How to Hire a Retail Sales Associate

Cartoon drawing of people shopping for shirts

Perhaps nowhere is the absence of good retail employees felt more than within the messy storefronts belonging to these retail giants. The impact: 64% of shoppers said they left a store due to poor appearance and disorganization. Especially after a pandemic, as people return to in-person shopping, store appearance can shape a consumer’s eagerness (or anxiety).

“Being organized and clean is going to be more important than ever for people. That’s going to give them signals of safety.”

Kelly Haws, consumer psychologist & Vanderbilt University marketing professor

Safety goes beyond the physical. Shoppers also want to interact with someone welcoming and empathetic during their retail sales experiences. Interacting with a sales associate is typically the only face-to-face experience customers have with your brand, so who you hire can make or break your business. Hiring managers are already facing unique challenges when staffing open roles. Taking extra care when planning how to hire retail employees will positively affect your customer experience. 

Recruiting seasonal employees or looking for temporary staffing solutions for your retail business? Read on to learn how to hire a retail sales associate in six simple steps.

Step 1: Identify required skills

No two retail environments are the same. Consider the unique needs of your business when identifying must-have required skills for potential employees. Since retail jobs are often entry-level, your applicants may have limited or no prior work experience–consider alternative strengths. 

If you are a manager at a store asking yourself, “How do I hire a retail employee?”, consider candidates with:

  • a cheerful attitude
  • an aptitude for point-of-sale technology
  • excellent communication skills in your market language 

If you are a boutique owner asking yourself, “How do I hire a sales representative?”, consider candidates with:

  • enthusiasm for your product
  • an ability to work independently
  • the ability to upsell without being pushy  

Step 2: Identify your incentives

To attract highly talented retail candidates, give them a reason to choose you over your retail competitors. Consider your current perks and incentives, and assess your bandwidth to expand them. 

Many companies offer special discounts on products or services, employee discounts, or free meals. Specialty retail often provides opportunities for industry-specific training & professional development. Niche markets may offer commissions, bonuses, and other performance incentives.

Offering career advancement opportunities and clear pathways to supervisory or management roles can also make it easier to retain your top performers and reduce the time and expense of recruiting new employees.

Step 3: Build your job description

Now that you’ve identified required skills and an incentive package for your ideal retail sales employees, it’s time to write your job description. A clearly-written listing is essential: vagueness elicits fewer responses and deters highly qualified applicants. Use specific language to communicate who you are looking for and what they can expect in the role. 

Some components to consider when writing:

  • Job title
  • Part-time or Full-time position
  • Minimum age requirement
  • Minimum education requirements
  • Pay rate
  • Company history & background information
  • An overview of the role & responsibilities 
  • Required skills & traits
  • Desired skills & traits
  • Employee benefits
  • Opportunities for professional advancement

Step 4: Place your ads

How do you find a candidate for retail? “Help Wanted” signs and social media posts are particularly effective for retail environments because they engage your customer base–people who are already enthusiastic about your business and likely to tell others about your opportunity. 

A good retail employee can come from anywhere. Rather than posting excessively on job sites, consider these alternatives. 

  • Industry-specific job boards to find workers with a specialized interest in your field 
  • Offer a referral bonus to current employees
  • Use your networks. Family, friends, and former coworkers are underrated leads 
  • Identify retail-specific college programs and ask the school to advertise the position
  • Reach out to local high schools, parent groups, or senior centers

Step 5: Interview candidates

What makes a good sales associate? Adaptability! An in-person interview lets you see how your prospective retail employee handles the (often unpredictable) customer service environment in ways a written application can’t. Look for an ability to attune to others and what needs to get done.

Many retailers–lululemon athletica, The Container Store, and beyond–invite applicants to group interviews. Staff observe the interaction and determine who they’d like to invite back for a one-on-one. They use behavioral interview techniques and focus on conversational questions in order to mirror a retail environment. 

As you are interviewing, pay attention to nonverbal clues and indicators. The interview begins as soon as the candidate walks in the door. Do they greet the people around them? Do they naturally adjust something on the desk?

Step 6: Extend offers

Once you’ve completed interviews and selected your top candidates, put together a contract that protects you and your potential employee. 

Contracts should contain a job description, salary or pay rate, benefits, and the terms of employment. Once both parties have signed, congratulations! You can begin onboarding and training your newest hire. 

Most important traits for sales associates

The most important qualities retail sales associates should have include a mix of hard & soft skills–they need both to be successful in their roles. Hard skills are easier to teach and easier to measure, while soft skills are built over time. 

Hard Skills

  1. Basic math skills
  2. Point of Sale experience 
  3. Product knowledge
  4. Active listening

Soft Skills

  1. Patience
  2. Empathy
  3. Time management skills
  4. Multitasking skills

What qualities would you look for in a retail associate?

Navigating how to hire a retail sales associate is easiest when you can take the time to create a plan of action with your team. Outsourcing your hiring process saves valuable staff time and helps you hire, fast.

Ready to start hiring?

About the Author: Meghna Jaradi is a freelance writer and events manager with experience working for the Seattle Times, Kitchen Arts & Letters, Book Larder, Peddler Brewing Company, and more. You can contact her on LinkedIn.

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