You hear the terms sales clerk and salesperson often used interchangeably, but the reality is that these are two very different jobs.
A sales clerk is someone who largely stays at the cash register and rings people up, while salespeople are more focused on the customer experience and have more freedom and autonomy to work with customers on a deal.
Sales clerks are genuinely going to be cheaper, but a salesperson has higher upside in terms of revenue.
5 Differences Between Sales Clerks and Salespeople
Here's a few key differences between the jobs you should understand before making a decision on what type of employee you want in your store.
A clerk is not paid on commission and therefore not incentivized to do more than earn their paycheck. Salespeople want to know why a customer is buying something, not just what. If a customer comes in for a weed eater and a clerk sells them one, we might see this as a good thing. But a salesperson might have found out the electrical outlet is 200 feet from the end of the yard and sold them a gas-powered machine versus the corded electric version. The difference is not only higher revenue from the product sale, but an improved customer experience.
A clerk asks a customer what they're looking for, and then shows them that. A salesperson asks what the customer is trying to do, and then interviews the customer to understand their motivation. The net result of this approach is added sales, higher ticket averages, more cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, and better margins in your store. The customer experience is dramatically improved and the result is a customer who tells others about your store, which is the best form of advertising.
Clerks often only take the job as a way to pay the bills and tide them over until they find the job they really want, so there may be a lot of turnover. A salesperson often has chosen this as their career and will therefore have an attitude that is more conducive to the growth of your business. Attitude is infectious in retail, and it can have a huge impact on your corporate culture.
Since the salesperson is in a career, he or she invests in themselves. They desire training and development, whereas clerks are probably not as interested (and there may not be many skills for them to develop anyway). It is very important for a retailer to spend the time and money to develop its salespeople, or they will go someplace that will.
A salesperson follows up after the sale, whereas the clerk has most likely forgotten about the customer the moment they leave the store. A salesperson may "lock in the sale" when the customer is in the store, but then they send a handwritten thank-you note or call to check on the customer's purchase after a few weeks. This will "tether" the customer to your store and make them a loyal purchaser.
Focus on the Long Term
Salespeople often lead to better revenues, but that doesn't necessarily they're right for your store if all you really need are sales clerks. However, you should sit down and think about the long-term future of your business and what is going to cause the most growth.
If you decide that salespeople are what your business needs to grow, make sure you focus on hiring the right person at the outset. Make sure you are recruiting salespeople who want to grow and develop, and not clerks. Hire people who fit your culture, not the ones who have worked in your store type for years. For example, if you are a fitness store, just because someone knows a lot about fitness doesn't mean they know how to sell it. Look for someone with an eye for customer experience, not for the products themselves.