How Working in Retail Made Me a Better Customer

By Andrea Freedman

With Christmas quickly approaching, it brings back some memories of the seasonal job I had last year at this time in a retail store.

I had not worked retail in many years. I was hired at the last minute before holiday shopping began, and only had one day in which to learn all the basic things I would need to know in order to be able to do my job for the next couple of weeks.

I looked at it as an adventure, but it also turned out to be a learning experience, especially in regards to the challenges of working retail leading up to and over the Christmas holidays.

I forgot how hard it can be to stand on one’s feet for hours on end. Not only that, working in a store does not always allow for sneaking in a quick snack, and there were times when I felt light-headed from going too long without eating.

At times when I really needed a break, it was often at a time when the store was too busy. It was not always easy to stick it out until there was a good time to take a break, regardless of the fact that I felt weak and irritated from hunger. When I did finally go for lunch, I had a measly fifteen minutes in which to wolf down my food and go to the washroom.

There are good and bad sides to seasonal employment, as I quickly discovered. On the positive side, I knew there was an end in sight, so even on days when I felt a bit overwhelmed I tried to keep in mind that it was only temporary.

I admit that I felt a bit left out at times, since everyone else in the store worked there on a permanent basis and all knew one another.

The pressure was on to make sales, even when the store wasn’t busy. I had a quota to meet, despite the fact that it afforded no commission. Being busy made the time go by faster, but if there was a lull at any given moment, it made the day feel that much longer.

If the store wasn’t as busy as expected and too many staff members had been scheduled for that shift, I was the first one to be sent home, and was told that I should remain on “stand-by” for the rest of the day just in case things picked up and they needed to call me back into the store. Although it was close to home, I resented having wasted my time that day, as well as an outfit. Also, I was not getting paid for being on stand-by, so I lost money for some of the hours I had planned on working and I was forced to spend the rest of the day in limbo.

When there were growing line-ups at the cash, I often felt out of place or in the way, as there was only one cash register in the store and too many employees on at once to accommodate everyone comfortably.

Even when I made what I thought was a pretty good sale, I was usually told how I could have sold more. I personally did not like to be pushy or too aggressive. When I am shopping, I find belligerent employees off-putting, sometimes so much so that I would just as soon turn around and leave rather than continue shopping there.

Most of the customers I dealt with were quite nice, but of course there was always the odd difficult one. It did give me a new insight and appreciation into how hard it is to sell for a living, while at the same time giving me an opportunity to add to my skill set list.

Some of the silly little rules got on my nerves, such as being forced to say specific phrases to potential customers every single time someone walked into the establishment, and the stress of being expected to continue trying to sell to people even after they said they would let me know if they needed help.

Since my brief stint working in retail, instead of becoming annoyed if employees follow me around a store I am shopping in, or continue speaking to me after I tell them I am just browsing, I now understand that they have no choice but to say certain things to customers and may very well be cringing inside just as much as I am.

When I popped into a shopping mall recently and saw how crowded it was with last-minute holiday shoppers, I was reminded of the stress that comes with working retail over Christmas and dealing with line-ups of impatient customers.

Working retail is far from a high-paying job, but I figured that whatever money I made at the end of it all would be a bonus. This past year, however, after being much busier with writing (work I actually want to do), when I saw “seasonal employment” signs in store windows and considered applying for another job over the Christmas holidays, I shook my head and kept walking.

For the most part, my Christmas holiday job was a fun experience. Having said that though, I will be happy this season just to relax and get rejuvenated for the New Year; if I do happen to go into any stores over the holidays, I will only be doing so as a customer.•


Copyright © by Andrea Freedman, 2015


About andfreed

I am a Toronto based writer of articles, columns, essays and novels.

Posted on December 22, 2015, in Weekly Thoughts and Observations and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I can understand. I always try to be nice to people but having worked in retail in my early years I know what stress they are under at this time of year.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  2. I can certainly identify with your experience in Sales. I have been in Retail for many years, and sometimes I find it difficult to deal with the customers who enter the store, but I keep a smile on my face, and try to be as pleasant and informative as possible. There are days when I feel satisfied for doing a good job, and meeting some great people that I can enjoy as well as outfit them to the best of my ability.
    I hope you have a great holiday. The experiences you have make you a better person for the most part.


  3. East York Chronicle

    Nice piece and I’m sure many people can relate.

    Gary Webb-Proctor, Publisher East York Chronicle


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