Retail Sales Assistant

Kaiāwhina Hokohoko

Alternative titles for this job

Retail sales assistants help customers pick out goods, and collect payment for purchases.


Retail sales assistants usually earn

$37K-$45K per year

Source: Trade Me Jobs, 2015.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting work as a retail sales assistant are average, with regular vacancies but strong competition for the roles.


Pay for retail sales assistants varies depending on experience and the organisation they work for. 

  • New retail sales assistants usually earn the minimum wage.
  • Retail sales assistants with experience can earn up to $45,000 a year.

Source: Trade Me Jobs, 'July-December 2015 Salary Guide', 2015.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Retail sales assistants may do some or all of the following:

  • help customers choose products
  • tell customers how to use and care for products
  • ring up goods, and collect payment or arrange credit or laybys
  • carry out stocktakes and order new stock
  • check delivered stock against orders, and ensure it is in good condition
  • price and put away stock, and create displays
  • handle customer complaints.

Skills and knowledge

Retail sales assistants need to have:

  • sales skills
  • knowledge of the products they are selling, and how they are used
  • knowledge of the Consumer Guarantees Act
  • cash-handling and basic maths skills
  • knowledge of their employer's policies and regulations for operation and sales
  • ability to display stock.

Working conditions

Retail sales assistants:

  • can work full or part-time hours, and may also work evenings and weekends, and be on call
  • work in shops or warehouses and may also work outdoors – for example, in garden centres.

What's the job really like?

Kasturi Desai

Kasturi Desai

Checkout Operator

It is checkout operator Kasturi Desai's love of meeting different people that sees her developing a good relationship with customers.

“You have to be friendly with customers because you are the one representing the whole supermarket. When you serve a customer you have to serve them politely and make sure they are happy with your service.”

Dealing with customers in a professional manner

Even if Kasturi has an awkward customer she deals with them in a professional manner, stressing that customer service is one of the most important qualities needed for the job. “If I have a rude customer I try to see things from their point of view. If you get a faulty product or something, you would get grumpy too. So I try to understand them.”

There’s lots of room to develop in the retail industry

Already Kasturi has progressed to checkout supervisor and wants to progress further. “Before I started working as a checkout operator I was working in a pasta shop. That was when I first came from India and English was a bit hard for me. But as soon as I started working I gained confidence. I was made checkout supervisor after one month of working at Pak’nSave.

“Now I have started studying retail management. Work pays for my study. I want to finish the whole course and go to the next level in retail.”

What's hot

  • Working in a role that is social, and getting to meet lots of different people.
  • The opportunity to work flexible hours and study for retail management qualifications.

What's not

  • The work can be repetitive and can involve standing for a long time.
  • The pay can be low.

Bridget finds out about being a retail sales assistant – 8.09 mins. (Video courtesy of ServiceIQ and Just the Job)

Bridget: Hi, my name is Bridget, I’m in Year 13 at St Mary’s College and I’ve always been interested in retail so I’d really like to know some more.

Paul: Hi Bridget, I’m Paul…

Bridget: Hi!

Paul: Nice to meet you.

Bridget: You too.

Paul: I’ve got some pretty exciting places lined up for you to see today.

Clinton: Paul Carr is a retail training adviser. He’s going to introduce Bridget to jobs in three very different retail stores.

Clinton: First it’s to the home of everything musical - Rockshop, at Sylvia Park in Auckland. The branch manager is Adam Jackson.

[Sound of Adam playing guitar]

Bridget: Ok, so what have we got here?

Adam: We’ve got home keyboards, pro keyboards, we’ve got a PA system over here, acoustic guitars, electric guitars.

Adam: The thing I like the most is probably being like a kid in a candy store – I’m a huge, huge music fan. I love everything about it so I get to work with some extremely cool product and meet some very cool people.

[Sound of Adam playing the keyboard]

Adam: So part of customer service is obviously knowing your product…

Bridget: Yep.

Adam: …ok, knowing what the customer will need. The only way to find that out is by asking the right questions.

Bridget: Yeah.

Adam: Ok.

Adam: Hi, what brings you in today?

Customer: I’m looking for a guitar for my 16 year old daughter – well soon to be 16.

Adam: Who’s it for, you know – it may not be for them , they could be buying a gift for someone.

Bridget: Yeah.

Adam: What sort of music does she like?

Customer: Um, she’s a bit of a Taylor Swift/Lorde sort of a girl, so…

Adam: Ok, cool.

Adam: Is there anything in particular that you’re looking for? Would they like some help with anything, like that?

Adam: It’s got a pre-amp in there so she can plug it into an amplifier…

Adam: And basically, give them a couple of options, you know, and show them the range of stuff.

Adam: So you could play it two ways – you could have it…

[Sound of Adam strumming the guitar]

Customer: Yes.

Adam: Yep, or we can plug it into an amplifier and make it much louder and then we can mess with the sound.

[Sound of Adam strumming the amped guitar]

Adam: Doesn’t it sound great though?!

Customer: Yeah it does!

[Sound of Adam strumming the amped guitar]

Customer: I think she’ll love that.

Adam: There’s a real emotional attachment involved in purchasing an instrument and you need to be able to understand that on an emotional level.

Clinton: Adam started his working life in hospitality, but his love of music drew him to Rockshop as a sales assistant. But some additional training arranged by ServiceIQ guided him through the finer points of customer service.

Adam: Ok Bridget, so merchandising is really important – we’ve got a lot of beautiful stock in here and we want to make it look good, and of course when people walk into the shop, the feature stage area, which as you can see has a couple of gaps in it, so let’s fix that.

Bridget: Ok.

Adam: Come this way.

Adam: Well you need to have a really good product knowledge – with the advent of the internet the way it is today, a lot of people will come in knowing more about the specific item than, you know, you may do, so you’ve really got to stay as clued-up as you can.

Adam: So what do you think?

Bridget: It looks pretty good.

[Sound of Adam playing the drums]

Bridget: Cool!

Clinton: Cool indeed…

Clinton: …but it’s time to move on.

Paul: Ok, now you’ve had a chance to see how important product knowledge is, I’m going to take you to meet the visual merchandising manager at Overland Footwear, just so you can understand how important that is.

Clinton: Visual merchandising is all about making the product and the store look its best. Crystal Vaega manages visual merchandising for Overland’s 34 stores.

Crystal: Ok Bridget, so here at Overland Footwear, we display our shoes in different areas of the store and in alternate facing fashion.

Bridget: Ok.

Crystal: Now the reason we do that is so you can give your customer a little bit of texture and make the displays really interesting to look at.

Crystal: So we want to make sure that the displays actually tell a story and that the customer can look at the whole display and at least find one or two pairs of shoes that they are interested in.

Crystal: So here we’ve got some casual work shoes on the top shelf and then on the next shelf we have some semi-dressy work shoes, and they get dressier as we move down towards the bottom shelf.

Crystal: The most important part of my job is making every single product look really good, and obviously we have so many different types of products that it can be quite a big task, however I try to make sure that maybe we have particular colours grouped together and making them pop, so a key colour for example might be blue, so we’ll try and make blue stand out using animal prints, or similar toe shapes and making sure that we’ve got the right things grouped in the right areas.

Clinton: Time for Bridget to serve a customer.

Bridget: Hi there, can I help you?

Customer: Hi…

Crystal: So we work really hard with our staff and support office to make sure that we know what all the components of our products are, what they’re made of, where they’re made, and the customers really appreciate that information.

Bridget: And then we’ve also got these ones over here which are quite similar.

Crystal: I really, really enjoy that I get to work with the store staff and see the things that I may trial in one store and then I have to communicate and make it happen in 50 other stores, but making that happen and seeing the results is a really, really big achievement for me.

Clinton: So with shoes and music studied, time to move to a third store – Noel Leeming on Auckland’s North Shore.

Bridget: Do I need any qualifications to get started in retail?

Paul: Well, no you don’t but it’s a good idea to work towards something that can help you along in your career.

Clinton: Many retail employers offer certificate courses while you work. You start at Level 2 which provides basic training and includes consumer legislation and stock management.

Clinton: At Noel Leeming, Bridget’s in-store guide is sales consultant, Josh Hendry.

Josh: Awesome, so welcome to the store – this is our beautiful, beautiful electronics section.

Clinton: After a quick introduction to the store, its glossy products and how they are displayed, Josh sets Bridget off on her first task.

Josh: I really enjoy interacting with people, so being able to work in an environment where I can talk to people and get to know people is really, really enjoyable for me.

Bridget: So in your opinion, what is the most important thing about customer service?

Josh: With sales, one of the main things is building that trust, building that relationship with your client. Obviously get to know as much about them before I even start selling to them.

Bridget: Yep.

Clinton: So Josh shows Bridget how he does just that.

Josh: Hey Nathaniel!

Nathaniel: Oh, hey!

Josh: Good to see you again, man! How’s it going?

Nathaniel: Good thanks.

Josh: That’s good – so you’ve just come back in to have a look at the tablets have you?

Nathaniel: Yeah, so I’m going to – we need it for school…

Josh: Oh ok, yeah.

Nathaniel: Yeah, to take notes and do a bit of research and stuff like that.

Clinton: Josh’s cheerful confidence with customers puts them well at ease, and they’ll be secure in the knowledge they’re making the right choice. Josh is developing his retail career through Noel Leeming from floor to management with the aim of managing his own store…

Josh: Ok, so now let’s give you a go – so you’re going to sell me something.

Bridget: Ok!

Josh: Um, I need a new case for my phone so how about we do that one?

Bridget: Ok – so what kind of case are you looking for?

Josh: Well I do tend to drop my phone quite a bit to be honest, so, as you do…

Paul: Bridget’s done amazingly well – she’s bright and bubbly, she’s got the right attitude and with a little bit of development she’ll have the perfect skills for a career in retail.

Josh: Awesome, that was actually really, really good – you’re a natural to be honest, so well done!

Bridget: Thank you!

Clinton: So is Bridget sold on the job?

Bridget: I’ve had a really good time. I’ve learnt so much about how it seems so easy on the outside but that’s because there’s so much thought and planning that goes into it.

Clinton: There are no entry requirements and you earn while you learn. ServiceIQ provides training programmes and resources. There are a range of National Certificates available. Retail careers develop diverse and valuable skills that are beneficial in any job.

Entry requirements

There are no specific requirements to become a retail sales assistant.

Retail sales assistants can work towards a qualification on the job, such as the National Certificate in Retail, or do other specialised training depending on the type of products they sell.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a retail sales assistant. However, NCEA Level 1 in English and maths is often preferred.

Personal requirements

Retail sales assistants need to be:

  • good at communicating
  • good at customer service
  • good at dealing with the public
  • friendly, helpful and polite
  • motivated and organised
  • reliable and honest.

You can't really be shy and even when you're working on days that you're not feeling 100 percent, you can't show that to the customer. Sometimes it is a bit like working behind a bar. You get to know your regulars and build relationships with them.

Photo: Sharon Harding

Sharon Harding

Retail Sales Assistant

Useful experience

Useful experience for retail sales assistants includes:

  • cash-handling
  • customer service
  • other work that involves helping people.

Physical requirements

Retail sales assistants need to be reasonably fit and healthy, as they spend a lot of time on their feet and may need to do heavy lifting.

Find out more about training

Retail NZ
0800 472 472 - -
Service IQ
0800 863 693 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Frequent vacancies but strong competition

The retail sector has experienced growth over the past eight years, which has led to an increase in the number of retail sales assistants employed.

Vacancies for retail sales assistants come up frequently because:

  • it is a large industry with many positions
  • the job is often seen as an entry-level position, and once people gain experience they move on to higher positions
  • wages tend to be low, so people move on to take up better-paid positions.

Despite this, getting a job can still be difficult as competition for these roles is often high.

Work flexibility and experience boost your chances

Chances of getting work as a retail sales assistant are best for those who:

  • have some retail experience
  • are flexible about their work hours (including working evenings and weekends).

Chances of finding work are also better between November and January, when retailers take on more staff to deal with the rush before and after Christmas.

Types of employers varied

More than half of those employed in the retail sector work in supermarkets and grocery stores.

Retail sales assistants can also work for:

  • department stores
  • specialist clothing shops
  • hardware, building and garden suppliers
  • electronics goods stores
  • motor vehicle and parts outlets
  • car rental firms
  • food and beverage businesses.


  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • Statistics New Zealand, 'Retail Trade Survey: March 2016 Quarter', accessed July 2016, (

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Retail sales assistants can progress to senior sales, supervisory, shop management or regional management roles.

They may also work in specialist roles such as:

Pharmacy Assistant
Pharmacy assistants advise customers on the most suitable health and beauty requirements and products to suit their needs, and assess when they need to be referred to the pharmacist for further advice.


A pharmacy assistant takes a customer's cash card

Retail sales assistants carry out a range of duties in shops, including serving customers

Last updated 1 April 2019