What a Retail Associate Does (+ How to Hire One)

Retail associate opening store

Excellent retail associates are the secret behind successful retail stores. 

Associates are the face of your brand, welcoming customers and answering their questions, stocking inventory, and creating an exceptional shopping experience. Retail analysts like Natalie Berg suggest that as retail becomes more service-oriented, the associate’s role will continue to evolve.

But hiring the right retail associate is tough. Each one comes from a different background and has different goals and experiences. In this guide, you’ll learn the role of retail associates, how to hire them, and what the future holds for the industry. 

What is a retail associate?

A retail sales associate assists your customers with whatever they need. This can include processing payments, keeping the sales floor organized and stocked, and answering questions. An excellent sales associate, however, can offer much more to your business.

Staffing is always going to be one of the biggest challenges for any retailer. Employees will all have different backgrounds, experiences, and goals with their employment history. The challenge is to figure out what makes the staff member happy and want to come to work every day.

What does a retail associate do?

  • Opening and closing the store
  • Managing inventory
  • Visual merchandising
  • Cleaning the store
  • Mitigating theft
  • Greeting customers
  • Answering questions
  • Recommending products
  • Checking out customers

Retail sales associates are the face of your company. As retail associates carry out logistical, financial, and customer-related tasks, they can increase repeat business and help establish your brand's reputation. 

Opening and closing the store

Opening and closing your store involves more than simply turning a key. A good retail associate will make sure that they’re on time and that the store is set up for success before they open or close those doors. That means doing things like:

  • Turning on/off the lights
  • Tidying up the sales floor and making sure it’s presentable to customers
  • Restocking
  • 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

This is a lot of responsibility, so 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. 


Assign staff roles and permissions with Shopify

With Shopify POS, you can create as many staff roles as you want. Use roles and permissions to manage the features your staff can use and the information they can view in just a few clicks.


Managing inventory

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. The CEO and president of Datascan, Adrian Thomas, said in a recent podcast that "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". 

Higher levels of inventory accuracy can actually drive sales.

Adrian Thomas, CEO of Datascan

Related Reading: Manage, Monitor, and Move Your Inventory With the Shopify Mobile App

💡 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.

Visual merchandising

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.

Cleaning the store

Your sales associates will also be responsible for keeping your store clean.

64% of shoppers said they left a store due to poor appearance and disorganization, according to a survey conducted by Servicechannel.

Cleanliness is important, not only so that customers will want to enter your store, but also for safety. You don't want your employees or customers to get injured because of clutter in the entrance and in the aisleways. 

Mitigating theft

For a small business, theft is demoralizing 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 floorplan discourages it, and you are attentive to their needs. When you are helping someone, it's harder for them to steal. 

Greeting customers

Walmart was one of the first big box retailers to hire professional greeters. The reason they did this was that they understood 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

Answering questions

Answering customer questions is an important part of a sales associate's job. This is what makes shopping in person different from shopping online. Your representatives have the opportunity to build relationships with customers while explaining your brand and company's vision. 

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.

💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify POS, you can assign different roles and permissions and set boundaries on what store staff can do in your POS system without manager approval—like changing a product’s price or applying a custom discount to a sale.

Recommending products

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.

Checking 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.

Retail associate skills and qualifications

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Sales
  • Point of Sale (POS) experience
  • Ability to multitask
  • Basic math skills
  • Time management
  • Inventory knowledge

A good retail associate requires a number of skills and qualifications. If you can find someone with a great attitude and the desire to learn, most of these retail skills can be taught.

Empathy

​​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.

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.

A Harvard Business Review study found that empathic companies outperform their callous counterparts by 20%.

Training tip: Look into team-building exercises and outings to help foster empathy amongst your retail associates.

Communication

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. Getting to know body language, how to approach people, and how to build relationships are all part of communication. Customer and employee communication will reflect your brand.

Training tip: Have a clear company policy that describes how you expect employees to communicate. 

Sales

Ultimately, retail associates sell your products or services. You'll be better off if you give them the right kind of sales experience. Make sure they know how to:

  • Genuinely care about your customers instead of just hitting sales targets
  • Upsell without being too pushy
  • Make shopping a positive experience for every customer

Training tip: Go through mock sales opportunities so your staff can see good examples of effective sales skills.

💡 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 life. Make sure that your associates can accurately perform customer transactions using your POS system so that your records won't be affected.

Read more: How to Choose the Best Retail Point-of-Sale (POS) System

With a growing team, it is great to be able to onboard new staff members very quickly. The 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 associate ratio. Retail 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 sneaker 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. 

Training tip: Have new retail associates shadow veteran employees of your store. This will give them ideas on how to most effectively prioritize tasks as well as on how the store works.

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.

Time management

Time is money, as the saying goes. That's why 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. 

Training tip: 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.

Inventory knowledge

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. 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

  1. Build job description
  2. Place ads
  3. Interview candidates
  4. 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
  • Employee type (part-time or full-time?)
  • Job description 
  • 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
  • Opinions
  • 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 are 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!

Learn more: Find the Best Fit: How to Hire Employees for Your Retail Store

Free Guide: Interview Questions for Hiring Retail Employees

Hiring competent retail employees is becoming increasingly challenging. Use this guide to ask the right questions during the interview process to ensure you hire the right people for your store.

Future of the retail associate

Ecommerce is projected to take over 24% of the retail market by 2025. With the increase in ecommerce and the boom in social media, the retail store and associate have had to evolve to keep up with technology and demand.

Virtual shopping

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

Providing experiences inside retail stores 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. 

Showrooming

Showrooming is the practice of trying out a product at a brick-and-mortar store before buying it online for a cheaper price. Retailers are working on solutions such as:

  • 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

According to customer service expert Shep Hyken, “Customer service shouldn’t cost. It should pay”. 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. All that is to say, invest in your retail associates; they are the key to your business’s success.

Manage growing retail teams with Shopify POS

Shopify POS has built-in tools to support your retail team’s growth. Add unlimited staff accounts, and set roles and permissions to manage the features your staff can use and the information they can view in just a few clicks.