Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'm (Not) A Slave 4 U

So I've already covered some helpful tips for making the holiday shopping season a less stressful experience for everyone.  That was the nice version.  This is the slightly less nice, perhaps a little bitter version. 

Somewhere along the line it became acceptable – at least in the States – to treat retail and other service workers as somehow less than ourselves.  I blame the "customer is always right" mentality.  This business strategy has led us to a point where the consumer knows that he or she can literally abuse the employees and rules of any given business and never face any retribution, because heaven forfend that business cost itself a sale or suffer a negative online review.  You can complain about almost anything, however ludicrous, and expect to receive an apology and probably a coupon or free item.  You can return items past the return date stated on your receipt, or without a receipt, or items that an employee saw you steal, and expect to get a refund.  Because if we say "no," you might not shop with us (or steal from us) again.

I'm not saying everyone abuses the system.  I'm not saying everyone is a bad customer.  But my experience has shown me that an appalling number of people have become so accustomed to being coddled that even the kindest souls simply seem to forget that retail workers are human.  So get ready to check your behavior – and if you're guilty of any of these things, think hard about how you'd feel if someone did any of them to you or about the hell you'd raise if a service employee acted similarly toward you.

Let's get into it.

Don't touch me!

I sell cosmetics for a living.  I spend a lot of my day swatching colors on my hand to show to the customer.  This is not a problem; I have access to makeup remover and simply clean up between customers.  But the fact that I have drawn a bit of eyeliner or lipstick on my hand to show to you does not make it OK for you to grab my wrist and twist it around to see how that color moves in the light, or bring it closer to your face for a better look, or to draw on me yourself.  It is certainly not acceptable for you to grab my arm as I walk by you to get my attention, or to grab a piece of my hair to see if it's "real." 

Honestly, where do you get off?  In what other situation would you feel it acceptable to treat a stranger this way?  Would you grab the wrist of someone you pass on the street to get a better look at her watch?  If you did, would you expect said stranger to be OK with it?  (If so... look into an etiquette book, STAT.)

Unlike strippers, retail employees don't have a bouncer to beat you up if you treat us inappropriately.  In fact if we complain our manager will probably apologize to you for it and reprimand us because you felt put out by us calling you on your rude and inappropriate behavior.  But the fact that you can get away with it doesn't make it OK.  Don't touch me.

I am not your whipping post.

It is not OK to yell at me, talk down to me, or imply that I am stupid because you don't know what you want and I can't read your mind.  It is also not OK to yell at me because we are sold out of an item you want.  Life is full of little disappointments; learn to deal with them. 

I often feel like there are people who – whether consciously or not – get some little thrill out of abusing service employees.  Maybe your boss is a domineering blowhard, or your kids scream all day, or a million other things that leave you with all manner of pent up frustration and looking for an outlet.  And here I am, paid to smile at you no matter what you hurl my way.  I'm sure it's tempting to take out all your frustrations on me, knowing I have to take it.  But it makes you a jerk.  Stop it. 

If your time is so precious, use it wisely.

You're in a hurry, you say?  This line is too long?  Well, while you were waiting in that line, did you use that time to fish your wallet out of your coat or purse, maybe have your coupons ready?  Or did you stare off into space muttering about how slow we're moving?

Did you wait until you got to the register to go through your items one-by-one, dithering over which ones you want?  Did you throw a crumpled pile of disorganized bills onto the counter?  Did you not pay attention and shove your credit card in my face when there's a pinpad right in front of you?

Congratulations, you wasted your own time.  You also wasted the time of everyone in line behind you, who is also going to yell at me about it. 

Your mother taught you manners. Use them. 

If I greet you with a smile and say "hello," and you glare at me and storm by (sometimes only to return to huffily ask me a question), you're the one who is rude, not me.  Think about how you would like to be treated by the people to whom you speak on a daily basis.  Act accordingly.

Other customers matter as much as you do.

I can't believe how often this happens.  I'm actively helping a customer, and someone walks up and starts peppering me with questions or demands as though no one else is there.  They will blithely talk right over me or the other customer and expect me to abandon someone else to help them.  This leaves me moderating an uncomfortable situation, as I try to either help you both at the same time or explain to you (over your objections) that I am busy but will happily be right with you.

You are not more important than anyone else.  Wait your turn.  This is a skill learned in kindergarten, for goodness sake.

It's not my job to watch your kids.

I have friends who have heard a mother tell their children to stay in a store while she leaves for the day; that "the lady will watch you."  First of all: no, she won't.  That's not her job.  (She may call the police and report you for child abandonment, though.)  Second: you are leaving your children with a stranger.  Good job, Mom of the Year.

And even if you don't do this... watch your kids.  Don't ignore them while they destroy our store because you're too caught up in your shopping.  Don't yell at me when I ask your child to please not run/climb/eat things, it's dangerous.  Don't let your infant chew on merchandise and drool all over it and then hand it to me because you never intended to buy it. (Yes, I have had this happen more than once.  "You break it, you bought it" is not a policy anywhere anymore and everyone knows it.)  Don't expect anyone to parent your child but you.  And don't subject us to their bad behavior because you refuse to parent them yourself.

Clean up after yourself.

Again, kindergarten.  I don't want your empty cups, dirty diapers (really?!), used tissues, or other refuse any more than you do.  Find a garbage can.  Would you leave this stuff lying around someone's home and expect them to clean it up?

If I had a degree in family therapy, I wouldn't work here.

No, I will not tell your daughter she's too young for makeup or that her jeans are too tight. (Again... parent your own child.)  Nor will I settle a marital dispute over how much money is reasonable to spend on a gift.  I will not take a side over whether that shirt is red or orange, and it is not acceptable to tell your small child that "the lady" will yell at him if he acts up.  (I won't, and you'd only complain to my manager if I did.) 

I'm not your therapist or your referee, and I am not paid nearly enough to listen to you fight with one another.  But thanks for trapping me so that I can stand there awkwardly while you do so. 


That's basically the main point of all of this.  The American service industry has created for itself a model in which it is acceptable to treat its workers like little servicebots devoid of feelings or agency.  And that's a damn shame.  But the fact that such a culture exists doesn't mean you can't rise above it.  Stop and think about how you would feel if you were treated the way you're treating someone serving you.  If you think you would be offended, change your behavior.  Just because we can't tell you off doesn't mean you're not wrong. 

Yes, I took the post title from a Britney Spears song.  No, I'm not proud of it.


  1. This needs to somehow be posted at Not Always Right. It'd fit in perfectly.

    1. I love that blog! But this might be too long for their format...

    2. The NAR community would label this as 'Zorroing', believing as they do that anything other than sardonically relating tales of customer fuckery - such as making suggestions for customers to clean up their filthy act - is wrong.

  2. I work in hospitality, not retail, but I relate to this, SO MUCH.

  3. What it all boils down to is respect, or lack thereof nowadays. Nice rant! It's unbelievable to me that the would grab your hair, which is awesome, by the way. I did my Black Friday shopping on Amazon, again, I avoid crowds.

    1. I've also had people argue with me because they don't believe me when I say my hair color is natural and think I just don't want to tell them what dye I use. I assume that's because I'm the rare ginger with dark eyebrows and darkish eyes, but DAMN. So rude.

    2. I've said it before and I'll say it again... You're a knockout!

  4. Couldn't agree with you more. I work in a mom and pop video game store, and as fas as I can see, the only problem you didn't cover is distributor problems. customers won't accept 'the vendor hasn't sent it yet.' They need it NOW!

    1. Oof, we get that all the time. I am constantly explaining that I don't control what the warehouse sends us or if a brand is short on supply of a product. But they don't care; it's still my fault.

    2. The best part is when you explain to them that you don't have the item and don't know if you'll be getting the item and they just stare at you, without a word, as if they're expecting you to suddenly change your mind. Then when that doesn't happen they ask one of your colleagues, sometimes the one that's standing right next to you, because you can't possibly be telling the truth.

      Anyway, great post, just yes to all of it.

    3. OH MY GOD I hate that blank stare. It's like they can't comprehend any answer but the one they want.

      And the asking multiple employees boggles me. It's my job to sell you things. If you don't buy things, ultimately it costs me money. Why would I tell you we don't have a product you want to buy if we do? I WANT YOU TO BUY ALL THE THINGS. I promise I am not hiding products from you.

  5. Thank you. I kind of want to go into stores now as a customer vigilante and tell off people who act this way because the employees aren't allowed to.

  6. I worked exactly one Christmas season in Wal-Mart, no less. It was enough for about three lifetimes. Sadly, in the decade-plus since, manners have only degenerated. Whether online or in person, the eroding standard of respect for human dignity makes me less and less of a "people person" all the time.

    How you escape November-December without compiling a body count that would make Mickey & Mallory Knox cross to the other side of the street at the sight of you both escapes me and demands my respect. Well-said, Tara. May a little decorum one day be exotically "retro" enough to make a comeback like swing music and bell-bottom jeans before it.

    1. I talk a good game, but really I'm pretty soft-hearted. I'm pretty sure I couldn't kill anybody. I'd be useless on a zombie defense team. (Well, I did survive Black Friday, so maybe not totally useless...)

    2. Well, more than that you sounded like a Hell-bent-for-leather disciplinarian of shoppers, I did rather mean that I'm not sure I'd possess your patience...hell, I didn't always possess it way back in my early twenties when I donned the Blue Vest o' Shame! ;) Still, I maintain that more could do to hone your grace under pressure. Meanwhile, I'll just be a little more thankful every day that I'm self-employed.

  7. Oh wow really ?

    Now you just explained to me so much things about some customers complaining to our team managers, that we were rude to them. Oo

    I didn't face up with half of what yu described but in France I had my share of american tourists yelling at me for absolutely no reason.

    If all you described really happened to you, I'm sorry to tell you that they are practically doing the same in here in France when they are visiting.

    I will not detail much but basically a while back in the past i was employed in a Shop where my job was to be the "No proposal guy" my job was basically this, sit down in front of a computer and wait for the customers that DO KNOW what they want so that i will just STFU and take their order print the receipt gather the items take the cash and give the package in return.

    An american tourist came and asked me dozens and dozens of question about products at the speed of light, even with the biggest amount of politeness i could come up with, to explain him that my job was to only take a complete order, he asked for the manager to complain that I refused to serve him.

    My boss then proceeded to the same explanation that in France some people don't feel confortable with the "getting advised" concept and want a guy that just shut up and take the order he still complained with this yelling as loud as he could :

    "Dammit he is free FREE no is asking him anything"

    My boss then finally fed up told him

    "Sir his job his to shut up and take order understand it and wait for your turn or get lost !"

    Then my boss told me that i did nothing wrong and to him that guy was just a douchebag.

    But apparently from what you describe that's not what happens to you in those cases. :S

    1. Oh no. We're expected to multitask at all times, so no matter what else we're tasked with doing, any customer that asks for help has to get our help. Or we have to snap to finding someone who can help them.

      And I really do worry about what Americans seem like in other countries. You guys must think we're such idiots.

    2. In France it goes this way :

      I've got contract taht says "you are payed to be at THAT computer on THAT seat, to STFU and take ONLY complete orders" that's what i will do because legally i'm only paid to do that stuff if my Boss want me to do more he will have to print a new contract where i'll be asked to do both. If he don't i can sue him for "unpayed and undescribed task appointement" .

      On the other hand if I do something else than what my contract tells me to do my boss can fire me immediatly cause i took the risk to put his buisness in trouble.

      Jobs are squared and clearly defined in France to protect both workers and bosses. So there was no way i would have done something else ^^

      As for how do we perceive you Amercian my view on it is this :
      "Most of them are just too busy looking at everything and being happy to be in France to be mean to anyone. Most of the time for them it's lifetime dream came true. Saddly some of them forgot just one thing YOU ARE NOT IN THE GODDAMN US OF A"

      Does it seem okay and not racist at all to you ? ^^

      Or do i need to work on that ? ^^

  8. I work in retail as well, and a friend (Mr. Sean directly above me, in fact) of mine shared this with me. It's a rough time of year for everyone, but you are ABSOLUTELY right, Tara. I've had the conversation with several of my co-workers about your second point in particular, and that is a major reason for rudeness. People have a lot of problems in their lives, and they come into a store and realize that they can abuse the people before them without worrying overmuch about retaliation. It's the same reason people abuse pets, because they're weak and frustrated.

    The worst part is, it's a snowball. I don't know about you, but when I deal with an exceptionally rude customer it colors the rest of my day. I know that I get a little more defensive, a little less willing to bend to help someone. That in turn makes me seem prickly and dickish to new customers, who may decide to give back to me in kind. This snowballs until, eventually, I'm just angry and watching the seconds pass by until I can leave, and no matter how good of an actor I am (or claim to be) it becomes nearly impossible to hide.

    In short, I think people just need to realize that their actions have consequences and start treating each other just a little nicer. Being angry doesn't get you good treatment, being nice and friendly, however, does.

    1. There's a bit in the book "Good Omens" where a demon explains to his cohorts that it's not about BIG evil anymore. That you can do so much more harm by just inflicting tiny inconveniences on people and letting them pay that forward in an ever-expanding snowball of evil.

  9. I only worked retail over a couple of summers years ago, so I never got the full-court Holiday season press. However, I did have one "great" customer experience during my time as a grocer store cashier that always makes me empathize with anyone working in retail. A guy who sure smelled and sounded like he had just crawled out the bottle he'd been living in for the last 3 weeks was buying a series of things including a couple half-gallons of ice cream. He then handed me his coupons. One of his coupons was a buy one get one free coupon on the ice cream. The other was an amount off of one half-gallon. I tried to clearly explain to him that he couldn't use them both. He didn't understand, started cursing, etc. My manager came over and tried to explain it. He still didn't understand, started cursing her out. The manager OVER HER came over, and, as a three-person unit, we finally somehow managed to get it into his thick, thoroughly alcohol-marinated skull that the coupons wouldn't work like he wanted him to.

    The kicker was that he then decided to pay completely in pocket change....

  10. I understand your pain, at least some of it. I worked as Janitor/Maintenance for an outdoor outlet mall, and even though there were 30+ trashcans lining the sidewalks, the customers used the entire property as a trashcan. Job security I guess, but people did some of the nastiest things that would have gotten them arrested if they were caught. We also had to be pseudo-security guards until the part time one's came in, so we had to tell people that no dogs or bikes we're allowed(which was fun because the manager refused to put up signs stating this, because she thought it would make people upset)There were many times I almost got into fist fights with customers. I'd also get calls from the stores to come to the store and stay until the creepy-ass customer would leave, because the associate was by herself until close and was afraid they would be attacked. Luckily I never had to try to sell anything to a customer, but myself, and my family have had enough experience with retail to tell many horror stories. This is why I will always be respectful anytime I go to a retail store, regardless of my mood.

  11. I love you list. I've been working retail for the last few years and I have never been more grateful to have a job with a counter between me and the customers right now. When I worked at Wal-mart people would just come up and grab my hair since it was long. I guess they thought I had extensions?

    Today thought I had a real piece of work. Guy gets a frequent buyers card. It has to be manually entered into the system and it takes time. We usually tell them 3 to 7 days. There is also an email you get for signing up with a coupon. We have no idea when they send out those coupons. That apparently wasn't good enough for this guy. He spent a full 15 minutes trying to get me to say it definitely would be this time and date so that when it didn't come then he could come and yell at a manager about how he was promised X and it didn't happen. He kept re-asking me too when it would be activated and when he would get the email and getting more irritated that I wouldn't be tricked by him into promising something that might not happen. What was worse was I kept telling him I couldn't give him an absolute anything and he would say he knew and then ask for one anyways! Add in repeating Christmas music and I'm ready to hurt customers by the end of the day with people like those on your list.

    1. Man and i thought my experiences with English and American customers were bad, and French customers pushing too far. Oo

      Really the more i read the more you people are scaring me Oo !

      I now kinda get that when we complain that your prices are not ALL TAX INCLUDED like it is in France you kinda get angry very fast now.

      And now French customers being rude and always asking the impossible, i thought you going too far but from you say people it's just because you have in fact already to deal with a looooot of morronic customers on a daily basis.

      Can i offer you a little bit of relaxing job. Cashier in a clothes shop in France beleive me the only thing people will complain about will be this "Why can't i get my butt inside the damn thing grrrr" when they are inside the trial cabin. ^^

  12. I'm really liking these posts you've been doing lately. I can really relate, even though I'm working in foodservice. As such, the only thing I've really got to add is that it surprises me the number of people who seem to be unable or unwilling to understand that the food we serve is just like the food they serve at home, and takes time to cook. Giving us a "Care Bear Glare" and/or throwing a tantrum will not make your food cook any faster here than it will at home. Unless the person in question is Superman. In which case, a little heat vision would really come in handy this time of year.

  13. Everyone should work in retail at least once, so they'll learn some goddamn manners and to respect all those who do this shit for a living.
    It's a theory of mine though, that customers, the moment they set foot in a store of any kind, drop about half of their IQ and gain tunnel vision, so they can't see any sign and don't know how to behave anymore. Sadly, I see proof of this all the time.

  14. Tara, you get to work in the special hell of mall retail, hang in there! I can not express my wish anymore emphatically that I wish customers would not discard their open, half full cans/cups/bottles of whatever coffee/soda/alcoholic fruit punch they carried into my store on my merchandise. If they want to leave booby traps all over their own home, go for it, but I didn't come to work to be showered in their spoor.

    PS: Chocolate bar needs to be made with the flavor "Retail Bitter"

  15. I used to work at a bakery, and can relate to a lot of this. I'm SO glad to be out of that field. Anyway, On a completely unrelated note, I saw this: and immediately thought of you. I picked up a bottle and its actually really good. The Hippo Lantern Corps could totally make this their official drink!


  16. I thought I had posted this already but can't find it, you should check out

    it's a forum where a lot of retail people share their frustrations.