Retail Salespersons and Sales Clerks - What They Do

Retail salespersons sell, rent or lease a range of technical and non-technical goods and services directly to consumers. They are employed by stores and other retail businesses, as well as wholesale businesses that sell on a retail basis to the public.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Greet customers and discuss type, quality and quantity of merchandise or services sought for purchase, rental or lease
  • Advise customers on use and care of merchandise, and provide advice concerning specialized products or services
  • Estimate or quote prices, credit terms, trade-in allowances, warranties and delivery dates
  • Prepare merchandise for purchase, rental or lease
  • Prepare sales, rental or leasing contracts and accept cash, cheque, credit card or automatic debit payment
  • Assist in display of merchandise
  • Maintain sales records for inventory control
  • Operate computerized inventory record keeping and re-ordering systems
  • May conduct sales transactions through Internet-based electronic commerce.
  • Retail salespersons may specialize and act as consultants in home entertainment systems, computers and other products and services.

Job titles

  • car rental agent
  • retail sales clerk
  • retail sales associate
  • sales consultant - retirement homes
  • clothing salesperson
  • audio equipment salesperson
  • furniture salesperson
  • jewellery salesperson
  • hardware store clerk
  • counter clerk - retail
  • department store clerk
  • retail salesperson
  • automobile salesperson
  • computer salesperson - retail
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school may be required.
  • A university degree or college diploma may be required by some employers.
  • Specific subject matter courses or training may be required.
  • Demonstrated sales ability and product knowledge are usually required for retail salespersons who sell complex or valuable merchandise, such as automobiles, antiques or computers.

Essential Skills


  • Read logbook entries and short notes from co-workers and supervisors, e.g. read comments in daily log books about outstanding work, special orders, supply deliveries and items set aside for customer pick-up. (1)
  • Scan instructions in checklists for correct procedures to complete tasks, e.g. scan checklists for housekeeping, stocking merchandise and creating displays. (1)
  • Read brief memos and email messages from supervisors, co-workers and colleagues, e.g. read email messages from supervisors to learn about new procedures, upcoming health and safety inspections and featured sale items. (2)
  • May read descriptions and preparation instructions for items, such as gift baskets and balloon arrangements. (2)
  • Read a variety of company procedures, e.g. read procedures to learn about store opening and closing procedures, acceptable dress codes and proper conduct. (2)
  • Read product knowledge pamphlets, articles and newsletters provided by employers and suppliers to enhance their knowledge about product lines and enable them to answer customers' questions. (2)
  • Read memos and bulletins, e.g. read memos to understand storage, labeling and packaging procedures for chemicals, food and dangerous goods. (2)
  • Read brief reports about store and department performance, e.g. read safety and mystery shopper summary reports to learn about sales performance and areas for customer service and sales improvements. (2)
  • Read product warranties and related notices concerning limitations to manufacturer liability. (3)
  • Read employers' policy and procedure manuals, e.g. read cashier manuals to understand cash register functions, such as price reductions, and read manuals relating to operations, suppliers and computer programs. (3)

Document use

  • Scan daily and weekly job schedules to locate their work shifts. (1)
  • Use icons on computerized cash register screens to complete sales transactions. (1)
  • Scan brief text entries on labels and signs, e.g. locate prices, codes, model numbers, product descriptions and care instructions on product labels. (1)
  • May enter data into label templates, e.g. complete product labels and signs by entering prices and product data. (1)
  • Review weekly flyers and featured sales items lists to learn about weekly specials and verify that prices displayed on cash registers match list prices. (1)
  • Locate data in forms, e.g. locate customer delivery due dates, product quantities, codes and descriptions, payment details and special instructions in invoices and customer rental and order forms. (2)
  • Locate data in lists and tables, e.g. locate stock quantities, descriptions and the Universal Product Code (UPC) in supplier invoices and inventory sheets. (2)
  • Complete order, tracking and quality control forms, e.g. complete return and repair forms by entering dates, reasons, product codes and descriptions. (2)
  • Scan a variety of graphical displays, e.g. locate daily, weekly and monthly data for categories, such as customer complaints and compliments, personal sales, department sales and safety incidences. (3)
  • May locate merchandising and arrangement data and details in diagrams that show how display areas are to be set up, including dimensions and set-up descriptions. (3)


  • Write brief notes, e.g. write comments in daily logbook to record customer comments about products, note items put aside for customers, list outstanding tasks and note low inventory. (1)
  • Write entries in a variety of forms, e.g. describe customer details and preferences, such as wrapping and gift basket instructions, on order forms. (2)
  • Write email messages to co-workers, supervisors and customers, e.g. write email to answer customer questions about products and to provide updates on back-ordered and shipped items. (2)


  • May measure products, such as pieces of plywood, yards of material or dimensions. (1)
  • Prepare customer invoices and complete cash sales. They total customers' bills for products, calculate taxes, take payments and give change. In addition, they may calculate discounts and currency exchange. (2)
  • May calculate the total cost for multiple items in a purchase, such as a variety of building products, by calculating quantities of items and totaling costs. (2)
  • May calculate quantities, such as quantities of drapery material required to cover windows of specific dimensions, taking into account drapery fullness required by customers. (2)
  • May analyze sales data in order to examine purchasing trends and make purchasing recommendations, e.g. calculate average daily, weekly and seasonal sales. They use the data to identify popular items. (2)
  • Estimate times required to prepare orders so they can plan daily schedules and provide customers with shipping or pick-up dates. They depend on their experience with similar tasks and typical customer volumes to schedule activities and estimate delivery dates. (2)

Oral communication

  • Discuss work tasks with co-workers, e.g. speak with co-workers to discuss job assignments and integrate tasks. (1)
  • Speak with co-workers, supervisors and supplier representatives to enquire about products with which they are unfamiliar. (2)
  • Discuss job assignments with supervisors, e.g. discuss product deliveries to determine where and how to create space and set up displays. (2)
  • Receive instruction from co-workers and supervisors about completing tasks, such as floor displays and packaging products. (2)
  • Discuss orders and share information with suppliers, e.g. interact with suppliers to order products, discuss damaged goods or errors in shipments and share information about products. (2)
  • Participate in staff meetings, e.g. participate in staff meetings to learn about new products, receive instructions for implementing new procedures, discuss how to improve customer service and practice "up-selling" techniques. (2)
  • Chat with customers to build rapport and provide service to make sales and build repeat business. (2)
  • Discuss purchases with customers, e.g. discourage customers from purchasing items that are not appropriate for them using tact and good listening and communication skills. (3)
  • Interact with customers who are unhappy with products. They ensure customer satisfaction by listening to complaints and finding appropriate solutions, such as providing refunds, exchanges and credits. (3)


  • Encounter customers who are unhappy about products purchased and not satisfied with options, such as refunds, replacements and future discounts offered. They refer customers to their supervisors. (1)
  • Face product shortages, e.g. advertised specials do not arrive. They inform supervisors about the shortage. They phone suppliers to discuss delivery dates for products. They inform customers about shortages, dates when items will be available and offer rain cheque coupons. (1)
  • Choose whether to reject damaged products from suppliers. They consider the extent and type of damage. (1)
  • Evaluate the quality of products when receiving shipments and maintaining in-store stock. They visually inspect them for signs of damage, defects and missing parts. They evaluate what to report as defective or damaged. (1)
  • Find there are not enough supplies to complete orders. They may call suppliers and other stores to locate and order items. They offer alternative products if they are unable to get supplies when needed. (2)
  • Observe suspicious behaviour by a customer. They either call loss-prevention personnel or stay close to shoppers to prevent thefts from taking place. (2)
  • Receive complaints about products from customers. They ask questions to understand problems. They ask how products were used, cleaned and handled. They offer replacements or discounts on future purchases and provide care instructions to prevent future problems. (2)
  • Choose discount amounts, e.g. choose to give customers discounts for end-of-line and damaged products. Their decisions must balance pleasing the customer while making the sale without too great a discount. (2)
  • Select order of tasks. Notes and instructions from supervisors guide them but customer volumes and order deadlines are critical factors. (2)
  • Choose to make refunds and offer exchanges. They consider whether customers have original receipts and other factors, such as reason for the return, visible wear, damage and date of purchase. (2)
  • May choose which items to feature in displays. They consider display plans but also take into account amount of stock, purchasing trends and time needed to prepare displays. They review past sales statistics to identify similarities with previous best sellers and recall customer comments about displays used in the past. (2)
  • Evaluate the suitability of products to make recommendations to customers. They use their technical knowledge to assess quality and how colours and textures combine to enhance each other. They use other criteria, such as customers' specifications, budget and preferences. (2)
  • May evaluate the visual appeal of merchandising displays. They use aesthetic criteria, such as colour blends, shape and form, to judge the appeal of display racks and shelves. (2)
  • May evaluate the suitability of products to stock. They consider the number of requests, volume of sales for other similar items, reviews of latest products and design trends. They use their evaluations to make product recommendations to supervisors and managers. (2)
  • Respond to customers' enquires and orders while completing daily housekeeping and merchandising tasks. Changing priorities, such as requests for deliveries, arrival of stock and lack of space, sometimes complicates their daily job task planning. (2)
  • May locate information about benefits, pay and overtime by reading union agreements, information pamphlets and by speaking with human resources staff and shop stewards. (2)
  • Find information about products by scanning technical books, manufacturer brochures, supplier catalogues, speaking with co-workers and supervisors and reading fact sheets and articles. (3)

Digital technology

  • Operate hand-held devices, such as laser radio terminals to scan bar codes, enter information using small keyboards and transmit data to online databases. (1)
  • May use word processing software to write letters or prepare quotations to customers. (2)
  • Use database software, e.g. enter data to update customer and supplier records and to run queries to locate customer names, addresses and product information. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve data, such as inventory levels, product numbers, descriptions and prices. (2)
  • May use communication software, e.g. send and receive email and attachments using intranets and the Internet. (2)
  • May use the Internet, e.g. search for information on suppliers' websites about products their stores carry. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by suppliers, employers and trainers. (2)
  • Use computerized cash registers to scan items, enter amounts and codes, and process electronic payments, such as debits and credit card transactions. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Retail sales associates work independently during slower shifts. They coordinate and integrate tasks with co-workers to share resources and complete tasks. They work with co-workers to receive shipments, restock and prepare displays and customer orders. They attend staff meetings to share ideas and to solve specific issues, such as health and safety breaches, low sales and theft.

Continuous Learning

Retail sales associates learn through their daily work experiences. They learn by observing co-workers, reading product magazines and articles and viewing computer and video-based training modules provided by suppliers and their employers. They may participate in training programs provided by their employers and unions covering topics, such as the Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS), customer service, product knowledge, safe food handling and first aid.