How to become a Retail Assistant

The retail sector is one of the largest industries in the UK. It’s also one of the largest employers, hiring almost 2.8 million people. Within such a dominant business sector, there are an incredible variety of employment opportunities on offer. While there may be vacancies as a result of COVID-19, the retail sector is still a great place to find new opportunities.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in retail, then one of the best places to start is as a Retail Assistant. This entry-level position will help you learn the business basics as well as gain essential transferable skills.

What does a Retail Assistant do?

Retail Assistants work in shops, supermarkets and department stores, making sure the customer experience is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. As a Retail Assistant, you’ll primarily be customer facing and could perform a number of roles, including handling payments at the tills, working at the customer service desk or on general store duties, replenishing stock. In order to excel in this role, you’ll need excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as good literary and numeracy skills.

Retail Assistants are employed across every retail sector, including:

  • Fashion
  • Technology
  • Food and drinks
  • Health and beauty
  • Sport and leisure

What do Retail Assistants typically earn?

Salaries will vary depending on your industry sector as well as location. Some Retail Assistants will also receive commission on sales, as well as bonuses when sales targets are met. Overtime could also be on offer, boosting monthly salaries.

According to the National Careers Service, salary scales are as follows:

  • Starter salary: from £12,500
  • Experienced Retail Assistants/Department Heads: up to £25,000
  • Store Managers: anywhere between £20,000 to £70,000 depending on the role

How do I get started as a Retail Assistant?

There are no minimum qualifications for securing a position as a Retail Assistant. This is definitely a profession where your character and confidence count for more than certificates. Make sure you’re up to date with shopping trends – especially important within the fashion sector – and have a good understanding of the products you’ll sell.

This latter point is important if you’re going to work within the tech industry. You can also increase your chances of securing your dream job by gaining experience volunteering at a charity shop or taking seasonal or weekend work.

While not strictly necessary, you can get ahead by studying for the following qualifications:

  • NVQ in Retail Skills, Retail, Sales, or Customer Service
  • BTEC in Retail or Retail Knowledge
  • Diploma in Retail or Retail Management

You could also learn while you earn by securing a retail apprenticeship.

What key skills do I need to become a Retail Assistant?

Given the focus on customer service, above all you’ll need to be friendly and approachable to succeed in this role. As well as having a passion for the products you’re selling, the following key skills are also essential:

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Strong sales skills
  • Good team working skills
  • Plenty of patience
  • A flexible approach to working hours
  • An enthusiastic attitude
  • Good numeracy and literary skills

What do Retail Assistants do day-to-day?

Retail Assistants typically work a 40-hour week, including weekend work. Early opening hours and late closing times mean shifts are likely to include early starts as well as late finishes. You’ll also be expected to work over Bank Holidays. There are plenty of options for part-time, shift and seasonal work, meaning the job can flex around your lifestyle. The flexible working options within the profession make it particularly attractive for students and parents.

The day-to-day role can vary depending on the type of store you work in, but general duties remain the same:

  • Greeting the customer on entry
  • Answering customer questions and making recommendations
  • Helping customers find what they need
  • Placing orders
  • Receiving deliveries and replenishing stock
  • Dealing with returns
  • Organising in-store promotions
  • Helping with in-store displays
  • Making sure the shop floor is well presented at all times
  • Working on the tills to process payments
  • Cashing up tills at the end of the day
  • Working to hit sales targets

Once I’m a Retail Assistant, what career progression is available?

Within larger businesses, there’s a clear career path for employees to follow, with opportunities to progress up the career ladder to Department Head and Store Manager. Given that this business sector is so diverse, there are also opportunities – with additional study – to move into the following retail areas:

  • Buying
  • Visual merchandising
  • Customer services
  • Recruitment and training

With experience, you could ultimately look to set up your own store. This can either be a bricks-and-mortar retail outlet or an online store. In fact, while high street sales figures are struggling, online retailing is seeing year-on-year increases so this is an attractive option for businesses.

According to shapewear specialist Elle Courbee, fashion retail is particularly successful within the online community, with many consumers preferring to try on items such as shapewear and swimwear within the comfort of their own home.

Given the popularity of online trading and with consumer confidence in ecommerce growing, there’s also a corresponding increase in the number of Online Retail Assistant positions available, so if you’re experienced in retail and tech savvy, then this sector is also worth looking into.

What are the best bits about being a Retail Assistant?

If you love meeting people and helping them find the solution they need, as well as working as part of a team to achieve great sales figures, then this is the career option for you. You can work selling the products that you love, receiving bonuses to reward good performance.

There’s good potential for career progression and the skills you learn will be easily transferable. Also, with so many part-time positions available, it’s a fantastic career option for flexing your work around your lifestyle and personal commitments.

What are the challenges of being a Retail Assistant?

Retail is now a 7-day week business, so unless you work part time and have negotiated weekday working, you can expect to work at weekends. Also, longer opening times can result in unsociable working hours. Shifts can also change at peak times such as during the sales and at Christmas, requiring you to be more flexible during these periods.

However, those working within the industry will relish the challenge of busier times – as well as the flexible working options – so this isn’t necessarily a drawback. You’ll also occasionally be challenged by difficult customers, but with experience and the camaraderie of your work colleagues, this will become easier over time.

This career is for you if…..

You’re confident, friendly and approachable and enjoy the buzz of making sales. If you work within your favourite niche – be it fashion, tech or sport and leisure – then it won’t feel like work at all. This career is great if you want to follow a career path that doesn’t rely on having a degree. You’ll be following your passion and getting paid for it, what could be better than that? Not to mention those employee discounts….

About the author: Sam is a Content Marketing Executive for Leapfrog Internet Marketing, working to help clients improve their online presence and maintain market leadership. Her industry experience spans publishing and editorial roles in the world of medical communications as well as digital marketing and event planning for the education sector. She has a broad, eclectic range of writing interests – from lifestyle advice and professional development to digital marketing and emerging technologies.