Oh retail. While some people really seem to enjoy selling and working with people, I am not one of them, and most people I’ve come across thank their lucky stars that they aren’t working in retail anymore.
I worked at a few different stores in college. The first was a middle-tier woman’s fashion store that catered to party girls with fake boobs/tans/lips/hair who carried dogs in their purses whose rich Iranian boyfriends/husbands/pimps paid for everything. And trannies. Lots and lots of glamorous trannies. This job was commission-based and I made a good deal of money for a college student, but there were downsides…
- Helping the random overweight octogenarian who stumbled into the store into some ill-fitting, plunging neckline thing that she didn’t even buy.
- Having to deal with the fake boobed/tanned/lipped/haired, dog purse-carrying, Iranian man person-accompanying mean girls.
- Having to deal with the mean girls I worked with who would try to steal my sales.
- Having to wear the items sold in the store. Not really my taste, and too expensive for a poor college student even with the employee discount.
- Working in an uptight culture of general bitchiness.
I then quit and went on to work at a store whose demographic includes all types of “disaffected” teens: goths, geeks, nerds, stoners, juggalos (they were the worst), “street kids,” trance/house music lovers, ska enthusiasts, lovers of all things Tim Burton, emo kids – I think you get the idea. This was a fairly fun place to work as I got to choose what I wore, the prices of the things I actually wanted to buy were reasonable – cheap, even, when factoring in the employee discount, my manager was awesome, and I was eventually promoted to Assistant Manager. There were downsides to this job, though, too…
- People love to steal from this particular store, and part of my job was to catch them. That’s all well and good until you have to ask a morbidly obese homeless man to lift up his sweater to reveal the stolen CDs he just stuffed under there.
- Being that my store was in downtown Seattle, we got our fair share of crazies. Some of these crazies would just mumble incoherently, some would pee in the dressing room. Diversity!
- Sometimes I’d have to listen to shitty emo or screamo bands I hated and pretend that they were the absolutely coolest when a poor, misguided fan would come into the store.
- Juggalos. They are the worst when it comes to stealing and generally causing problems. In case you’re not familiar, “juggalo” is the self-appointed name of an Insane Clown Posse fan. Trust me when I say they are the worst. If you ever see one, run.
- Sometimes members of semi-famous bands I’d never heard of/wasn’t into/wasn’t impressed by would come in and want special treatment. Homie don’t play that.
But! While I am so glad I’m not working retail anymore, I learned a lot from my various experiences:
1. Customer service skills. These are important to have in literally any job ever. Every business or service comes down to helping out another person in some way. Being friendly, polite, and patient, even when dealing with a horrible booger of a person, is a great skill to have in your back pocket. You’re not going to like everyone you meet, and visa versa, so it’s important to keep calm, put on a happy face, and deal with it (in the quickest, get-your-ass-out-of-there-as-fast-as-you-can way possible, obviously).
2. Shirt folding. This doesn’t sound as important and career-focused as customer service skills, but learning how to properly fold a shirt is one of the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER when working retail. And it seems like each store has their own way of doing it, making things more complicated. In any case, having to rearrange and refold shirts for hours at a time taught me to be more considerate to others – there is no way now that when I’m shopping I’ll unfold a shirt to look at it without at least attempting to fold it back to the store’s standards before moving on.
3. Learning to look at the bright side. Whenever you think you’re having a hard time at work, think this thought: I could be doing inventory at a store. Inventory day was and is the most dreaded day of all retail workers ever, even more than Black Friday.
4. Awareness of other people’s time. I typically would work the first shift and open the store, but on the rare occasion that I’d close, there would always be at least one person who didn’t leave after closing time. Without fail. Every. Single. Time. One thing I will never, ever do is go into a store (especially a restaurant or bar) 5 minutes before closing and expect to be served. By the end of my shift, I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as humanly possible and there’s no real nice way to tell a customer that no, I don’t want your money, I want you to leave this place and never come back.
5. Humility. You would not believe the lengths corporate made employees go to to help people at my commission-based retail job. We had to ask and ask and ask shoppers if they needed help and point out different clothes and accessories to them until they literally said “STOP.” No “Just looking, thanks!” or “I don’t need any help.” A customer had to get irritated enough to tell us “STOP” before we were allowed to back off. Needless to say, this lead to some extremely embarrassing, awkward moments. Learning to roll with those embarrassing moments can help smooth out a situation with an irate customer or pissed off manager.
6. How to deal with pressure. When the line is a billion miles long on Black Friday and people are cutting in line to ask dumb questions and people start complaining and you’re hungry and you should have clocked out 30 minutes ago and blah blah blah, pressure mounts. In a customer-facing position, it’s important to keep your cool and stay calm. Then once everything had died down, you can go to the bathroom and scream/rip your hair out/cry/etc. This works for your personal life, too.
7. Responsibility. Having to deal with large amounts of money, schedules, and regimented open and close times requires a fair amount of responsibility. I was allotted an hour to get the store ready before it opened. Given that I was most definitely not a morning person in college, when I was opening it was awfully tempting to sleep in and then either half-ass my opening duties, do them while customers were in the store, or rush through them. But I didn’t! Because I liked having a job and I wanted to keep it. Being responsible for yourself (i.e., being on time, getting stuff done, and constantly going above and beyond) and your immediate surroundings (making sure your workspace is as clean as it was when you found it, if not cleaner, etc.) helps in all aspects of life.
8. Overcoming shyness. Working on commission will negate any feelings of shyness you might have pronto. The same cannot be said for a general disdain for people, though. But working on commission also provides you ample opportunity to pretend you like everyone and are a regular social butterfly.
9. Being a considerate consumer. This can go along with #4, as it has to do with being considerate of other people. Just because someone works in retail and is there to help you doesn’t make them your slave. Treat them and the establishment they work in with respect. When trying on clothes, put them back on the hangers or fold them back up. I really doubt at home you rip all your clothes out of your closet and spread them in multiple layers on the floor – so why do that in the dressing room?
10. When to silence your phone. This is just so that when at 8 AM on your day off your manager calls, you can be truthful about saying you didn’t hear your phone ring and that’s why you didn’t come in.