

The retail skills you need to be a great sales assistant can be learned on the job, but you might already have them – and once you know what they are, you can build them over time. Once you have these skills in place, so many retail careers are open to you!

If you’ve got the skills below, you’ll impress interviewers at retail job interviews of all kinds – including sales assistant jobs. Which skills do you already have? Which skills would you need to work on? They could help you sell your way to the top in the retail career of your dreams, even if you don’t have a degree. They will help you progress in other careers too!

Customer problem solving skills

You’re there to help with customer queries and help their problems melt away.

When a customer comes into a store and asks you a question, they have a problem and they expect you to solve it. In the world of retail, customer problems might include wanting to know where a product is in the store, or if it is in stock. They may be requesting a refund.

The best way to tackle problem solving as a retail skill is…

Be prepared

Get to know your retail environment as well as you can, as quickly as you can. Learn the location of any bathrooms, stairs, escalators,  help desk and product departments. Pay attention to signs and how products are grouped on the shelves. The quicker you know the retail space you work in, the easier it is for you to help out customers who are lost.

Ask questions

Ask your manager and team members questions to help you know in advance how to handle a customer’s problem. For example, ask your manager how to handle customers who want a refund, or customers who demand to see the manager. Once you know what to do in situations like these you can help customers with their problems much more quickly.

Problem solving is a Young Professional skill that may sound very technical, but really it’s about keeping a clear head to find a solution.

Communication skills in retail

Talking, listening and forming bonds is all part of a great sales technique that comes across as authentic and genuine.

Retail careers are all about helping the process of buying and selling in stores go smoothly. Buying and selling is all about forming a connection with the customer. If you are on the shop floor as a sales assistant, you are working face to face with customers, so you need good communication skills!

One of the most important retail skills you can pick up is active listening. This means really listening to what the customer wants, not just letting the words wash over you. Active listening is one of the most important parts of empathy, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. As you can imagine, empathy is very important in retail. If a customer is panicking about getting the perfect bridesmaid dress or not sure how to go about choosing makeup that suits them, a good sales assistant really listens to their needs and then uses their problem solving skills to offer at least one solution, if not more.

Listening is so important in retail, but you won’t be surprised to learn that speaking is important too. Can you recommend a product you know would satisfy the customer’s needs and make them feel like it would make their life a little better if they bought it? Can you make an angry customer feel like their complaint is being taken seriously and that they are in good hands? Great sales technique is down to how well you can understand, connect with and form a bond with the customer.

As a sales assistant, your good communication skills are likely to take the form of friendliness with a customer. You don’t need to be loud, just give the impression through words, eye contact and body language of being welcoming and ready to help.

Teamwork skills in retail

Great sales assistants knows they’re part of a bigger team.

Your job as a sales assistant is to help customers choose which goods they want, process payments, and maintain a solid level of customer service with your great customer service skills. You’re not going it alone – you’re part of a team! You are always thinking of others.

Examples of using teamwork to boost your retail skills:

  • Covering shifts for other employees – they would do the same for you
  • Pulling together in busy periods like the Christmas shopping season or Black Friday
  • Asking your manager in advance how to deal with common retail situations like customers demanding a refund
  • Working where you’re needed most, whether it’s on the tills, in the stockroom or on the shop floor.
  • Help colleagues if they are struggling with customer queries or workloads.

You can use your teamwork skills for great customer service too, by offering them a range of choices with the benefits of each, and helping them feel part of the decision-making. This will help customers feel in control, and not like they are being force-fed a particular product that may not suit them. Find out more about teamwork skills here.

Self management skills in retail

Your manager can’t be watching over you every second of the working day. Good retail skills involve being able to manage your own time.

What do you do when there is a quiet period? There are hundreds of ways to play an active role as a sales assistant when things are quiet. Take the initiative and ask your manager if they would like you to tidy up products on the shelves or check the stock levels.

Can you prioritise which tasks are the most important? Can you multitask, and handle customer enquiries from more than one customer while you are keeping the shop floor neat and tidy? Being organised means keeping your cool and being able to handle more than one task at once – or knowing how to shrink the number of tasks while still providing good customer service. For instance, you’ll know that customer queries take priority over longer tasks like stock checking. If one customer interrupts while you are serving another, you can decide if their problem is easily solved – like directing them to the area where they can find a product they are looking for – or if it might take longer. If they need your sales help, you can politely say you’ll be with them shortly, or direct them to another sales assistant who is free and able to help.

Self management is all about being organised. You can organise stock on the shop floor, and you can organise how you spend your time productively in your working hours.

Self belief skills in retail

Self belief is all about staying motivated and keeping a positive attitude. In retail, a positive attitude is absolutely vital!

Have you noticed how the best sales assistants always seem to be friendly and have time for you as a customer, even when they’re busy? One of the most important retail skills is having a positive attitude.

Never frown, cuss, gossip or be rude about anyone on the shop floor. This is just going to spoil a customer’s shopping experience. They want the shop to be a haven where they can forget about their cares, and sales assistants play a big part in giving them that positive retail experience.

Always stay calm, even when the customer is angry. They are usually only angry because they have a problem and they are worried it can’t be solved. Treat them like their problem matters, and show them you are doing everything you can to find a solutions. If you serve a difficult customer, bounce back quickly. Don’t fret over it – stay positive and move on with your day.

Stay patient, and really be there for the customer. The customer might keep changing their mind, or ask you to run back to the store room multiple times, or they might be slow for any number of reasons in an environment which is typically fast-paced. Don’t worry – stay sunny. You can help them through this!

Remember, a positive attitude is like a cold – it spreads and anyone can catch it. When you stay positive, you are lifting the spirits of all the other retail employees on the team, making their job easier. Customers can recognise you as a welcoming and supportive presence, and your positivity makes their day a little brighter.

Be ready and motivated to learn new things. Treat your probation period – and every day – as a chance to learn something new about how the world of retail works. Many heads of office in the retail sector started out as shop assistants. This motivation to learn new things could not only help you be great at your job but also lead to promotion, as managers spot you are keen to soak up as much retail knowledge as you can. Your willingness to learn new things – from handling cash to health and safety standards to promoting new offers or arranging displays – could help you find out what you like best about a retail career. Merchandising? E commerce? Sales, management or the business side of things? Whatever you are most interested in could lead to great opportunities. Soak up the basics and show you’re ready to take on extra responsibilities and training.

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