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I Am A Retail Warrior: 15 Things We Wish Customers Knew

I work in a small, high-end boutique that caters to a very specific subset of (often wealthy) customers: Pet lovers. Just for fun, we'll call my shop "Creature Comforts," because it truly is focused on the supreme comfort of dogs, cats, and their "parents," and to that end, it's not uncommon for someone to drop $800 or $1,200 on high-quality pet merchandise in one go.

But before I get into the crazy specifics that make up my days and weeks, I'd like to share a few things that should be general knowledge for every consumer in every store, whether it's Target or Brooks Brothers, because, as a retail warrior, I hear the same stories repeated time and again, and if one more fucking person messes up 15 stacks of carefully folded t-shirts after declining help in finding a size and then doesn't buy a goddamn thing, I just might have a nuclear meltdown.

This is not a joke.

1. When you enter a store, you will most likely be greeted. The person who greets you is probably genuinely glad to see you. So when I say something along the lines of "Hi! Welcome to Creature Comforts! How are you today?" the only excuse for you responding with "Just browsing" is if you're stone deaf. I didn't ask what you were doing in my store, I asked how you were. Browsing is not a state of being. Even if you're having an absolutely shitty day, you can at least glance up and reply to the question I actually asked.

2. Do not assume retail workers are uneducated or aren't working retail by choice. And certainly don't look surprised when you find out I have a college degree from a good school. Watching your eyes almost pop out of your head when, while chatting over your purchases, I reveal I'm a former journalist who left the field by choice to come sell things to you can be comical, but it's also really insulting. And it's not just me. Everyone who works at my store has a post-high-school degree of some kind, and all of us have worked, in some capacity or another, in "professional" careers.

3. Don't try to bargain with us. We're not at the flea market. We're not in a country where bargaining is generally acceptable in retail shops. If you're making a huge purchase (and if we've had the item in stock a long time), we might offer you a small discount, but it's rude to ask. It's even worse when you want to know if we'll offer you a "two-for-one" deal. Why would we do that? In what universe does that make any business sense at all? And no, I won't call the owner at home to ask if we can make an exception.

4. We are not babysitters. If you bring your children in, you're responsible for them. That means you stop talking to your friend, put down your damn cell phone, tell your kid to stop running/throwing things/messing up merchandise, screaming, and, especially, repeatedly squeezing loud squeaky toys. The worst people are the ones who will actually sit down to dinner next door and allow their unsupervised young maniacs to run free. What the hell are you thinking? If you're going to bring your kids, pay attention to them. And if I have to get involved by telling them to stop whatever they're doing, don't get pissy with me.

5. Your AmEx Black Card does not impress us.

6. Most stores have clearly posted refund/return policies. Where I work, we do not offer refunds; we offer exchanges or credits for undamaged, non-sale, non-edible merchandise. This information is posted behind the register, at the register, and at the bottom of your receipt. Screaming at an employee because they won't let you bring back something that has clearly been used just makes you look like a jerk. And you're holding up the line. Go away.

7. Personal hygiene. Please. If we can smell you the second you walk through the door, we're pretty sure you're aware you're stinky.

8. Telling us you "know the owners" does not mean we will confer special privileges on you. Especially when you mention them by name and don't use their actual names. I'm glad you know Frank and Schmitty, but I have no freaking clue who they are.

9. If your kid or pet has an "accident" in aisle four, please just tell us so we can deal with it immediately. How is this not common sense?

10. Threatening us with a bad review on Yelp doesn't scare us. It just makes you look like a turd.

11. We only have so many employees. If you're fifth in line, we'll get to you after we get to the four people in front of you. Swearing at other customers, at us, at the store in general, etc. won't get you served any faster. For those of us who hold ourselves to a professional standard, you'll luckily still get taken care of politely and quickly. I can't guarantee all retail employees hold themselves to that standard.

12. You don't know more about our products than we do, unless you happen to work for one of the 400 or so vendors we do business with. Please trust us when we tell you that X will suit your needs better than Y. If you choose not to believe us, don't cop an attitude when you bring your purchase back because it wasn't what you really needed.

13. We have regular customers whom we really like and enjoy chatting with. Those people make our jobs fun and, over time, we develop loose friendships with them. If our level of familiarity with someone who is not you weirds you out, that's your problem, not ours. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you about your recent bout with gastroenteritis when you get to the counter.

14. We sometimes make mistakes. When you bring it to our attention, or when we realize we've done so, we will do our best to rectify the situation. We're human too.

15. We welcome visitors from all over the world. Most of us know at least a few words in another language, and will attempt to greet you or thank you in your native tongue if possible. But it's really, really annoying when you come in, mutter "No English" at us upon your arrival, and then, after making your purchases, say, "Thanks so much, you have a very nice shop! Any recommendations for where we can get a good pizza?" This happens to me at least once a week.


Jane Harper is our pseudonymous retail correspondent. She welcomes your comments.


Previously in Life At Work: Barista! Tales From The Coffee Front; At Your Service; I Am A Security Guard; I Am A Roofer; Working The Door; I Am A Wrigley Beer Vendor; I Am A Pizza Delivery Guy; and the original Life at Work.


Posted on August 25, 2015

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