Probably one of the most common jobs around is the sales assistant position. It’s the job that tides you over if you’re lucky enough to land one once you turn 16, or during your gap year as I did, or at uni, or the step on the ladder to work your way up to managerial or in-house positions. For a lot of people it’s considered a temporary position, something to plug a gap in the CV before moving onto other things, but it’s a really fun role. Even if it is a little stressful at times.
I’m currently working my second stint in retail – you might have heard if you follow me over on twitter – and I’m taking as much overtime as they can give me, so I’ve pretty much thrown myself back into the world of the Sales Assistant after four years out. It’s both daunting and exciting, I’m in a much larger store than my gap year position; it’s far busier, especially as it’s peak trading period too. Shop floor is go go go, but there are a few tips and tricks you can use to make things a little more manageable and a little less frantic. Shifts when you’re stressed are The. Worst.
#1 Invest in a good lip balm, and hydrate as much as you can around your shifts.
my absolute number one, holy grail tip. Depending on your contract, size of store, type of store, and store policy, once you’re on shop floor, you don’t leave shop floor unless you’re on your break. It’s like Fight Club, but with people needing to be assisted. You won’t be allowed any sort of liquids on your person unless you have a serious medical reason – also store dependent – so regular hydration throughout your shift is probably not going to happen. Add artificial light and air conditioning to that and it can really start messing with your body.
Remember to bring water to work so you can drink it on your breaks, before your shift starts, and immediately, or as close as you can get to immediately, once you finish. Your body will instantly feel less tired, since dehydration makes you feel really lethargic. It also shows on your lips, so a good lip balm with keep the chapping to a minimum until you can rehydrate. I currently use a combination of the Magic Organic Apothecary green balm for daytime, and the Laneige lip sleeping mask for nighttime. Both are pretty intensely moisturising so my lips stay healthy looking.
#2 Flat shoes or trainers are your bff.
Again, it depends on store policy and what your uniform regulations are, but if you get a choice in footwear, ditch the heels unless you know you can do a lot of walking in them. Especially if you’re working in a clothing store and your uniform allowance can feasibly get you whatever heel you’re hankering after. It’s not worth the pain. Smart flats may not be the most fashionable, but if you’re doing long shifts, stairs, and running around after customers you’ll want something that works with you. Plus, with flats being a go-to for many of the fash-pack in the last couple of seasons, there are actually quite a lot of cute, really affordable options to help get you through your day.
I’m loving the understated and versatile nature of a black or tan flat chelsea boot, they can integrate seamlessly into your shoedrobe without being a designated ‘work shoe’. Another option that could work really well is a brogue, a little more dressy, but can still function well in a variety of styles. If heels are more your thing, try a platform or a blockier heel so you don’t stress your feet out too much.
#3 If you have nothing ‘on brand’ what do you wear?
This is only really applicable if you don’t have a designated ‘uniform’; you work in a clothes shop and your ‘uniform’ is bits you like from this seasons’ stock. Sometimes stores won’t release your allocated uniform allowance until you’ve been working a few shifts (there isn’t any gain to store for hiring you, you using your allowance + discount to buy uniform, then never turning up again), so you may be faced with the issue of not having anything from the brand to wear, especially if that store is at the pricier end of that particular sliding scale.
There are two ways to approach this, and it really depends on your financial situation at the time. You can either 1) cut your losses, buy a few bits from the brand before your first shift (tops/jumpers are the best place to start) knowing that you’ll make that money back so it evens out; or 2) if you’re not in a position to be dropping cash, work with what you’ve got in your own wardrobe, or dupe the hell out of this seasons’ stock. Even though I’m not a fan of much of fast fashion’s attempts to tell us what to buy and when, and I really do think that it’s bleeding out a lot of individuality, it’s incredibly useful when stores carry the same sort of styles if you’re working in a retailer that’s slightly pricier than h&m or Primark. Scour your brands’ websites for pieces that look like items you already have in your wardrobe – staples like black or white tees, or jumpers/sweaters with similar colourings – that way, if someone compliments your outfit or asks where your top is from, you can direct them to the similar item. If you have absolutely nothing similar already, and a little extra cash to work with, find less expensive versions of items your brand stocks in other stores. Again it’s a good idea to start with basics or the top half, you can worry about jeans, skirts, or trousers later; they’re always more expensive.
#4 Wear a watch
You won’t be allowed to bring your phone onto shop floor, so if you use that to check the time, I’d highly recommend investing in a watch. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, just something that’s functional. It will save you from wondering what time it is every ten minutes, and also means that you’re not relying on the rest of the staff to tell you so you don’t start doing accidental overtime. Especially considering any overtime that isn’t contracted or agreed upon to be logged isn’t paid.
The watch I use is a white, minimal, style with gold hardware that I picked up from Asos in the sales last year. There are a number of really inexpensive options around at the moment that look way more expensive than they actually are.
#5 hand creams are really useful
In a similar vein to lip balms, if you’re prone to dry skin, working as a sales assistant is probably going exacerbate the problem and especially if you’re working with a lot of fabric products. Dust gets everywhere; it’s one of the most common allergens, so it’s good to stop it wreaking havoc with your skin by adding another moisture barrier before the irritation can start. If you’re working with scented products, or bath and beauty items that require lots of hand washing, then a good hand cream will also help stop your skin drying out.
Find one that absorbs quite quickly, and that is a scent you like. At the moment I’m alternating between two from Crabtree & Evelyn, but I love the hand creams that Nature Republic does, they got me through the harsh cold that is Korean winter and are really affordable.
Even though I’m not planning to stay in retail long-term, I really do think it’s a fun job, even when it’s dull on slow days or manic at peak times and you have to deal with people who you really question whether or not they’re actually asking you, or doing that. Or when you’re The Bad Person in disciplining rowdy kids (please, don’t do that to us). It can teach you a lot about yourself and give you a sense of great confidence.
And a load of great stories to tell.
If you do work – or have worked – as a sales assistant, what are your survival kit tips, or hacks? Share them with me!