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Is salesman the natural term to use about a male appliance store employee who walks around trying to help customers?

According to the OALD a salesman is

a man whose job is to sell goods, for example, in a shop

  • a car salesman
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    Help customers? Or sell things to customers while also helping them?
    – Malady
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 3:02
  • sales assistant
    – crobar
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 9:33

5 Answers 5

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Is salesman the natural term to use about a male appliance store employee who walks around trying to help customers?

"Salesman" is a perfectly fine and natural English language expression. But it is outdated in many parts of the world.

Having worked in retail, I can tell you that these terms (i.e., salesman, salesperson) are commonly used for people who work in the stores as well as for those who visit customers/clients in their homes/offices.

Merriam-Webster:
a person (especially a man) whose job is to sell a product or service in a given territory, in a store, or by telephone

Cambridge:
a person, usually a man, whose job is to sell products in a store, or by visiting or phoning customers or possible customers:
a car/computer salesman
a bond/equity/insurance salesman

But try not to refer to a female salesperson as a salesman - that may very well get you into trouble.

Note that in some regions, retail businesses prefer using the term "sales associate" or "sales assistant" as opposed to "salesman" or "salesperson". The "associate" or "assistant" variants are considered by some to be a bit more respectful, and to reflect higher status and expertise than the other terms. This is however anecdotal (based on my experience), and there could very well be regional differences.

This is from Indeed:

A Sales Associate, or Shop Assistant, promotes the company’s products and services and helps to answer questions customers may have about the company’s activities. Their duties include helping customers make buying decisions, servicing existing customers, and overseeing purchase agreements.

Sales Associates are part of the sales team. They are usually front-liners, meaning that they represent the voice of the business and are the first to interact with the customers. They help customers meet their buying needs. Sales Associates are also responsible for drafting and submitting periodical reports based on sales and other occurrences in the company.

Another similar role is that of a "sales/retail clerk". They have slightly different duties (including some overlap with those of a cashier and a teller). See Wikipedia.

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    I always assumed that "sales associate" or "sales assistant" is a bit disrespectful, explicitely stating that someone is on the lowest possible position in the store. Your definition comes from an employment agency, trying to make it sound good.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 21:35
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    @gnasher729 I don't think any job or title is disrespectful. Ask any retail staff if they'd prefer being called an "associate" or a "salesman", and you will see that most of them will prefer the former. I disagree that a salesperson holds the lowest possible position on the store.
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 22:13
  • Here's a sales associate position at Ford Motors which pays 75K a year.
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 22:37
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    Interesting. I hear "salesman" or "sales/shop assistant" a lot in normal speech, but I wouldn't generally hear "sales associate" unless talking about the position in an employment context (in a contract or application form, for example, or if asking what they did for a living). If I were a customer in a shop, I don't think I'd ever ask to speak to a "sales associate" unless I was trying to sound pretentious. It likely all comes down to context.
    – user81621
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 15:19
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    @gnasher729 The great thing about jobs is they don't determine your worth as an individual.
    – GManNickG
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 3:13
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"Sales assistant" would be a better term. Usually a "salesman" or "salesperson" is not someone working in retail, but someone who travels to customers. "Sales assistant", or perhaps "Sales associate" is the job working in a shop.

Note. You should use "salesperson" unless you want to specifically exclude women. Use the gender neutral term if possible. A man who sells things is a "salesperson".

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    There's also "sales associate", which I have heard used mostly for people working in clothing stores ...
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 11:31
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    A man who sells things is also a salesman. There is no reason to avoid using this term, despite what this answer claims you "should" do. And "salesperson" is absolutely used in retail, but not everywhere. Someone who works at a store but not in sales might say to me, "let me find a sales person to better help you with this". I wouldn't call this super common, but it does happen.
    – user91988
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 5:17
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    I stand by this answer. If you say "Jo is a salesman" I picture a person who's job is to make sales by visiting other companies, not retail. The term used for the people who work in an electronics shop, assisting customers is "Sales assistant". And you should use gender neutral language when possible. That is good general advice.
    – James K
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 6:29
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    If I were in a shop I would ask my companion Can you see an assistant anywhere? I have never heard anyone in the UK refer to them as sales associates.
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 15:55
  • @JamesK In English, there is no rule about using or not using gender neutral language when possible. In fact, gendered terms are far more common and accepted. You are simply stating your preference. I stand by my comment. A man who sells things is a salesman. That is the most accurate and best way to describe him. He can also be called a salesperson, if you prefer to both be more vague and use an extra syllable. Both are equally acceptable; however, "salesman" is better by any measure. That is good general advice.
    – user91988
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:16
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‘Salesman’ (or the gender neutral ‘salesperson’) is a common generic term in many dialects for someone whose job is to actively sell things. Depending on context, it may be interchangeable with the term ‘dealer’, though I would hesitate to use that outside of fixed phrases in modern English (due to the most common usage being in the phrase ‘drug dealer’, for someone who sells illegal drugs). Traditionally, the term ‘salesman’ also, in many parts of the world, implies a position where the employee is paid at least in part on commission (that is, they get paid based on how much they sell, either calculated by total revenue they generate, or by total units of product sold). Note that ‘salesman’ does not imply that the job is a comercial retail position.

In many places, the preferred terms have become ‘sales associate’ or ‘sales assistant’. This has occurred largely because the stereotype of a ‘salesman’ is, for most people, a somewhat sleazy person trying very aggressively to sell an often inferior product and willing to do almost anything to get a sale (because as mentioned above, they’re probably paid on commission), which is not an image most businesses wish to convey about their employees. Unlike ‘salesman’, these terms do not necessarily imply employees paid on commission. Just like ‘salesman’ however, neither of these terms implies commercial retail either. ‘Sales associate’ especially has become popular as a job title for people who respond to sales inquiries for online retail or for purchases made directly from manufacturers (especially in the technology sector).

In the context of modern brick-and-mortar retail though, you may see any number of different terms for this type of job. ‘Clerk’ is often usable as a generic (though it also includes the people running the cash registers, among other roles), and is what I would probably use in this case unless I knew for certain that the person in question’s sole job was to answer customer questions. ‘Floorwalker’ may also be used, but that’s a bit more regional, and may also cover employees tasked with loss prevention or restocking. ‘Shop assistant’ is another possibility, though that is also rather generic (albeit in different ways from ‘clerk’ or ‘floorwalker’. Unlike the other terms I’ve mentioned, all three of these do generally imply commercial retail.

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A person in the role you describe could be a floorwalker. This person is not directly involved in sales, but helps customers by helping them find the correct salesperson or the goods they are looking for. An example from television is Captain Peacock in Are you being served?

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    I've never seen that word in any job advert in Canada. Is that specific to a certain region? Also, what about the folks in, say, BestBuy who walk around in the PC/Laptop section? They are directly involved in sales and fit what OP described. I know they are called sales associates.
    – AIQ
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 12:34
  • I would use it in Australia, but the TV series I mentioned, where I encountered the word, is British. I have never come across the expression "sales associate". Shop assistant is also common in Australia, and they often sell things.
    – Peter
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 12:38
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    "Are you being served" BBC stone-age comedy... Nobody under 60 years old will have ever watched it :))
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 14:28
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    @AIQ "Sales associate" is strictly business-speak. No one actually uses that term outside of a purely business context. For example, a customer would never say, "May I speak to a sales associate?" It's not colloquial. "Associate" is just the latest corporate lingo for "lowest person on the ladder". HR types seem to think this sounds better than "employee".
    – user91988
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 5:21
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    @AIQ I've supported what I'm saying exactly as much as you have, which is to say, not at all. This is a forum where people share their opinions. If this were something you could simply look up and get a 100% correct answer, OP would have done that. OP was asking for the "natural term" for this, and I don't think "sales associate" fits that criteria. It's OK if you do. That's why you get to comment. I also get to comment.
    – user91988
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 6:20
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You can also let the term be extremely generic, "member of staff", which is what I frequently use

  • clearly and simply someone who works for the store
  • can be used in most situations without any implication of rank or role
  • non-gender-specific

I think this is especially useful and I would use this query when it's not clear if someone works for the store, but I'm looking for someone to ask them a question, and someone who might work for the store simply has similar attire, appears to be making changes to a shelf (such that I cannot see if they're wearing a logo), etc.

excuse me, are you a member of staff?

A "salesman" is in my mind, expected to be in the business of selling, must identify themselves as male, and very often receives some form of commission for their work (directing, informing, etc. customers), while often any member of a store's staff can and should direct you, such as closer or directly to some item or area you're looking for, or even a more knowledgeable member of staff, regardless of if it's their primary role and you are somewhat interrupting their activity (dedicated shelf-restocking, manager, etc.)

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    Also "floor staff" (as opposed to "counter staff", "manager", etc.). Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 20:29

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