Thursday, November 22, 2012

Merry Shopmas!

This is reposted from my now-dormant fashion blog.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm baaaaaaack!

Well, that's the plan anyway.  I work retail and it's late November, and that means my soul will belong to the mall gods for at least the next month, but my intention is to pull this blog back from the netherworld and get back to it.

And I mention the timing not just to make a blatant play for your sympathy, but also because it's topical!  Black Friday is staring us down and soon many of us will be fighting the crowds in search of gifts for our loved ones.  So in the hopes of making everyone's season a little more merry and a little less Grinchy, I give you:

Care and Maintenance of Your Retail Associate:  A Handy Guide for a Happier Holiday

No, this is not the new Romero movie.  This is your local mall.

 Before I start, let me say that this list is not just intended to be the grumpy rantings of a retail salesperson.  These tips will make your life easier too.  Some of them are common sense, some of them are common courtesy, but they're all good things to keep in mind.  That said, let's get into it:

1. Know what you want.

This isn't always possible, of course.  Sometimes you need help finding a gift and you really don't have any ideas, and in those cases it's fine to ask a worker for some guidance and ideas.  That's not what I'm really talking about here.  What I'm talking about is when you do know what you're looking for – you saw this particular item in a magazine or on Dr. Oz or on the news, and you or someone else really wants it, but damn if you can remember what it is.

Don't be that guy.  Write it down.  Tear our the print ad.  Employees at major retailers can't possibly know every published appearance of every product we sell, and if you just tell us it's that thing that Anderson Cooper mentioned yesterday we won't be able to help you because we were probably at work and not watching Anderson Cooper (which is a lamentable situation in itself).  This will wind up wasting your time and ours as we walk you to every item in the store that could possibly be what you've described and you tell us it's not the right thing.  You'll think we're idiots.  We'll think you should have written it down.

If you know what you want, make it so that we can help you get it.  Which brings us to...

2. Be prepared and aware.

It's going to be crowded.  It's going to be hot as the seventh circle of Hell.  There are going to be long lines.  Your children will be bored and hungry and screaming for you to buy them everything in sight.  And let's not even talk about parking.

But the thing that too often gets forgotten when people are shopping and hyped up and grumpy from all these things is that the employees not only didn't create this situation, but we're powerless to change it.  We can't control our store temperature, or tell everyone else to please shop later because you have somewhere to be, or make that out-of-stock item magically appear.  We're as miserable as you are.  In fact we're probably more miserable because while you can say "screw it" and go home and shop online if you want, we have to be here no matter how bad it gets and we've had people yelling at us all day about things we can't control.  But still we smile, and apologize, and tell you to have a nice day.  Because that's our job.

I'm not saying we're infallible.  But there's going to be a lot of annoyances that aren't our fault, and we'd really appreciate it if you'd take a second to take a breath and realize it's not our fault before you take out your frustrations on us.  (And saying "I know it's not your fault but..." before yelling at us anyway doesn't count.  I still can't figure out why people do that.)

If there's really a problem that's flagrant or out of the ordinary, ask for a manager or the store's corporate customer service number.  You'll get to talk to someone who can actually fix your problem, and isn't that better than wasting your time yelling at a powerless cashier?

3. Be an informed consumer.

There are some questions to which you will simply never get an honest answer from a retail employee.  This isn't because we mean to be disingenuous.  It's because it's our job to sell you things.  That means we can't tell you if such and such an item is just an overpriced gimmick and you can get it cheaper elsewhere or that those jeans are out of style and that's why they're on clearance.  Well... we could, but if our managers heard us we'd catch hell.

Yes, we can advise, and yes, it's our job to steer you toward the best product for your needs and desires.  But ultimately, we can't tell you that a product we sell sucks even if it does.  The best we can do is suggest a better product.

This is where you can do yourself enormous favors by taking advantage of the internet.  You can find almost any information on almost any product with some simple Googling.  You can find online forums and reviews that will answer your questions with a lot more honesty than we can.  And then you can have a more clear picture of what you really want.  (And once you do, don't forget to write it down!)

That said, please don't think I'm saying you can't ask us questions.  There are a lot of things with which we can and will be happy to help you that will help you in the long run.  Ask us for a gift receipt.  Ask us about our return policy.  Ask us prices.  Ask us if we've tried a product and/or what we use.  Ask us if an out-of-stock item will be replenished or is available through our online store.  Ask us if there's an item we sell that's better suited to your needs.  Ask away!  Just ask us things we can actually answer honestly and be aware of what homework you need to do on your own.

4. Give yourself time.

Remember when I said there would be lines and no parking?  I wasn't kidding.  The time to shop is not before that party you need to get to or your child's school play or on the way to your boss' cocktail fete.  We can't (and won't) bump you to the head of a line just because you don't want to or don't have time to wait.  No one else wants to wait either.  This goes back to kindergarten, people.  Everyone has to wait their turn.

Also, if you shop on a weekend – which if you work a 9-5 you'll probably have to and for that I'm sorry – please be reasonable about it.  Everyone else who works a 9-5 is also shopping.  That means the stores will be exponentially more crowded and there will be lines.  Scolding the greeter at the door because the line is too long at 1pm on a Saturday in December when you can plainly see that every register is open and working is pointless and sort of petty of you.  We're obviously doing everything we can.  You're shopping at the busiest point of our week.  What did you expect?

Leave yourself time and have realistic expectations.  We'll both be happier for it.  And if you can, shop at off-peak times like during the week or in the morning.

5. We're not mind readers.  Please act accordingly.

We've all done it:  we're thinking something and we forget that other people don't live in our brains and so we get sort of confused when they don't know exactly what we're talking about or what we want.  So I'm not saying doing that makes you a jerk.  Just don't be angry at us when we don't follow your train of thought.  Let us ask the questions we need to ask and answer them as clearly as you can.

Also, please don't take it personally if an employee you know has helped you before doesn't remember you or what we sold you.  We see so many people that we just can't remember every face and interaction.  If you're a regular customer, of course we'll do our best to be mindful of your preferences and visits.  But give us a little patience if you can.

6. Please, please, PLEASE treat us like humans.

I can't tell you how many times I've had people walk up to me and shout a single word, whether it be a product name or a noun or something like "returns!"  And yes, it's my job to fill in the rest of that sentence for you and direct you to what you surely meant to ask me for in a polite and grown-up way.  But having to do that is sort of demoralizing and dehumanizing.  Ditto for mindlessly thrusting your credit card in my face at the cash register, refusing to speak to me at all, seeing that you're in my way and my arms are full of product and going back to what you're doing without giving me even an extra inch of space, using your child's stroller as a battering ram (I have honestly seen people do this and it boggles my mind), or expecting me to follow you around holding your items while you ignore me and/or shop for you after you've thrust a list at me.

We're people just like you.  Yes, it's our job to help you.  And yes, the American service industry has evolved to be such that no matter how poorly you treat us we're required to smile at you and apologize for not being subservient enough.  But none of this is an excuse for you to forget everything your mother taught you about common courtesy and manners.  Retail employees are not machines.  We have limitations, and feelings, and yes, other customers.  Please remember this.  Speak in full sentences.  Say "thank you" if someone is helpful to you.  Understand that there are customers besides you who may need help too.  Basically... be nice.  (Unless we really give you a reason not to be nice, of course, in which case I refer you back to the end of point #2.)

7. Pay attention! 

Know your surroundings.  Is there a credit card pinpad right in front of you?  Then don't hand the cashier your card.  Is said pinpad giving you directions?  Follow them.  Is there a sign that says "line forms here?"  Don't start a new line and expect to be served.

This is really a basic life survival skill that an alarming number of people seem to lack.  Just look around.  In a retail setting, we want to make your experience as efficient as possible.  This helps you be happy and come back, and it helps us serve more customers and make more money.  But this requires you to be aware of your surroundings.  I know it's crowded and your kids are screaming, but please just use some common sense here. 

Also, please for the love of God get off the phone if you're at a cash register or expecting service.  You have no idea how annoying and impossible it is to help somebody who isn't paying attention to you or listening to anything you say.  And yes, texting counts.

8. Clean up after yourself.

Ever walk into a store and think, "what a mess?"  Did you then leave the clothes you tried on in a heap on the fitting room floor, or leave a used tissue on the beauty counter, or finish your soda and leave the cup on a sales fixture?

Congratulations, you're part of the problem!

Seriously.  Please don't do that.  I'm not asking you to clean our store for us, but just don't make our job any harder than it already is.  If your mom didn't teach you to clean up after yourself then your kindergarten teacher probably did.  Remember those lessons.  Look for garbage cans for your trash.  Bring your tried-ons to the fitting room attendant.  If you break or spill something, tell someone.

And please don't change your child's diaper on an inappropriate surface and/or leave dirty diapers lying around in stores.  We don't want your child's excrement anymore than you do. 

9. Watch that kid!

Children are great.  They're cute and they're precocious and they laugh when you make faces at them.  But they're also big fans of making a mess, and they don't know not to break things that aren't theirs, and they tend to run off and cause a panic when you can't find them.

Please watch your child.  Don't ignore him or her while you shop and s/he wrecks our store.  Don't dump them in a toy store and expect that the employees there will watch him or her.  Don't let them wander off and get lost.  Don't let them play with or chew on anything you aren't planning to buy.  Don't yell at us when we politely ask little Scooter to please stop climbing on that fixture because he could get hurt.

In short... be a parent.  We can't do it for you because we have other things to do. 

10. Help me help you.

The cash register experience ain't what it used to be.  These days every store has either a rewards card or a credit card, and a customer service survey (which you should really take the time to take because it improves your service and often comes with perks), and a thousand other little things.  I know that can be annoying.  But I promise if you're patient we'll give you all the information you need and we'll take the best care of you that we can.

Let us ask the questions we need to ask you.  Answer them.  Ask us questions you have – but please not while we're trying to talk to you.  With a little patience and listening from us both we can get you helped and out the door more quickly and efficiently.  Just let us do our jobs.  We're here for you, after all. 


This is all a really long way of saying one thing:  be smart and considerate.  Everyone is in this together, and the people working at your local mall or stores are working really hard.  Please keep that in mind while you do your holiday shopping and everyone will be a lot happier.


  1. After seeing that picture... wow! That's a tough crowd. No doubt you're gonna be exhausted but at least the hours of the day will have flown by. I stay away from dept. stores during the holidays and do my shopping prior, I'm not big on crowds. By the way I was the guy that picked up your Gladiator reference last night on Twitter.

  2. Sometimes I feel like heading over to the states for the Christmas period and playing a game tentatively titled "here's yer prawblum!" in which the goal is to enlighten the other shoppers as to how they are being a total retard.

    Did I ever tell you about my experiences working retail over Christmas? They were lovely. I'm not even kidding, it was just not a bad job at all. Working in a toy shop. At Christmas.

    Yup, America just sucks.

  3. Ask proper questions don't just walk up to me and go "soooo tablets?" or "tell me about this computer?"