Since I turned 16 I have been a loyal slave to the retail machine, and in those six years it's safe to say I have learnt a thing or two (or ten). In fact, I truly believe that there should be a compulsory Retail Service that everyone should have to fulfil before they turn 18, because believe me when I say that the world would be a much better place if everyone experienced working in retail. I'll be honest: working in a shop is not at the top of many graduates' career choices, but the last seven months have taught me some invaluable lessons, and introduced me to some wonderful people. As I start my new internship this week, I thought I'd share the top 10 things I've learnt from working in retail.
1. Manners cost nothing. There's no other way to put this, because the amount of customers I have served that chuck clothes in your face, or roll their eyes at you when you tell them that they can't return a dress that's covered in fake tan and has clearly been worn, do not deserve to be called anything other than just plain rude. Use your pleases and your thank you's when talking to sales assistants because you have no idea how much it'll brighten their day! Our clothes may be expensive, but manners cost nothing.
2. Some people have no concept of personal hygiene. You'd think that most people know how to use a toilet, or that plasters should be disposed of in bins rather than left on the fitting room floor. But oh no. I've even been the victim of one specimen who decided to dispose of their used tampon in a carrier bag and leave it for us to clear it up for them. There are no words...
3. The importance of comfortable footwear. If there was ever a way to test whether new shoes are comfortable then it's a 9 hour shift spent on your feet the whole day. The only problem is after your shoes have inevitably failed that test then it's too late to return them...
4. The customer is hardly ever right. In fact, the only time the customer is right is when they've worked in retail themselves, or they know the refund policy word for word, or they have common sense (which is not always the case). We are trained, and we are paid to work there, so we do actually know what we are talking about. And if you think asking to speak to a manager is going to change anything then they will tell you exactly what I've told you except maybe in a more calm and controlled way because YOU ARE WRONG AND YOU ARE ANNOYING ME.
5. We are not trying to make your lives more difficult. It actually benefits us when we make a sale because it allows us to reach our daily targets which means benefits for us as a team, and it might even mean we get good feedback about our individual customer service. Don't think we're so resentful of working on a Saturday night that we lie to you about not having a skirt in stock. We actually don't have it. But we do have an order in store service and we can give you free express delivery, is that something you'd be interested in? Sorry, habit...
6. The people you work with are so valuable. During the Christmas sale period a funny comment over the radio or a two minute catch up with another team member can do wonders for your sanity, so cut us some slack if we're having a bit of a chit chat whilst we're not serving any customers because otherwise we really might go insane.
7. Sales do not just pop up overnight. We've all been sale shopping not thinking twice about how this time yesterday these rails of discounted clothes were nowhere to be seen. That's because a group of people have worked overnight (including on Christmas Eve) to sticker every single item of clothing, price order it, categorise it, and place it on the those rails on the shop floor. So next time you think about dropping something on the floor just because it's sale then just think about how much blood, sweat and tears went into setting it up.
8. Staff discount actually makes you spend more money rather than saving it. Employers are clever that way because all the money you earn will inevitably end up going back into the store you work for via your staff discount. But sometimes at the end of a 9 hour shift the only thing that will cheer you up is buying that top that you've seen 34 other people try on today, so just let it happen.
9. There is no "weekend feeling". If anything the weekend feeling is a mixture of dread, trepidation, irritation, tiredness, impatience and just general depression, because whilst you're all celebrating on Friday nights we are all getting an early night to face the weekend ahead. Tip: don't ask anyone who works in retail what they're up to at the weekend because they will roll their eyes and then cry.
10. People come from so many different backgrounds. At university I was in such a bubble of people who have achieved academically. Whilst working in retail I've met so many wonderful people from so many different backgrounds, and I've learnt that the most intelligent and driven people might be serving you at the till. Don't judge someone because they work in a shop. I used to do it, and now know how naive I was. I recently graduated from a great university and I have genuinely overheard people saying "yeah well they just work in a shop" whilst laughing. I've met some incredible people, and I've learnt some incredibly valuable lessons from retail that no university degree will ever teach you.
So thank you to everyone I have ever worked with, and to anyone working in retail I applaud you; I can promise you that I will never, ever return an item that I've worn or hand items back in the fitting room that aren't properly hung on the hanger.
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