Retail is the holy grail of our modern consumer culture. We depend on the retail supply chain for everything from daily commodities to specialised goods. To meet the customers demands it’s not simply enough to sell products. To properly harness the market power you also need to provide perks that deliver a complete retail experience. This retail experience is what customers keep coming back for, and it’s a sales assistants job to create this experience. As a sales assistant you need to be able to meet these needs and that requires a certain set of skills. With this blog we aim to cover 15 sales assistant skills that you’ll need to provide a retail experience to customers that your competitors will struggle to provide.
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The sales assistant job
Each time a customer walks into a store they are not only looking at the plethora of products that create mountainous shelves and maze-like isles. The sales assistant job is to not only help the customers but to manage the retail jungle as well.
15 Essential sales assistant skills
Early in the days of retail the sales assistants job was considered as a lower-skill level job. However, as the retail industry grew it became clear, sales assistants need to be highly competent and multi-skilled. As a sales assistant you will have to manage the stores inventory, and product display while overseeing product purchase and replacement. Sales assistants also have to notify customers of company policies such as refunds, warranties etc. Clearly, the responsibilities are more than a walk in the park for a sales assistant. If you want to fulfil these responsibilities efficiently there is no alternative to being mindful and honing your skills. Let’s check out what these skills are and how to use them.
1. Have an engaging and polite personality
Good customer service starts with being friendly and polite. You need to put the customers’ needs first. This arguably the first step of creating loyal customers. On graduate job descriptions this skill can be phrased as ‘good client management skills’ or ‘the ability to build constructive relationships”. Not all customers are alike. Some will actively seek out help when needed while others may simply walk out of the store out of social anxiety.
As a sales assistant it’s on you to ensure each customer feels welcome at the store. Nobody wants to do business with a person they find rude or unpleasant.
This means you as a sales assistant must always bring your A-game when dealing with customers. When dealing with customers you need to maintain a polite and sensitive approach regardless of the customer’s attitude. The bottom line here is, there are rude people in the world and as a sales assistant you will definitely come across quite a few.
Whether the individual is ill or well behaved should have no effect on your course of conduct. Keep your slate clean and the unpleasantry will see itself out.
2. Be comfortable in public settings
No other profession exposes you to large crowds on a daily basis as in retail. Furthermore, each and every interaction you will have with customers will be in plain sight of the whole store. While it may seem easy, many individuals face social anxiety when working in front of large crowds. If being around a large number of strangers causes you discomfort we’re afraid we have some bad news for you. The retail world is no place for a sales assistant who can’t handle public interactions.
Throughout your day as a sales assistant you will have to work under constant surveillance, both digital and human. Everytime you speak with a customer you will have at least one colleague or several other customers near you. This shouldn’t impact your efficiency in any way. If you think you have issues with working under such conditions we advise you to work on your awareness and competence.
3. Possess confident mannerism
Confidence is highly appreciated in the retail world. It is also something you can’t fake. Either you’re a confident individual or you aren’t. There is no in between. Throughout your day as a sales assistant you will have countless interactions that are either queries or complaints. Whichever the case you must be confident with your responses.
Suppose a customer is asking for a rundown of a specific product before making their final choice. If you are not confident with the details and benefits of the product it’s unlikely you will be able to convince the customer about them. Your confidence in the product may as well be the final push a customer needs to seal the deal.
On a different note, maybe a customer wants to exchange a sold product or is demanding a full refund. In this scenario you must be confident when explaining the refund and exchange policies. Stuttering and mumbling the policies half-heartedly will result in misunderstanding and ultimately custg for a product they need. They are looking for post-purchase services as well pre-purchase guidance. The customer may know best but they certainly don’t know it all. Especially when it comomer dissatisfaction. To avoid all this unpleasantness you need to have full confidence in what you know.
4. Keep helping mindset
Retail purchases although seeming straightforward are anything but. Each customer puts in a lot of thought before spending their hard earned money. Needless to say very few of them are sure if the products they need are available or not. In this regard it’s your responsibility to help customers roaming around in hesitation.
If you see a customer having difficulty finding a specific product or understanding specifications you should voluntarily approach them. It’s not that you will always be right in this assumption but if you are the customer will be glad to have your attention without asking for it. This goes a long way in building customer loyalty. So next time you see a fumbling buyer finding it difficult navigating the store, help them out. Keep a lookout for challenged individuals that may come to the store. Helping such customers not only makes you a good sales assistant but a good person as well.
5. Be physically fit
Working in retail is demanding both physically and mentally, especially if you’re a full-time employee. You will have to be on your feet for the entire day and possibly carry heavy boxes as well. Most retail stores also allot very little time for lunch and breaks.
A job in retail involves a lot more than just managing customers. Each and every aspect of the stores functions depends directly or indirectly on sales assistants. To complete all of these responsibilities you need physical fitness. While standing on your feet all day will tire your legs, carrying heavy products across the sales floor is going to take a severe toll on your back and shoulders. The only way to manage a day of juggling such physical tasks is to be in top physical condition. Without stamina and endurance it will be nearly impossible to complete a shift in retail. So keep yourself healthy and focus on building proper stamina for the job.
6. Have a comprehensive understanding of your area of sales products
You can’t do your job as a sales assistant without thoroughly understanding the products in your store. Simply knowing where each type of product is kept is not enough. You need to have a thorough understanding of how each product works and what prospective buyers are looking for in them. Your customers will range from know it all gadget enthusiasts to naive first timers.
It takes more than just knowing the products to help each type of buyer. While some will expect you to have clear ideas about the product so they can have a valid conversation, others will be overwhelmed if you recite every line of product description without due explanation. You need to be able to assess exactly what type of customer you are dealing with before you start to influence their decisions.
7. Be a team player
No matter how large the store you are likely to have more than a few colleagues working with you side by side. The sales team needs to be well connected to run the store smoothly. This means sharing responsibilities and having eachothers backs. Many challenging situations can arise on the sales floor and the only way to handle them is through mutual cooperation.
To keep the team spirit alive, stay in touch with your colleagues and support them in difficult situations. This way you will have someone in your time of need on the sales floor. Team coordination is the only way to run a retail store efficiently. If you’re doing rotating shifts be sure to set the shifts without imposing a burden on your fellow sales assistants. A clean work atmosphere between colleagues enriches the store’s atmosphere. Without a team play mindset it’s next to impossible to provide customer satisfaction.
8. Have sufficient knowledge of inventory techniques
One of the relevant responsibilities of a sales assistant is to manage the store inventory. Trust us when we say it is not an easy feat. Although many retail stores are switching to automated inventory technology it can never completely meet the need for human intervention. With that being said, as a sales assistant you need to tackle this challenge with proficiency.
There are established techniques for managing inventories efficiently. The most common among these techniques are stock reviewing and ABC analysis. Make sure you understand the basics of these techniques before you are assigned inventory management.
9. Have a tidy and smart appearance
Your appearance is part of the store’s persona as much as your own. Keeping a tidy appearance makes people seek out help without hesitation. It also portrays you as a person with control over their life. Unless a customer perceives you as a mindful individual you will have a difficult time in convincing them with whatever you say. Your employers may have already set strict guidelines regarding this so be sure to adhere to them.
10. Know how to be articulate
Communication in everything in retail. You need to be able to clearly and effectively explain products to customers that they may or may not know about. You need to be articulate in answering their questions while being polite. You also need to handle complaints respectfully. Not clearly explaining the terms and conditions or company policies to customers can result in misunderstandings and customer dissatisfaction. Always speak when you are sure about what you are going to say. If you think a particular customer is being difficult you need to keep your head cool and explain to them the situation as clearly as possible. Articulation separates the amateurs from the professionals, especially in retail.
With the boom in online sales, it’s highly likely that you’ll have to communicate with customers over the phone or with colleagues in other stores. In such situations proper articulation will save both time and energy.
11. Ability to Learn Quickly and Accept Feedback
A sales assistant’s job can have unpredictable elements. New techniques and products are constantly replacing the ones you know about. You need to be able to adapt to these requirements as soon as they are issued. Learning new systems quickly will definitely give you a head start. If needed don’t hesitate to solicit feedback from more senior sales representatives. Once they’ve pointed out some tricks be sure to implement them without wasting time.
12. Time Management
Sales representatives are constantly on the move, completing responsibilities across the whole sales floor. Time management is a crucial element if you want to fulfil each and every task for the day. Being a sales representative means you have to learn to prioritize each task and allocate a fixed amount of time for each. Moreover you have to decide which task utilises your time efficiently. If working in the inventory means more value for your time than greeting window shoppers than so be it. Learn to see the difference between what is important and what is essential.
Prioritising is only half of the game here. To complete each task you will also need to know time management techniques so you don’t end up spending unnecessary time on anything. You can do a course on Time management if you feel the importance. We provide a number of courses on Time management so feel free to check them out.
13. Genuine Persuasiveness
The ability to persuade prospects is the bread winning trick for sales assistants. You need to be able to convince customers not only that you understand their pain points but also that your product is the solution for it. Sometimes completing a sale will come down to your ability. Persuasion is the culminated result of multiple skills that you should build individually. To put them in a general sense the skills you need to be a master persuader are emotional intelligence, active listening, logic and reasoning, interpersonal skills and negotiation. Each of these skills not only helps in persuasion but rather impacts each and every aspect of providing customer service.
As a sales assistant you must learn these techniques if you want to close every prospective deal. Here is an informative blog on persuasion skills from Indeed that we found to be worth a read.
14. Experience With POS Software
For sales associates working in a retail environment, evidently need to use Point of Sale (POS) software. Working with a POS system allows customer transactions to be digitally processed and logged. You may also have to learn to operate credit card machines. Absolutely every retail store uses these technologies so to work in a retail store is to learn these. The systems are constantly being updated so don’t be reluctant to update your knowledge whenever possible.
With an increasing number of customers you’ll need to be fast with these software. If you are still not up to speed you should practice at off-peak hours. The faster your run the cash register the more customers you can serve each day. However, the POS systems are not always technically sound so you need to be able to manage sales manually if the POS system is out of order for any reason.
15. Basic Maths and Money Handling
Basic maths and money handling skills are important to ensure customers and the company are aligned financially. Practice simple addition and subtraction, so you are able to accurately perform fast calculations when handling cash. Shadowing a colleague who is proficient in POS is a good way of becoming proficient yourself. You will also need maths to manage product inventory. Without being good at math you will find it difficult to complete non-customer related tasks.
As a rule of thumb you should count the amount of change back to the customer to ensure you are giving them the proper amount. For example, if a customer gives you a £20 bill for a £5.50 purchase, you ought to practice giving them their £0.50 change first, then counting as you give them the ten-dollar bill and four one-dollar bills. This way you can be sure your math is on point and you do not end up giving back more or less than the exact amount.
Good sales assistants are the backbone of a successful retail store. Some are born good and some need to be made. Either way being good at what you do is the only way you reach the top. Look out for ways to improve your capabilities and always keep learning. This way you will always be on the top of your game. Retail sometimes is a draining work environment especially in this pandemic scenario. Apart from these skills it is especially important for retail employees to adhere to safety guidelines. This not only protects you as an employee but also your customers and team members.
To be fair we have focused on the skills we thought were most important. There may as well be other skills that your employer may require. It’s advised you learn the ones most relevant to your work space. Remember that a career in retail doesn’t have to be your final career. If you wish to move on from retail to other sectors these skills can be transferred to fit in other job contexts fairly well. The only thing to consider in that case would be to correlate your skills and retail experience into the job you want to switch to. The bottom line is don’t stop developing your skills and don’t think a particular skill set binds you to a career path. Possibilities are endless only until you stop looking for them.
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