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Sales Associate Careers: Promoting the Company’s Brand and Generating Profits


Sales associates are the first people we see when we enter a retail establishment. This entry-level position plays a pivotal role in the business’s success. As they assist customers, they represent the company’s brand, establish long-term relationships and directly contribute to the store’s revenue.

Job Description

Sales associates are found in the retail industry, a sector of the marketplace that encompasses a wide range of operations. In general, retail is associated with online shopping or stores located in a mall like clothing stores, department stores or mega-retail discount chains. But car dealerships, independent merchants (entrepreneurs), general freight trucking, insurance carriers and wholesale metal and mineral merchants also fit into this broad category.  

Responsibilities include interacting with customers, processing transactions and stocking shelves. They must stay up-to-date about products, work well with a team and achieve established sales goals. Furthermore, sales associates can get valuable feedback from customers regarding product features and pricing as well as competitor’s merchandise. 


Although sales staff are not required to have a college education, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in business or a related field is expected for career advancement. Completion of an internship is an impressive attribute on a sales associate’s resume.        


Formal training offered by large retailers entails learning how to operate the cash register. Additionally, sales staff should know the store’s procedures, customer service policies and security operations. Instruction can last from a few days to a week. In specialty departments (cosmetics, electronics, housewares, etc.), workers will receive additional training about the product line.

Professional sales associates should implement a plan of independent study. Highly motivated associates should be knowledgeable about every aspect of the retail industry. Notable books include “Retail Truths” by Chip Averwater and “Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling.”

Relevant Skills

Sales associates should have excellent customer-service skills and selling abilities. Strong communication is required when interacting with people and explaining product features, making recommendations and answering questions. Persistence and a positive attitude are needed to close sales.    

Sharpen your skills and network with like-minded individuals by becoming a member of the National Association of Sales Professionals and Women’s Retail Network. Find a mentor to help guide your career.


The median pay for sales associates was $20,990 per year with an average hourly rate of $10.09 in 2010. In 2012, clothing stores accounted for the highest concentration of employment with 769,150 workers earning an annual wage of $21,190.

However, sales associates employed by Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) can earn $12.00/hour and participate in profit sharing and health benefits. J. Crew, Costco and Nordstrom’s also offer competitive wages and benefits.   

Career Path/Advancement

Sales associates can start their careers in high school. Retail has excellent opportunities for advancement. Senior sales associates typically have at least two years’ experience, assist with the management of all sales and non-sales duties and supervise team members.

Sources of Jobs

Most job seekers look for employment opportunities at the store where they wish to work or they search online with Monster, CareerBuilder, etc. Other sources include the Department of Labor, college job boards and  retail staffing agencies, such as Set and Service Resources. Retail opportunities can be found through social media. The National Retail Association has managerial and sales associate positions.

Job Outlook

In 2010, the number of sales associate jobs in the U.S. was 4, 465,500. In 2012, California (448,440), Texas (366,230) and Florida (314,850) are the top three states with the most jobs. Sales associate positions will grow at a rate of 17% during 2010 - 2020. 

TAGS: retail, career, jobs, work in retail,
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