Sales Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

As a sales assistant, you would help customers and play an important role in making their shopping experience enjoyable. You could work in all kinds of retail outlets, including supermarkets, clothing retailers and department stores.

Your work could include:

  • Serving and advising customers.
  • Taking payment by cash or card.
  • Helping customers to find the goods they want.
  • Advising on the availability of stock.
  • Giving information on products and prices.
  • Stacking shelves or displaying goods in an attractive way.
  • Promoting any special offers or store cards.
  • Ordering goods that are unavailable.
  • Handling any complaints or passing them on to a manager.

In some stores, for example mobile phone shops, DIY or electrical goods stores, you would be expected to have detailed specialist product knowledge.

In smaller independent shops, your duties would be more varied, and may include arranging window displays and receiving stock deliveries.

In a full-time job you would normally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, possibly including weekends and evenings. Part-time work is very common and you may work a shift pattern.

You would spend a lot of time on your feet and may need to lift and carry items of stock. You would often be expected to wear a uniform.

Full-time salaries can be between £11,000 and £15,000 a year. Supervisors can earn between £15,000 and £20,000 a year.

Many larger retail companies also offer benefits like staff discounts, commission and bonus schemes.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The retail sector employs around three million people, or 11% of the UK's workforce.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press, Jobcentre Plus, on employers' own websites and instore.

Education and Training

Most employers will be more interested in your 'people skills' and positive attitude than your formal qualifications. However, you will be expected to have a reasonable standard of maths, as you will be handling cash and checking stock levels.

You will be at an advantage when applying for retail jobs if you have experience of working with the public and of handling cash. Many stores recruit temporary staff at busy times such as Christmas, and this can be a good way of getting experience that can lead to a permanent job.

You may be able to get into the retail industry through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.

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

Most of your training would be on the job. Larger retailers often have structured in-house training schemes, both when you start your job and also for ongoing training throughout your career.

Your training may include the chance to gain work-based qualifications such as Certificates and Diplomas in Retail Skills at levels 1, 2 and 3, with possible specialisations in:

- Retail Knowledge
- Sales Professional
- Visual Merchandising
- Retail Management.

The certificates and diplomas are awarded by bodies including ABC Awards, City & Guilds, Edexcel and OCR, and may be available at local colleges and National Retail Skills Academy training centres.

You may also receive other training particular to your job, such as food hygiene training if you work with fresh produce such as fish or meats.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An sales assistant needs:

  • Good communication and 'people skills'.
  • The ability to work as part of a team.
  • An approachable, polite and helpful manner.
  • Confidence and tact, for dealing with demanding customers.
  • Basic mathematical skills, for handling payments and stock checks.
  • Plenty of stamina.
  • A reliable and responsible attitude.
  • Trustworthiness.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects can be good, especially in larger companies committed to staff training.

With experience, you could progress into management, or into retail merchandising.

Get Further Information

British Independent Retailers Association, 225 Bristol Road, Edgbaston,
Birmingham B5 7UB

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