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8 Retail Skills Every Sales Associate Needs to Have

Working in retail is challenging. It’s a tough but necessary job, and retail sales associates rarely get the respect that they deserve. Instead, they’re subject to irate customers, exhausting work, and odd hours.

Dealing with a stressful job in retail requires certain skills to stay sane, let alone productive. If you want to succeed in your retail job, you need to ensure that you continue to improve on eight essential skills.

If you’re on the other side of the table and are looking to hire a retail sales associate, these are the skills and character traits you’ll want to see in them before you bring them on board.

1. Ability to Keep Cool Under Stress

Working in retail is one of the most stressful jobs you can have. It’s not uncommon for customers to come into the store and blame sales associates for things that they have no control over, like accepting a return for an item without a receipt.

Additionally, sales associates may find themselves struggling to balance several tasks at once, like answering the phone, juggling three different customers, and refilling the receipt paper at the register. Of course, when customers are asked to wait or aren’t given undivided attention, they can become aggressive as well.

No matter how unpleasant a customer is or how many tasks a sales associate needs to work on at once, the sales associate needs to be able to keep calm and remain professional. This is one of the hardest parts of the job, but it’s a skill that needs constant attention.

Luckily, working this out on the sales floor can transfer over to dealing with other stressful situations that will arise throughout life, so it’s helpful to remind yourself or your team members of that as they develop this skill.

2. Patience

Patience goes hand in hand with the skill we just discussed, as it’s impossible to stay cool and relaxed if you haven’t developed any patience.

But patience also applies to other areas of the sales associate job. Many times, you may be expecting to make a sale, only to find that a customer wants to take things much slower. They may ask you many different questions, come in several times to look at an item before making a purchase, or even just take a long time to get their credit card out of their wallet or sort through their change.

In these situations, sales associates will need to remain patient. Asking customers to hurry up – no matter how nicely they do so – or attempting to be pushy often can sink a sale and make the customer think poorly of the store as a whole. At worst, this could lead to bad reviews of the store.

3. Active Listening

When people imagine a salesperson, they often think of someone who talks a lot and tries to convince a customer to buy a product – hence the classic “sell me this pen” test.

But a truly great retail sales associate knows that listening to a customer’s needs is far more important than extolling the benefits of a particular product. The reality is that not every product is right for everyone, and trying to convince everyone that walks through the front doors to buy is going to be wasted effort.

Sales associates are there to assist customers in finding what they’re looking for. To do that, they need to be able to listen carefully to their needs and alter their strategy accordingly.

4. Empathy

Alongside active listening, successful sales associates need to use empathy to help them make sense of what they’ve just heard from the customer.

For example, if an elderly person comes into an electronics store complaining that they aren’t good with technology, the sales associate should use their empathy skills to understand that they need to restrict their recommendations to products that are easy to use and intuitive.

5. Ability to Keep Moving for Hours Every Day

Retail work isn’t usually thought of as manual labor, but it takes a surprising amount of physical effort to be a retail sales associate.

Typically, sales associates are required to stand at their registers for the entirety of their shifts (outside of lunch breaks), which can be as long as 8 hours. During that time, they also may need to get up to assist customers, take items down from high shelves, lift heavy items, and more.

6. Knowledge of Your Product Catalog (Or the Ability to Learn About It)

Customers come to sales associates for their knowledge and ability to answer their questions. Without understanding the ins and outs of the product catalog, a sales associate won’t be able to help them.

Sales associates don’t always need to come into their positions knowing everything about the products they sell, but at the very least, they need to be willing and able to learn about them. Being a fast learner can therefore be extremely helpful as a retail sales associate.

7. Ability to Multitask

Retail sales associates are rarely able to focus on one task at a time. On a normal workday, they may be asked to answer the phones, restock the shelves, and take care of multiple customers at once.

Successful associates need to be skilled multi-taskers who can balance several jobs at once without letting the quality of any of them suffer.

8. Basic Math Skills

Sales associates don’t need to be experts in topology, calculus, and linear algebra, but having some basic arithmetical skills can be helpful.

For example, sales associates should be able to make estimates for how much a sale would take off of the full price of an item, and they should be able to count change quickly.

Key Takeaways

Retail sales associates don’t get nearly enough credit for the tough job that they perform. To be successful in retail, you need skills that are truly difficult to master.

Most of these skills come in time, so what’s more important than anything is the willingness and desire to improve them through practice.

Sam Molony

Sam Molony is the marketing strategist at ZoomShift, the leading employee scheduling software. When Sam's not publishing or promoting new content you can find him playing his guitar or baking.

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