Working in retail is a “special” experience

The stock isn’t being put out fast enough and the customers keep asking for help. I was just asked to grab something from the back for a customer. Now my manager needs help lifting a recliner chair. I just want to leave the store and go to bed. 

Working in retail takes more than you might think. You have to get experience with customer service while also learning the necessary processes and protocols that go into running a store. I’ve been working in retail part time for over 18 months working floor stock. Not having the knowledge of supervisors and managers or even pharmacists who are working full time, it can be hard to give service to some customers especially when they need a price match, specific vitamin or even advice on which is the best coffee maker. I don’t drink coffee so I can’t really help.

The job requires a lot of knowledge but don’t expect to get it from the employee training. My training was kind of useless. I had to go way outside my city for eight hours just for them to tell me who the top executives are and some useless stats about the company. A loss prevention officer, also known as the employee who dresses up as a regular person to catch shoplifters, showed us some stats of shoplifting and told us what to do if there is ever a theft. We also learned how to treat customers with all sorts of different personalities. It was a start, but you learn a lot more on the job. 

I did get my uniform and my name tag there, though, so it wasn’t a total waste, I guess.

On my first day of work, I was given a tour of the store. The crew leader provided me with obscure and highly specialized knowledge such as the difference between the food section and the pharmacy section.

As the months went by, I became more independent. I could stock the shelves without help, assist cashiers with checking prices and even answer calls. But what I learned over the months is that there are different types of customers. Some customers know exactly what they need to buy and they’re out. Some need a bit of assistance with finding products and which to buy, and some I feel like have never left their house in 20 years. For example, one customer came up to me and asked me where the light bulbs are and I told him isle one. Then he asked me where isle one is. Either this customer has never been to a store before or he just doesn’t know how to count.

Another customer came all the way from North Vancouver because she was told that a towel was a dollar less at our location. I showed her to customer service so she could get help changing the price. If my math is correct, she would have spent over a dollar on gas on commuting, so I’m not sure she really thought it through.

Also some customers don’t understand that not all employees are experts about every product on the shelf. A customer came up to me and asked what the recommended dosage for melatonin is. I suppose I should be flattered that she thought I knew. Customers also come up to me to ask why one product is cheaper than another that appears to be essentially the same things. All I can do is look at the product’s features on the box or call a department manager over the radio to see if he wants to explain capitalism.

Christmas is the most stressful season in retail. We have to stock faster while helping more customers and getting extra online purchases from the back storage room. Every once and awhile, the person working at the customer service desk will tell us over the radio to pick up a call. Those calls are never pleasant, and it doesn’t help that they have probably already been on hold for 20 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. I think working in retail is great. I asked a co-worker what he thinks of working in retail, he said, “It’s a unique experience. You are bound to meet every type of customer, to experience every type of situation. But those experiences are what shape you into becoming a better more intellectual employee as with experience you can handle situations or whatever comes your way much better than if it was your first day.” 

In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

If you ever are interested in working in retail, I have a tip for you. All customers are different. Some are happy and outgoing. Others walked in like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed. If they are happy, you may even want to ask them how their day is. If they sound grumpy or frustrated, just do what you need to help them and send them on their way. Always give them good customer service no matter how rude or irritating they are. You won’t always have a happy customer at the end but you can console yourself with the reminder that at least you aren’t them.

Image Credit Pixabay/igorovsyannykov

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