Retail Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Retail assistants are the face of retailing. Their job is to create the right image to make customers feel at ease when browsing and purchasing products. They achieve this by:

  • Restocking shelves and making sure merchandise is presented neatly.
  • Greeting customers.
  • Answering enquiries about products.
  • Showing customers the different options and demonstrating product benefits.
  • Checking whether items are in stock.
  • Operating computerised tills and barcode readers to scan items.
  • Accepting payments for goods, which may include cash, cheques, credit/debit payments and vouchers.
  • Wrapping items and removing security tags.
  • Issuing gift vouchers.
  • Keeping the store clean and tidy.

Their work varies depending on the type of business and the size and structure of the organisation.

Employers expect retail assistants to have detailed product knowledge and a genuine interest in the items they sell. A retail assistant may also be involved in:

  • Accepting deliveries of stock, checking off items against a delivery sheet.
  • Arranging for the delivery of goods to customers.
  • Explaining special offers and finance options to customers.
  • Dealing with complaints about faulty products, issuing refunds, credit vouchers or product exchanges.
  • Setting up window and in-store displays.
  • Changing promotional point-of-sale material.
  • Reducing items nearing their sell-by date or preparing for seasonal sales.
  • Counting items for stock-taking checks.

Retail assistants usually move around the shop floor. Some may be positioned on a till, behind a counter or operate dressing room facilities, checking items in and out.

Full-time retail assistants usually work 37 to 40 hours a week over five days. They may work variable shift patterns as many retail stores are open in the evenings, at weekends and on bank holidays. Part-time work is widely available.

The work environment is generally clean and well lit, often in air-conditioned buildings. It can be a busy and physically demanding job, requiring standing for long periods, or lifting and moving stock.

Large organisations, where customers are dealt with face-to-face, often provide staff with a uniform. A smart personal appearance is important. Fashion stores may provide a clothing allowance.

Starting salaries may be around £9,000 a year for a full-time retail assistant. Many larger stores offer benefits such as staff discounts and bonus schemes. Working shifts and overtime may also increase hourly rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Many organisations employ retail assistants, including High Street chain stores, supermarkets, wholesalers, local shops, farmers markets and market stalls. These outlets sell a full spectrum of goods, products and services, including food, fashion, electrical goods, furniture, as well as offering personal shopping and home improvement services.

There are around 3 million people working in the retail sector in the UK, with more than 1.8 million people employed as retail assistants. Nearly half of all retail sales personnel work part time. Jobs are available throughout the country. Many retailers are based within towns and cities, or large out-of-town shopping centres.

Although competition in the retail sector is becoming increasingly intense, the number of sales jobs remains stable. There is always a demand for skilled, experienced retail assistants.

Vacancies are often advertised in local newspapers. Large retailers may also advertise jobs and training schemes on their websites or in Connexions centres or Jobcentre Plus offices. There are also specialist online retail recruitment agencies, including, and

Education and Training

There are no formal academic requirements to work as a retail assistant. Employers set their own entry requirements, but usually look for a good general education and pleasant personality.

At entry level, some organisations require at least two to four GCSE's/three to five S grades (A-C/1-3). Employers may set basic tests in maths and English at interviews. Many stores value evidence of interest in retail, such as experience of working in a Saturday or holiday job.

Retail Apprenticeships are widely available, helping new entrants to determine which areas interest them most, whilst learning and developing core skills. The route and training structure will depend upon the type of store.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Employers usually provide comprehensive training for retail assistants. Induction programmes at the start of employment usually cover statutory areas like health and safety, food safety, hazardous substances and company policies. New employees then usually work alongside experienced retail assistants, under guidance from a supervisor/team leader or manager.

Some stores also provide training sessions when the store is closed. Those working on tills in large superstores can usually complete computer-based training packages, learning how to handle payments and other transactions in a simulated environment.

Large companies may also encourage trainees to attend college or take part in internal training. Trainees may be able to join a structured training scheme in their store, with periods of on and off-the-job training.

They may study for qualifications such as:

  • NVQ/SVQ in Retail Operations at Levels 2 and 3.
  • NVQ/SVQ in Distributive Operations at Level 1.
  • OCR Certificate in Retail at Level 2.
  • City & Guilds Certificate in Retailing.
  • Education Development International (EDI) Certificate in Retail Operations at Levels 2 and 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A retail assistant needs:

  • To be friendly and approachable, with a polite and helpful manner.
  • Good communication skills.
  • To be confident and diplomatic with customers, even when they are difficult or rude.
  • To be accurate and thorough, even under pressure.
  • A smart personal appearance.
  • Good mental arithmetic skills.
  • To be trustworthy - they may be dealing with expensive products and large amounts of cash.
  • Good keyboard skills and some knowledge of computers to keep up to date with changing till technologies.
  • To understand and follow company policies for health and safety and hygiene.
  • Stamina, in order to serve on the shop floor for long periods.

Your Long Term Prospects

Retail assistants with enthusiasm and experience can progress quickly to a team leader/supervisor or store management position. Internal promotions are common.

Many of the large retailers offer fast-track trainee management programmes to retail assistants who have demonstrated the right qualities.

Once experienced, some people choose to move into related jobs within retail operations, such as merchandising or buying.

Advanced level retail qualifications, including BTEC HNC in Retail Management or a degree in business or retail management can aid progression to management level jobs.

Get Further Information

The British Retail Consortium, Second Floor,
21 Dartmouth Street, London SW1H 9BP
Tel: 020 7854 8900

British Shops and Stores Association Limited (BSSA),
Middleton House, 2 Main Road, Middleton Cheney,
Banbury, Oxfordshire OX17 2TN
Tel: 01295 712277

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