5 Things You Learn About People When You Work In Retail


I like to think I’ve had my fair share of retail hell. Over the years I’ve worked in quite the spectrum of retail environments and I can safely say that each one is as traumatic as the next. Earning minimum wage and working long hours spending all day on your feet is taxing enough but without a shadow of a doubt it’s the customers that make it particularly soul-sucking.

Despite years of enduring the special kind of day-to-day aggravation that only working with the general public can give you, I did learn a lot of valuable lessons about people.

1. People TURN, I tell you. And they turn fast.

One minute you’re talking to the sweetest 40 year old woman about her mid-morning pilates class; you scan her can of baked beans; the next minute she’s demanding you haul ass back over to the shop floor to make sure the price on the till matches the price on the shop floor. If she’s right and there is a price difference, be prepared to expect comments such as: “it’s just as well ONE OF US was paying attention, wasn’t it?”, “this ALWAYS happens when I shop in this store! It’s not good enough.” or perhaps just a back-handed “see! I knew I was right.” Even if she’s wrong and there is no price difference you’ll more often than not get a snooty “well. It doesn’t hurt to double check DOES IT.” Either way you’ve become the enemy and if you think you’re going to continue your pleasant small talk …HA…think again. At best, expect a frosty yet sharp “thanks” as you hand them their receipt.

2. People are obnoxious when it isn’t their problem.

Oh, your kid just knocked over and smashed a £30 bottle of wine to pieces? That’s fine. Just walk away. Leave it to another customer to revel in complaining to me about the Pinot Grigiot polluting the floor of aisle 7. It’s not like people can cut themselves on glass anyway. Or take a nasty fall slipping on it.

Oh, you picked up a product that you’ve suddenly decided you don’t want anymore? I mean, you could put it back where it came from. BUT WHY DO THAT when there’s staff here paid to do that crap. Just chuck it on the nearest shelf. Or one better, why not just dump it on the floor?

3. Free stuff makes people incapable of common sense.

Holy hell. People get an astounding amount of satisfaction from gaining and spending points on their loyalty card. Fair enough. We all like free shit. HOWEVER. If you have a voucher for double points which is OUT OF DATE, then sorry I cannot help you.  But wait, what’s this? You were out of town and couldn’t come into the store? That changes things! Here, let me just pop over to head office right now and ask them to OVERRIDE THE SYSTEM so you can get your 20p worth of points. No problem.

Fun fact: to get 3 for 2 or Buy One Get One Free offers, You. Have. To. Buy. The. Stuff. Stated. In. The. Promotion. IT DOESN’T APPLY TO ANY PRODUCT YOU CHOOSE. Oh this information wasn’t clear? Not even in the giant display posters and clearly labelled shelves?! How weird.

4.  People have a disjointed view of how retail works.

This has been said countless time before and it’ll be said countless times again: SHOP ASSISTANTS DO NOT DECIDE THE PRICES. Complaining to me about it is just about the most counter-productive thing you could do. If you insist you can get something “cheaper in Tesco”. Then PLEASE, jog on to Tesco right now.

If something in the shop has been moved somewhere else…chances are it’s because a higher managerial body wanted it moved. Why? I don’t know. Maybe to add a bit of excitement and mystery to this dull and monotonous hell hole. Can I redirect you to the bread? Yes. Can I reshuffle the entirety of the shop because it’s not to your taste? No. Why? I’ll probably lose my job.

It’s as if people legitimately think that YOU, as a sales assistant on £5 an hour, make every managerial decision in the place and thus, should be made accountable.

5. People have no consideration for your time.

Okay. This one gets me the most. I went into work each day knowing full well that I’d be spending 8 hours of my day giving the best customer service I could physically and mentally muster. From 9 til 5 I’d be the nicest, smiliest (albeit fakest) customer assistant I could be. But when that clock hit 17:01. That was it. I was so done. So you can understand my issue with people coming in TWO MINUTES BEFORE CLOSING TIME and proceeding to take their sweet time to browse the shop. Hell. Nawh. Not on my clock. I have yet to manage to repress the memories of standing by my till past 5:30pm in a boiling rage waiting for one specific customer to decide what variety of potato to have with their Sunday roast.

In all fairness, 90% of all the customers I had were lovely. But my God, that other 10% have left me scarred for life.