Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 05/01/12: My retail hell – or not

I’ve been a writer for a few years now, and I love it. I really do. Unfortunately, it’s not the best-paid profession (at least until I become the first woman to win the Booker for a chick-lit novel). Such was the dearth of paying work and worrying was the close relationship I developed with a nice lady at Bank of Ireland Credit Card Services I applied for, and got, a job as a Christmas temp in a very large fashion retail store.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons at my time at that shop. 1) If you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you back 2) What a ‘gondola’ is when it’s not being manned by an Italian in a stripy top and 3) That management probably won’t keep you on beyond your contract if you inexplicably develop arthritis after three weeks and can do most, but not all, of the (surprisingly physical) work you’re supposed to do.

Now that I’m finished, management will come to regret the day they willingly employed a journalist. Oh, yes. I am about to blow the lid off this retail chain with possibly the most shocking secret ever revealed… Only joking. No secrets here.

It was a new experience, a new phase. I was the better for having done it. It gave me a routine I now sorely miss and an outlet to talk to people face-to-face about clothes and not have them roll their eyes in boredom or run away in abject terror (this has happened).

When people talk about shopping effectively, they talk about getting the best possible in terms of status or quality, for the least amount of money, in the least amount of time, with the least amount of people buying the same thing. No-one ever talks about how to interact with people who are in the shop to help little ol’ you.

Let me burst a bubble. Retail work can be fun. The people you work with make up a large part of the pleasure you get from working. But it can also be demoralising – incredibly so. Customers routinely treat you like dirt, expect the impossible, get irrationally angry when they can’t find what they want, even more so when it’s no longer in stock, demand returns outside of the original policy agreement and, on occasion, spit, swear and physically threaten you. Christmas shopping is no joke, folks.

The majority of people are nice. It’s just common sense. But some people regard retail workers as a new subspecies of lower being, here to be treated without emotion or warmth. They’re the kind of people who won’t queue for a drink in a nightclub but will instead wave money in a bartender’s face and scream out an order. Taxi drivers are not worth wasting a few words on. Waiting staff are often treated with derision and high-handed contempt. And these people often wonder why they get bad service. The mind boggles.

You get what you put in. Retail workers are people. They react well to friendliness and badly to rudeness. It’s common sense. Be nice, polite and compassionate and that person in the shop will often go out of their way to help you. And please, please put clothes back on the hanger when you’re done. It’s a mark of disrespect if you don’t.

That’s the way to shop properly.

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One thought on “Licentiate Column 05/01/12: My retail hell – or not

  1. Ah really well said. This is exactly what customers don’t understand though. Working in retail really opens your eyes but also makes you more aware about how you are yourself in a shop!

    P.S Also don’t think that just because we work in the shop, we manufacture or decide on what clothes/shoes should be made etc.

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