What does a shop assistant do? (With skills and tips)

Updated 12 September 2023

Shop assistant, sales assistant and retail assistant are different titles that describe the same position, which is a person who supports a retail shop in its daily operations. These professionals help shops achieve more sales by carrying out various activities, such as restocking shelves, resolving complaints and working on the tills. Understanding more about a shop assistant role and the skills required may help you decide whether the career is right for you. In this article, we answer 'What does a shop assistant do?', outline the skills shop assistants use and provide some tips for highlighting these traits.

What is a shop assistant?

Shop assistants are people who help retail stores facilitate sales by carrying out various duties. They're primarily customer service professionals, and they use their knowledge and expertise to aid people in the shopping process. In addition, they help shops remain presentable by organising stock and placing items in locations where they can attract the most sales. If customers have queries when shopping, such as questions about stock or asking for suggestions on what to purchase, a shop assistant can offer their insight and solicit sales. Depending on the shop, the exact role and responsibilities of shop assistants can differ.

Related: What is a sales job? (With examples of common sales roles)

What does a shop assistant do?

In answer to 'What does a shop assistant do?', it can be helpful to consider who they work for and what they sell. A shop assistant in a technology store, for example, may possess a good understanding of electronic devices and might be able to offer useful information to shoppers to help them make decisions about what devices to buy. In contrast, a shop assistant working in a clothing store may understand fashion and how to create stylish outfits. While the items sold differ between stores, the shop assistant's role is essentially consistent, as they help to facilitate sales, whatever the products may be.

Besides using their knowledge of the shop's products to advise customers, these professionals also support shops in various other ways. Here are some of their typical duties:

  • Processing and organising shipments: When suppliers deliver stock to stores, shop assistants process them and organise the items. This ensures they're in a tidy central location where the assistant can access them when restocking shelves.

  • Ensuring the right stock is on shelves: It's the retail assistant's job to check what stock is on the shelves and restock depleted items. This ensures prospective buyers can always access the items they want.

  • Directing customers within stores: Some large stores rely on shop assistants to give customers directions, as some items may be challenging to locate. This may involve directing customers to specific aisles or other locations within stores.

  • Soliciting sales by informing people of promotional offers: Retail assistants help to sell products by informing people of deals and discounts. This can help stores sell more items.

  • Price auditing: To ensure there are no price discrepancies or other problems with pricing, these professionals conduct regular price audits. This involves checking price tags and comparing them to current prices.

  • Cleaning: After shifts, sales assistants typically help with cleaning duties. Among these duties include sweeping, mopping and wiping surfaces.

  • Resolving customer complaints: As customer service professionals, retail assistants often deal with customer complaints and use their training to resolve problems. For example, if a customer receives a defective product, the sales assistant may source a replacement.

  • Answering customer queries: Customers often have questions when shopping for items, such as whether the shop stocks any different sizes of clothing. These professionals use their knowledge of what's in stock to provide customers with what they need.

  • Processing transactions: Shop assistants typically spend time processing transactions on tills, particularly when queues are long. This involves scanning items, calculating totals, taking money and giving change.

  • Offering suggestions to customers: To help stores improve sales, these shop assistants offer their expertise by suggesting outfit pairings or similar advice on what's best to purchase. This provides value to both customers and stores.

Shop assistants may do more or less of these duties depending on their employer and the size of the store. For example, a shop assistant working in a small corner shop may spend more time stocking shelves, processing transactions and cleaning compared to an assistant in a large retail store. Conversely, retail assistants in larger stores may play a more significant customer service role, such as by answering questions and giving directions.

Related: Sales assistant skills: examples and definitions

Shop assistant skills

To improve your employability and bolster your CV, develop the skills needed for a job as a sales assistant. Here are some skills that can help you succeed in this role:

  • Knowledge of sales techniques: The most valuable shop assistants are those who can persuade prospective buyers to purchase items and who can up-sell products. This goes beyond customer service and has a direct impact on the shop's profitability, which is valuable to businesses.

  • Communication skills: A large part of the job involves interacting with all kinds of people. It's vital for shop assistants to be effective at communicating with all customers, regardless of their background.

  • Organisational skills: To keep shops presentable and the stock well-organised, retail assistants require good organisational skills. This helps them ensure items are neat and in the most appropriate locations.

  • Strong memory: A strong memory can help these professionals succeed in their jobs because it enables them to answer customer queries effectively. Remembering what's in the stockroom, for example, allows shop assistants to help customers who want something that isn't out on display.

  • Customer service skills: Being primarily a customer service job, these skills are imperative. Speaking to customers politely, being helpful and making their visit to the shop a pleasant one all constitute good customer service.

  • Degree of physical fitness: The job typically requires shop assistants to walk around on shop floors for extended periods. For this reason, a reasonable level of physical fitness is beneficial.

  • Product knowledge: Having a deep understanding of the products that stores sell can make shop assistants much more valuable employees. The reason for this is that having extensive knowledge of the shop's products enables them to answer customer queries much more effectively and make helpful suggestions.

Related: 12 careers in retailing (with salaries and duties)

Tips for highlighting your skills as a shop assistant

When applying for shop assistant vacancies, it's essential to show recruiters that you have the desired skills. To help you do this, here are some tips for highlighting your skills in your CV, cover letter and job interviews:

Sales assistant skills in your CV and cover letter

To improve your chances of receiving interview invitations, it's vital to tailor your CV to the job to which you're applying. This means reviewing the job description and noting which keywords appear frequently, in bold or as sub-headings. These keywords represent the attributes the recruiter looks for, so by listing the ones you have in your CV and cover letter, you can show that you're a good candidate. These positions typically require people with skills like:

  • cooperation

  • customer service

  • sales knowledge

Consider listing these skills in a prominent location on your CV or in a summary statement. An effective way to demonstrate your skills is by describing a time when you used them in a previous role. You can do this in your cover letter. For example, you might say In my previous role, cooperation and customer service were essential skills. If a customer enquired about an item that wasn't on display, I'd relay this to the team in the stockroom, who'd then source the item for me to retrieve. This cooperation helped me serve customers quickly and effectively.

Sales assistant skills in an interview

It's also necessary to convey your skills at the interview stage and to substantiate your skills and experience with real-world examples. Before the interview, take some time to develop and rehearse responses to skills-based questions. Consider the skills on your CV that relate directly to the job description and think of some examples of how you applied them in your professional life. Also, be sure to demonstrate certain skills during the interview if possible. For example, if you put listening skills on your CV, be attentive throughout the interview to prove this.

Related: 35 retail interview questions (with example answers and tips)

Shop assistant salary

The salaries of shop assistants vary depending on several factors, such as who employs them, how much overtime they do, their experience level, how long they work for an employer and the location of the job. The national average salary of a shop assistant is £9.29 per hour. Professionals working in major cities can typically command the highest rates, with the average in Liverpool being £9.48 per hour and Birmingham £9.62 per hour.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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