Retail is an important industry which concentrates on customer experience and satisfaction 90% of the time. The other 10% is the hilarious/infuriating nonsense it's employees have to put up with on a daily basis.
During my time as a retail employee I encountered some truly passionate, motivated, hilarious people who made a career in retail exciting and worthwhile. After recently quitting my position to work a temporary media-based job in London, however, I know the retail path is no longer the one I wish to tread.
I want to be clear when I say this is not a slur on the company I worked for, or on anyone who is currently working in retail - it's a reflection on my time working in the trade. My experience is pretty extensive, but I've reduced it down to six things I learned as a General Sales Assistant/Head Cashier/Professional doormat:
1. The customer is [NOT] always right
Anyone who works in retail will understand this. Usually, the customer is utterly, utterly wrong. There are a multitude of tales I could tell on this subject, but the recurring favourites include; customers telling me how much they think an item is worth, instead of reading the actual price tag, customer's telling me we 'definitely sell shower curtains' when we've never sold shower curtains, and the classic 'this was in the sale area' when we weren't even having a sale.
'Am I being Punk'd?' consistently crossed my mind when customers behaved like this - then I realised these people were simply sent on a mission by Satan to slowly ruin my life.
2. The sound of your own voice is excruciatingly boring
'Hello there, sorry to keep you waiting today' - 'Do you have a membership card?' - 'Would you like a membership card?' 'Would you like your receipt in the bag?' - *customer makes inappropriate joke* - 'Haha! S'always the way!'
The above is a miniscule example of how mundane and boring my cashier conversations were.
My repetitive script did teach me one thing; never leave room for interpretation when speaking to customers, or use the word 'definitely'. Why? Because customers will definitely quote it back at you when the item they're definitely after definitely isn't in stock on the day they definitely turned up to definitely purchase said item. You will definitely regret it. Definitely.
(Complaints aside, my tannoy voice was exceptional, and I'll happily demonstrate it to anyone who asks).
3. People assume you're stupid because you're wearing a uniform
Instead of making you more visible to a customer, uniforms magically reduce your visibility. Customers seemed to love pushing past me, or simply ignoring my existence altogether. I always enjoyed it when a disgruntled customer loudly complained 'There's never anyone around to help in this shop!' as I stood next to them, in my uniform, repeatedly folding a table of t-shirts, trying not to implode with rage.
The classic 'Do you work here?' always went down well, too. I often wondered who was more stupid; the customer for asking the question, or me for dignifying it with the response of 'Yes'.
My managers were all over-worked, and often received unnecessary abuse from cranky customers. No member of the team was stupid; we were just overwhelmed by demand and some customers thought it was a crime against humanity that we weren't able to satisfy their awful, destructive, insatiable greed.
4. Christmas is [NOT] the most wonderful time of the year
Christmas begins in August - that is a retail FACT. The stock starts rolling in and the customers love it. Everyone goes mad - staff, managers, customers - even the pigeons in the car park. We all lose sight of what Christmas is truly about; quality time spent with loved ones. Long hours and a lack of flexibility also make you resent everyone who comes in to the shop on Boxing Day, too.
Also, wearing a cheerful, novelty jumper won't make you immune from being verbally abused by customers. I vividly recall wearing my red jumper with a Christmas pudding on, and crying to my Mum in the car park after a Saturday shift. A customer had accused me of worsening her heart condition by politely refusing to refund a top which hosted a red label clearly stating 'THIS ITEM IS NOT REFUNDABLE'. I was eventually told to authorise the refund, and the woman skipped out of the shop with more enthusiasm than the Grinch who stole Christmas.
5. You will share things on a twilight/night shift that you would never share during a day shift
When the customers leave, the shutters go down, and you settle in for a 12 hour night-shift; a new breed of retail worker emerges. You'll tell everyone your life story when the clock strikes 3am, and you'll find the words 'beautiful skirt' rib-achingly funny when you say them in an Irish accent, on repeat between 4am and 7am.
Night shifts ruined my sleeping patterns, but cemented my friendships with co-workers and managers.
6. 'Patience is a virtue' is something you will have to learn to live by if you are going to survive more than 10 seconds on a Saturday shift.
Have you ever tried to maintain the visual standards Head Office has insisted on whilst your store is full of impatient parents and screaming children who think every item of clothing is a football/something to hide under/something to wipe their face on? You don't understand the definition of 'mess' until you've seen the children's footwear section on a Saturday afternoon. Eating the glittery jelly-sandals would be more enjoyable than tidying them as small children dance around you, mocking your very existence.
Ultimately, after six years of raucously unsociable behaviour courtesy of the general public, the phrase 'retail therapy' has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I send my love and respect to all those who are still loving/loathing their current retail positions.