Canadian Retailers Incorrectly Positioning Sales Associates as ‘Stylists’: Expert



By Mina Ely

In today’s retail world, stores are wrongly labeling sales associates as stylists; misleading consumers to believe that they are one and the same. How do we make the distinction between the two, and more importantly, why is it so important?

To be successful in Canada’s ever-changing retail market versatility and a deep understanding of our societal habits and realistic needs are required. As society becomes increasingly busier, less time is allocated in day-to-day life for shopping or styling. Finding your schedule full, your closet empty, and yourself wandering around department stores unsupervised is a situation I’m sure most can relate to. Have you ever heard the term “use it or lose it”? Well that can also be applied to understanding how to shop.

Holt Renfrew’s women’s footwear hall at 50 Bloor St. W. in Toronto. PHOTO: GEORGE PIMENTELHolt Renfrew’s women’s footwear hall at 50 Bloor St. W. in Toronto. PHOTO: GEORGE PIMENTEL

Holt Renfrew’s women’s footwear hall at 50 Bloor St. W. in Toronto. PHOTO: GEORGE PIMENTEL

Valentino at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping centre. photo: michael murazValentino at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping centre. photo: michael muraz

Valentino at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping centre. photo: michael muraz

The less we put something into practice the less confident we are in our ability to do so, therefore leaving one feeling jaded just at the thought of finding appropriate work attire. Avoiding this unnecessary strain stems from one’s understanding that, in retail, there are sales associates, and then there are personal stylists. People often assume or are led to believe, that these terms are interchangeable. The service provided by each is starkly different, and bringing awareness to this misconception is vital for those who are struggling to find their way in the often fickle, and seemingly inauspicious world of fashion.



Sales associates man the floor. They are the face of the store; the first people customers interact with and are responsible for ensuring the comfortability and ease at which the walk-in consumers shop. They are knowledgeable about fashion and trends, and require the ability to create excellent customer relations and close sales. Their positions are important, yes, but are disparate from that of a personal stylist.

Personal stylists are not merely people who understand fashion and know how to make a sale. They have the ability to create a transformational experience for the client. They strive to overhaul a client’s whole wardrobe, instilling confidence in the wearer and ensuring that the idea of shopping is not an overwhelming one. Their services vary, both in-store and outbound, with frequent at-home visits and personal pick-ups if necessary. Hiring a stylist is an extremely personal experience and the client needs to be able to rely upon and trust their stylist.

A major aspect of a stylist’s job is to cultivate client-stylist relationships. These often result in close personal friendships, thus providing the stylist with a loyal following. In order to be trusted, however, stylists need to be able to connect to both the clients and the brands that they are endorsing. Without a commitment to the customer or a passion for the brand, a stylist is without ammunition.

Often, stylists largely work on commission, and so their client base is vital to their success. They have an insatiable passion for style and for making others feel confident in their clothes. Their selling strategies need to be flawless and altered for each individual. A stylist’s credibility is everything and often it can take years to accumulate a loyal and large enough following to make a good living.

Yes, stylists and sales associates have the same end goal: a successful sale and a happy customer. They both require a passion for fashion and a flair for igniting customer relations. What sets them apart, however, is their level of commitment and expertise. Creating, maintaining, and cultivating client relationships is what enables a stylist to become successful. This means truly understanding the value of selling strategies and the importance of providing clients with their undivided attention. A stylist’s purpose is to provide the consumer with a transformational experience, and ultimately, stylists are selling a service and not just a new item of clothing, and that makes all the difference.


With twenty years in the luxury retail industry, Mina Ely has a broad understanding of the retail and fashion world. As a Luxury Retail Sales Specialist, Retail Strategist and Luxury Wardrobe Consultant, Mina provides a wide range of services to her portfolio of executive clients. Mina firmly believes that retails core values stem from the overall experience of the consumer and her goal is to ensure that the clients expectations are exceeded every time. Mina brings expertise that span the width of the business. Giving back to the community is important to Mina so she is passionate about partnering with charity organizations and hosting private events with the theme of “Fashion Cares for a Cause” in mind.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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