Things I Have Learned from Working Retail Jobs


Ladies and Gentlemen, I finally made it to the big league. I achieved the status that all retail workers dream of. I became a supervisor. In reality, no one wanted the job and I thought fuck it but as of yet I’m not sure I like it, but I’m almost one million percent sure that I hate it.   At this point, I have endured and suffered through almost four years in the illustrious bitch that is retail and I have had a lot of help and learned a lot about working hard but one thing I totally underestimated before taking on the job at the tender age of sixteen was how much I would learn from the job, the staff and the customers.

Retail is a cruel and heartless bitch


There is something about the very nature of working in such a fast paced environment, requiring very little skills and which has a role for all different types of people that means as a retail worker you are invariably in for a shit storm. The very nature of your job means that you are replaceable if you mess up or decide to leave. You have no power of threat or no power at all to influence anything as realistically all you are is the lowest cog in the machine. However, more than this, in retail you have to be one hard as nails, tough bitch because if you’re not your manager will walk all over you and the customers will break your spirit.  The worst thing about retail is how much it can consume you and disturb your life given the right set of circumstances.


There is nothing worse that a ‘Can I speak to a Manager?’ Haircut


We’ve all been there… A customer comes up to you and asks for a particular product. They are Middle Aged or over with a short Bob (usually with bangs) and a cold stare or false nature. You do not have the product, and as you look into their cold, dead, miserable eyes their ordinarily broken eyes you see a sudden sadistic glimmer of hope and joy that can only precede one question.


‘I’m afraid that that’s just not good enough. I’m just so disappointed in this service and would like to speak to your manager.’


Your soul has just dropped as what you actually hear is ‘I’m going to have you flung into a vat of boiling hot shit you peasant because I think that you’re incompetent and I’m deeply dissatisfied with my life, so I’m going to make you dissatisfied in yours. I’m like Cruella De Ville but worse. Come at me bro.’ This is a customer to avoid at all costs or to pass on to another worker with the phrase ‘I’m not sure, but so and so should know better.’


However, this is not to say that sometimes you deserve it. An example of this occurred recently when a customer complained to me due to not being able to have their bread sliced to a certain specific size. I was in a wise-ass mood and so being the charmer that I am I told them that I would take them upstairs and show them our amazing new bread slicing machine. I directed them to bread knives. The called me a cheeky C U Next Tuesday and said they were going to speak to a manager… Still I have no regrets.


Sometimes though, I’d take a ‘Can I speak to a Manager’ type over a Creepy ‘Tits Pervert’

I will explain this with a Pop Culture reference. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Hugh Grant’s boss is a man who notoriously looks at her breasts before looking into her eyes. Put into perspective, Mr Fitzherbert, is Mr Tits Pervert in Bridget’s mind due to his inability to notice that her nipples do not constitute as eyeballs.


Now, my uniform is by no means tight, flattering or attractive. It is a shirt that hints at the fact that I have breasts and baggy trousers with Doc Martins. However, this has not stopped the occasional manager and plenty of customers from talking to my double D breasts  instead of my face. I’ll break this down and get very real now…


Hello, Mate. My Eyes are up here in my face, not situated between my shoulders. I can explain to you in great detail about the ingredients in any of our product, but that comes from the mouth on my face, not the one that is between my tits.


I know I am blessed with a pretty full figure, but are you trying to figure out if they’re there or are you just being a creep? Realistically, you win with neither answer and I do not appreciate it. If I wanted to be leered at I would work within a Strip Club or in Hooters, not in a family superstore.


Customers are the Bane of my Existence

Customers are the bane of retail and I am open and notorious in stating that retail may be alright, had workers had no obligation to interact with customers. Customers complain and bitch when realistically the nature of retail is that sometimes products move, we can’t get stock or we have off days and do not wish to be told in great detail why this is the one specific reason that their whole day is ruined and why it is a great personal failing of ours that this matter has not yet been rectified. Let me tell you the truth honey, I get just over minimum wage. That is not enough to deal with, cope with, or even want to tolerate your bad mood.


More to the point, a lot of customers have never worked in retail, or for those who have, they have since forgotten what it was like to work in the trenches. They cannot fathom why talking to a member of staff like they are dirt on the sole of their shoe is inappropriate and rude. I personally can empathise a lot with a person having a bad day, empathy is a human quality which I have and frequently use. However, I don’t care what kind of day you’re having that led you to take it out on me. If I’m having a shitemare or if I’m in a bad mood at work, I cannot tell you to leave my field of vision, nor can you as a customer tell me (as I was recently told) that I am a useless bitch and that my failure to provide you with one product is the reason why your whole day has been ruined and that you will as a result be submitting a complaint that will put me under investigation because you will be stating that my exemplary customer service (I’m not always a dick to customers, promise) was in fact shocking. This is a maximum effect complaint and no kidding, the customer actually said my service was exemplary before telling me that they were going to lie about it.


My experience with customers can be summed up entirely with one story. Before I went to Uni, to do Law by the way, I was working in a shop and a man walking along with his young daughter pointed towards me before telling her that my ‘career’ was why she should stick in at school, so as not to end up as a loser stocking shelves.


Now really, I know my job sucks, I don’t need you to compound that theory. Also, where’s the need in it pal?


The Customer is Always Right?

What I’m about to tell you may shock and harm your delicate consumer psyche, but I have to tell you it. The customer is not always right. I hear you pause with your delicately constructed and catch-all argument.


Surely every business should value their customers, beding over backwards to meet their needs and desires so that businesses stay afloat. Their views greatly impact us and as a result the customer must always be correct.


I call bullshit. I agree with three points to your argument. In a business, it should be every member of staff’s duty to value the customer and try to the best of their ability to meet their desires and whims. There is no denying this is a crucial part of sustaining a business-customer relationship within retail due to the vast array of competing businesses in any market. There is also no denying that in the age we live in where someone can spread their views with 700+ facebook ‘friends’ across the world, that a negative customer view can lose a lot of business. However, to say that the customer is always right is absurd.


We have had customers tell us that they have bought products in our store that we never had and never will. I’ve been told that I’m obviously ordering the wrong products when in most cases we order to demand and not to fill shelves (which would result in food waste, think of the starving children). I have also been asked to direct a customer to our store CEO as no store has a central head office in charge of their retail chain (we definitely do) and that if a line has been discontinued  it must be ‘our fault’ because we should have fought harder with our non-existant head office to keep the product on the shelf because due to the product suiting their tastes, it is obviously a best seller. I state now for the record, m’Lord, that if a product is discontinued, it is not a best seller.


Put simply, customers cannot always be right because customers do not know the inner workings of a supermarket or of the retail world. Therefore, they cannot claim to be an exhaustive source of retail knowledge. End of.


Your Workmates are a Blessing or a curse. There is no middle ground.

I haven’t been in the job I’ve maintained for so long because of the pay, the benefits of having a job, the necessity or any of these facts. I could get a new job without too much hassle. However, despite myself and my best attempts not to, I have started to care about whether or not the business does well and I started to enjoy the banter with the people who work there. Your coworkers are in the trenches with you and they either make the best of your mutual bad situation or they are your biggest hindrance.


In my work their are a lot of straight-up nasty and unpleasant jobs, but you just have to get on and do it. However, it is the people who complain and fight against this way of working that will drive you instane. You’re all in the same rickety retail boat, and so for any co-workerto pretend their a cut above you is ridiculous. Get mucky, get down to it and bring your best banter or I ain’t interested pal.


Intelligence is Subjective to Retailling

When you’re completing monotonous jobs, your brain simply tunes out and switches off. In retail, your tasks are the same repetitive ones that you complete day in and day out, and as a result if someone asks you to problem solve or complete any actually difficult thought processes during work, you’re genuinely stumped. A machine has broken? Uhhh… Hit it with something. NOT THE BANANA THAT IS MY MONKEY SNACK. KING KONG MAD NOW.


However, monkeying around aside (see what I did there?) when you leave work, oh my God, is there some hell of a world outside. What’s more you actually have to think, engage and react to this new world or else natural selection takes over. It’s a special moment when after a twelve hour shift, your brain kicks into gear again. Sometimes the job is almost worth it to have that complete spiritual enlightenment.

The Betterment Drive

The betterment drive can be simplified in one simple sentence. No one wants to be in retail forever. This is why a retail worker with a crazy dream is the worst possible thing for a manager. A retail worker with a dream to finally go to Uni, or travel the world, or start their own little quaint bakery is the type of person that given the right bad day, will throw themselves into their dream. They will book the tickets, they will send in the UCAS form and they will make the appointment with the bank and they will succeed because the thought of going back to retail is enough to make anyone baulk.


Retail workers are in retail because they have dreams. Usually, their dreams do not revolve around being in retail forever. Maybe they once had big dreams but fell in love, too young to the wrong person and had three gorgeous kids, but never got to pursue their dream because they were raising the greatest mistake of their life? Maybe they were accepted into Cambridge, but had to  turn down the offer because a family member passed leaving them responsible for paying bills? This is to say that people don’t chose retail, they chose to dream until they can meet their reality and make their dreams come true, whatever they may be so let me propose something new…


To the retail workers putting in long hard hours with little thanks, and little pay to make ends meet I feel you guys and I’m right there with you. Dream big and we’ll all make it someday. And to the managers and customers getting down on the retail workers, put yourself in our shoes and consider yourselves more. How’s about it? Retail jobs needn’t have to be terrible, right?

Profile photo of T.Bull


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