how to approach customers in retail sales


For anyone who has ever worked in retail, it’s an objective truth that the job can be challenging for many different reasons.

Retail can involve ornery customers, strange corporate requirements for what you wear and how you conduct yourself in the store, and even potential theft.

And on top of all that, retail associates also have to do their best to sell as much product as humanly possible.

Each retail company typically provides guidelines on how to sell to customers. But approaching customers and starting a natural conversation that could result in a sale are actually much harder than it sounds.

That’s why we’ve created this brief guide on how to approach customers in retail sales. And while our tips are meant to be universal within the realm of retail, be sure to stick to company rules and regulations as well.

If you stay calm and remain determined, you’ll be selling like a pro soon enough.

If you find yourself avoiding customer interactions completely, then check out this article on how to avoid procrastination.


Read the Room

Before you approach a customer in any way, it’s important to read the room and try to discern their mood.

Most importantly, try to pick up on social cues that could signal whether or not the customer wants to speak with a sales associate.

For example, if a customer has been turning their head, looking around the store frequently, it may be a sign that they’re looking for a sales associate like yourself to find a product or ask a few questions.

But if you’ve already noticed that another associate has offered to help a customer and the customer said no in a frustrated or angry tone of voice, it would be best not to approach the customer right away.

Some companies require you to offer help to every single customer you pass in the store. And if this is the policy at your place of work, you should follow it consistently. Most customers will politely decline help if they don’t need any.

Also, to avoid annoying customers, do not hover if you feel that they do not require your presence. Most of the time, instead of purchasing something, they will leave the store because of annoyance.

Offer a Friendly Greeting

The first thing you say to a customer should be a friendly greeting. Your company may have specific phrases that you’re required to say when approaching a customer.

selling in retail

Regardless of the words you choose, put on a big smile and make it clear that you’re ready to help.

In public, most people will respond when they’ve been spoken to, even by a stranger. The way in which they respond is another great opportunity to get a sense of their mood and what they might need.

If they sound frustrated, make a quick offer to help. If the customer declines the offer, don’t continue on into a lengthy update on current sales and new products.

Simply move on and keep smiling, even if the customer was rude or condescending.

Likewise, if you have personal problems, make sure not to bring them to your workplace, because it will surely affect your performance.

Use Open-Ended Questions

If a customer has accepted your offer for help, try using open-ended questions to keep the conversation going and to get the most accurate possible information from the customer so that you can help them as best you can.

For example, let’s say that a customer doesn’t quite know what they’re looking for. Try saying something like, “What brought you into the store today?” It’s a way to find out what they’re shopping for, or for whom they’re shopping.

how to approach customers in retail sales

Asking questions like “Do you know what you’re looking for?” or “Have you seen our newest line of …” could potentially end the conversation with a simple “No” or “I’m not interested.”

It’s best to avoid these potential obstacles, if at all possible.

Do your best to sound helpful to your customer, especially if it’s their first time to explore a product. Thus, you should know your product offerings so that you can answer any potential questions your customer might have.

Ask for Context

If your customer is having a hard time articulating what exactly they’re looking for, then you may need to do some detective work.

For example, if you work in an apparel store, a customer may be looking to purchase an entire outfit, likely for a specific event. But without knowing what the event is, you won’t be able to offer any specific solutions.

Try asking “Where are you looking to wear this outfit?” Maybe the customer is attending an office party in a few days. Maybe they want to be more social and want an outfit that could work in multiple settings.

This is also an opportunity to get some more information about your customer’s sense of style. Ask what they usually wear to work, to a movie, or to the park.

Their past style habits can help inform the recommendations you make.

how to approach customers in retail sales

Present Several Options

Once you have a better idea of what the customer likes and what they will use the product for, you can take a minute or two to lead the customer around the store, showing different products they may like.

Don’t stop at just offering a single option. If possible, offer multiple options at different price points.

The customer will appreciate the effort and won’t feel like they’re being taken advantage of. This will also show that you are an expert in your field.

Make a Personal Recommendation

For this section, I’ll tell a brief anecdote about a positive retail experience I had as a buyer, and why I was impressed with the sales associate.

I was recently shopping around for a new guitar amplifier. And big-box music stores can sometimes be notorious for trying to sell people the most expensive option possible, just to earn a higher commission.

But in this case, I was up-front with the sales associate and told him my price limit.

how to approach customers in retail sales

He spent the next five minutes showing me different options within my price range. And when he came across several options he didn’t like, he told me they were not especially high-quality.

When it came down to two different options, he said, “Can I make a recommendation?”

Since we’d already been talking about our guitar gear and playing styles, I already knew that he was an expert in the subject.

I trusted him, and as a result, I purchased the model he recommended.

Once you’ve established even a small connection between yourself and the customer, a personal recommendation can be the perfect way to close the deal.

And more importantly, it gives you the chance to make it clear to the customer that you want them to be happy with their purchase.

Don’t treat your customers like they’re just potential sales waiting to be capitalized on.