Horror Stories From A Retail Worker: Please, Be Nice While Shopping This Holiday Season
When I’m not writing your fave listicles, I’m working in management at a big retail chain. So, I would say that makes me uniquely qualified to write about the struggles of retail workers during the holidays. Sure, I’m in management, so you may think that means I sit in my office all day gossiping about my employees and eating bonbons. But let me tell you — that is dead wrong. I’m the kind of boss that is fully in the trenches with my team. When there is tons of work to be done, it doesn’t matter if you’re a new hire or an old vet, everyone comes together in retail during the holidays.
Working retail is tough enough during times that aren’t the leadup to Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa, but those struggles are even worse from November through December. The days are long (and often extended by the need to get things done). Everything is a mess because of the influx of inventory and nowhere to put it. Oh, and half your staff has barely been trained on the store layout let alone helping with important tasks. Not to mention the fact that most of us spend the actual holidays at work! I honestly don’t remember the last time I had a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a special kind of hell.
But there is one part of the job during the holidays that makes everything else pale in comparison: rude customers. It’s the bane of our existence during every other time of the year but Christmastime makes every curmudgeonly customer 500x worse. I understand completely how stressful the holidays can be. But that seems to give shoppers carte blanche to reign hell upon retail workers in the name of getting the perfect gift for their kid. The “can I speak to your manager?” haircut is real people, and we can spot it from a mile away!
While some shoppers are rude all year round, it seems that everything ramps up around Black Friday. Have you ever been screamed at by a woman who wants the best Black Friday TV deal from the ad three days after it went on sale?! Because I have. I’ve also been accused of hiding items for myself or my staff after telling someone we are sold out of something. It takes everything in me not to laugh at these people sometimes! It all boils down to shopper entitlement, something that is inescapable as deals ramp up and items get scooped up quicker than we can stock them.
Here’s the thing that many shoppers don’t seem to understand: retail workers are here to help you. It is quite literally my job to make sure your shopping trip is a success and you leave with everything you came for (and maybe a little bit more…). But despite all my efforts, I can’t make items appear out of thin air for you. If we’re out of stock then that’s the bottom line. Forcing me to check the back (where I know there are none because I basically live here) will not change anything. Oh, and no, it is not “false advertising” if we have something on sale but it’s sold out by the time you drag yourself to a store, Karen. Sorry not sorry!
It’s not always parents looking for the perfect toy or collectors clamoring for Funko Pops that drives us crazy. Sometimes the younger demographic can throw their hat into the ring as well. My store is connected to a mall and that means teens run rampant on Friday and Saturday nights. They grab mannequins and run around the store with them. Sometimes they start blasting music through the displays in our electronics section. But the best is when they try to hide in the paper towels past closing time in some lame attempt to get locked in the store. What even is that trend!?
These wild children learn their behaviors from somewhere and unfortunately, the “rude customer” gene seems to get passed from generation to generation. Derrick Bishop, a worker for the same retail chain I work for, has seen first hand this holiday season how parents can teach their kids ridiculous shopping behaviors. When he saw a young boy shoplifting, he decided to tell the boy’s mother, who was close by, hoping to teach the boy a lesson without getting anything more serious involved. Well, that was a mistake!
“I was just trying to stop that kid from shoplifting. I thought the mom would have liked to know what her kid was doing. Next thing I know, she’s screaming at me and defending the kid. If that was me shoving stuff in my pockets, my mom would have kicked my ass right in the store,” Derrick recounts.
…Same! As a kid, if I strayed mere feet from my mom she would yell at me. The one time I did shoplift a Kit-Kat bar and Pokémon cards, she had my grandma’s husband, a cop, sit me down and lecture me. These days, though, retail workers see kids getting away with increasingly ridiculous things. Most of the time they’re with their parents while they’re messing up displays and jumping all over shelves. Honestly, working in retail has made me believe in child leashes! I fear for the next generation of retail workers and what they’ll have to deal with.
What you can do:
There are plenty of things that you, as a shopper, can do to make retail workers lives just a wee bit better this holiday season. The first of which is treating us like people. Not like servents here to do your bidding. I get it, we work in the service industry. So, in a way, we are here to do your bidding. But in a respectful, humanizing way. “Please” and “thank you” are always nice to hear! Oh, and don’t be the guy who stares me up and down and says “you’ve got some big ole’ titties!” and then proceeds to ask for help. Yep, that actually happened to me. We don’t get paid nearly enough to deal with the crazy stuff we deal with on a daily basis, so maybe don’t treat us like we were put on this earth to get you Hatchimals, okay?
Speaking of hot toys, believe us when we say something is out of stock! When we get 100 questions a day about a specific toy or electronics item, we know if we have it or not. I’m sorry if the website says we have one floating around, but we unequivocally do not. Take our word for it instead of wasting our time making us meander to the backroom where we know there is absolutely nothing there. Accepting that some items are hot commodities is the first step towards being nicer to the retail worker trying to help you! I can’t make a Fingerling appear out of thin air, but I can tell you if we’re getting more in and if any other stores in our area have one. But only if you’re nice!
Here’s a pro tip: if you’re nice to me I will do everything in my power to help you. And that’s pretty much the case across the board with workers in the service industry. I’ll call other stores to see if they have the item. I’ll bend the rules to hold a high demand item for you. I will even give you a discount on something else if we don’t have what you really want in stock. But the minute you’re nasty to me, it’s all over! No perks for you, nada. My flexibility flies right out the window. We are human, and being treated as such is the key to getting the best deal! Really.
There is one other big way you can make my life easier: don’t trash the store. For the love of God please just shop like a normal person and not a hyena in heat. When I watch someone toss shirts around on a table that was freshly folded, I start twitching a little. Don’t even get me started on people throwing shoe boxes all over the floor. In my professional opinion, it also seems to be the case that the people who shop like slobs are the first to complain that the store is a mess. If you can’t (or won’t) put a shirt back on a hanger, don’t complain about things being slung over racks!
The last thing to remember is that, in many cases, we don’t make the rules! Yes, I’m a manager, but I can’t override our POS system saying something absolutely cannot be sold until a specific date. I also can’t make something cheaper for you just because there was a sign at the other end of the aisle for a completely different item. I can be amenable but I won’t get myself in trouble just to help you. But, again, I’ll reiterate: be nice to retail workers and they’ll do whatever they actually can do for you! I personally love making someone’s day, or holiday season, by giving great guest service. It’s fulfilling to know that someone left happy because of me!
If you ask to “speak to a manager” odds are it’ll be someone like me. And odds are we’re so sick of your bullsh!t that we’re not going to be rays of sunshine. So remember that the next time you decide to be a jerk to retail workers! The holidays are tough, don’t make it harder than it has to be. Be kind this holiday season, and shop with respect!