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What Does a Sales Associate Do

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Increasing Sales Through Customer Interaction

If you've ever gone into a store feeling confused because you didn't really know what you were looking for, or frustrated because you knew what you wanted but couldn't find it, you could have benefited from the help of an on-the-ball sales associate. Retail stores hire sales associates to do much more than ring up sales. They expect their sales associates to know the details about the merchandise the store carries, where to find it in the store, pricing and current discounts. By connecting customers with the right merchandise, sales associates can make a huge difference in the store's bottom line.

Job Description

Most sales associates are employed in retail stores. Their primary role is to work with customers, figure out what their needs are and make sales, while ensuring that the customers have a pleasant shopping experience, so they'll return again and again. In the process, sales associates ask and answer questions about products' features, benefits and general care. Savvy sales associates also make recommendations about additional merchandise to enhance or accompany the customer's purchase. Sometimes, you will also ring up the sales; other times, you'll work only on the sales floor and hand customers off to a cashier.

When they're not engaging customers, sales associates have plenty of other responsibilities. They help make sure the merchandise is displayed attractively, straightening the shelves and racks to keep them neat and appealing. Sales associates also check inventory, order merchandise and restock shelves and racks to show a variety of styles and sizes. If you decide to be a sales associate, you'll rarely be bored.

Education Requirements

The good news is that as a sales associate, you are not required to earn a college degree. In fact, teens still in high school are sometimes hired for part-time sales positions. As of 2016, the median wage for sales associates was $11.01 per hour, or $22,900 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A median salary means that half of the workers earned more than that, while half earned less. The highest 10 percent earned more than $19.91 per hour; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.56 hourly. Associates in more technical environments, such as car parts sales, have a higher median salary, which was $14.32 per hour as of May, 2016. Having a college degree doesn't typically increase salaries, but experience in the field may make a difference. Sales associates with experience may be promoted to management positions and earn higher salaries. Some sales associates are paid a combination of salary plus commission. In these jobs, the more you sell, the more you earn.


Roughly 4.6 million people worked as non-technical sales associates in 2016, with the majority, 21 percent, working in retail clothing and accessories stores. Another 251,900 worked in a variety of parts sales environments, including car dealerships and parts stores. With rare exceptions, the retail industry requires sales associates to work a combination of day and evening shifts, during the week, and on weekends and holidays. In fact, retail stores hire extra sales associates during busy shopping seasons such as in November and December, leading up to Christmas. It's a good time to get experience, although most associates will not be kept on staff after the holidays. About one-third of all sales associates worked part-time in 2016, which may be a desirable factor for women who want to spend more time at home with their families.

Years of Experience

Sales associates are hired at all levels of experience. Employers may prefer someone with experience at times, whether to lead less-experienced workers or to handle greater responsibility. But many entry-level jobs are available, too. A certain amount of on-the-job training is expected for all sales associates, whether they're new to the field or changing jobs between stores.

Job Growth Trend

Jobs for sales associates are expected to grow 2 percent by 2026, which is slower than average for all jobs. One reason for the slow predicted growth is that the increase in online sales has decreased the number of "bricks and mortar" stores and the overall need for in-person sales associates. Still, since numerous sales associates tend to leave the field each year, jobs are available for new workers to replace them.


Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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