A Retailer’s Guide to Life or: How Not to Be a Dick, Part 2

Last time, I talked a lot of about how you, as a customer, can be a better person. Before I move on to the primary topic of this post, I have a few things I forgot to mention last time:

  1. Slow your roll when providing a phone number. Many stores — probably most, these days — offer rewards programs, which you can usually access via a card of some sort or by giving your phone number. Usually this interaction is initiated by the cashier saying “Are you a member…? “Do you have a [redacted] card?” etc. When you tell us you are a member and we get to the point of looking it up with your phone number, there’s a thing you’re forgetting — we have to get the computer to the point where we can type your number in. On almost every occasion I’ve had to put in a phone number for a rewards account, I’m given the area code and first three digits before I’ve even gotten the window open to punch in the number. Come on, guys. We all know what it looks and sounds like when someone types a number on a keyboard. You can clearly see that I’m not typing yet. Please, give me a few seconds to catch up!
  2. Wait to swipe your card! When we’re ringing you out, there are a lot of things we have to take care of. We have to scan your items, of course. We also have to ask about rewards programs and charity donations. And we have to tell the system to total everything, so that it knows everything is done and it’s time to process payment. Please, stop swiping your card and putting it away before I’ve even told you how much you owe! It wastes both of our times — yours because you have to get your card out, and mine because I now have to tell you to take it out and swipe it again. And if you DO do this, don’t get frustrated; it’s your own fault you were too impatient to let me finish doing anything.
  3. Some tips about the question “Do you work here?” We get this one on a daily basis. If at least one person doesn’t ask each and every floor associate “Do you work here?” then we haven’t accomplished anything. Do you know why this question is annoying and unnecessary? Because we wear uniforms. And I know, a lot of stores have similar uniforms — Walmart, Kmart, and Best Buy all have blue shirts, Target and Toys R Us wear red. But we also have name tags or badges or pins, some sort of identification. If you see someone in clothes that look like the uniform, but they DON’T have some sort of identification badge, they probably don’t work there. Sure, in that case it doesn’t hurt to ask. But if you see someone in uniform with a name badge clearly displayed, why are you asking if they work there? Especially if they’re very obviously taking merchandise out of boxes and putting it on the shelf? It’s pretty obvious they’re working and not just wearing the uniform and putting out freight because they have some free time to fill.Let me share an anecdote with you to show you just how ridiculous this question can get. I was in a store once, IN JEANS AND A BAND TEE. Very clearly not dressed in any sort of uniform. And guess what happened? Someone asked “Do you work here?” No. No, ma’am, I do not work here, which you should be able to tell by the fact that I’m standing here looking at merchandise wearing jeans and a band tee rather than slacks and a polo. If I work here, they should fire me for being out of dress code by a mile, and for standing here doing nothing rather than doing work.

    Like, honestly, I can kind of understand if it actually looks like I’m in the uniform — and that has happened, if I’ve gone into a store after getting off work and their uniforms are similar to mine. Sure, that’s a time you’re justified in being uncertain. But come on, you can’t possibly think that jeans and a tee are appropriate clothing for a major retail outlet. This question really has very rare appropriate applications. Take a close look before you ask. But, don’t, like, stare at us, that might be kind of creepy…

Now that that’s out of the way…

Part 2: How to Work Retail: A Guide to Doing Your Goddamn Job

Look, I’ll be the first to admit it, working retail sucks. You deal with managers who are a mixed bag at best — I’ll be covering them at a later, undetermined date — as well as customers, many of whom are rude, impatient, and ungrateful. You do a lot of work in a short period of time for the lowest legal pay, which more often than not doesn’t even qualify as a living wage. So you’re probably wondering why you should even care about your job? Is it even worth doing it? And the answer is… honestly, that’s up to you. Maybe it’s not worth it, in which case, you might consider finding a new job. But if you’re going to work retail, do it right. Let’s look at why and how you can do this.

  1. Everyone else knows how much work you do. It’s true. Working retail is about as dramatic as being in high school. There are cliques, rumors — I myself have been the subject of some particularly strange ones, I’ve learned recently — and judgments. And if you’re someone who does the bare minimum, or less, or you just don’t bother to do your (likely very easy) job correctly, everyone knows, and they talk about it. Your work directly influences how other people see you. If you slack off, consistently screw up even the simplest tasks, or just clearly don’t give a damn about what you’re doing, you’re going to come across as lazy and apathetic. You’ll be a punchline for anything involving people not doing work.
  2. Job security comes from showing your worth. Sure, you can skate by by doing the absolute minimum and staying below the radar. Come in on time, do the least you can, go home. But you have this job because you needed a job, right? Maybe you need the money, or just want the money, or you need to fill your time, or something. Whatever the reason, you probably wouldn’t be here without it. But here’s the thing. If you don’t show that you’re an important asset, if people need to be cut, your job isn’t safe just because you haven’t gotten in trouble. Someone who can perform multiple jobs with skill is going to get preference over someone who does one job to the extent they have to to keep it. If you like that paycheck, consider stepping up your game and making sure your higher ups know that they need you.
  3. Doing your job properly directly impacts everyone else. A store is like a body. If one part of it fails, the rest is going to suffer. If you do your job poorly, it makes it harder for everyone else. Say you put an item out in the wrong spot. This throws off recovery — that’s when the store gets straightened up so that it looks nice (read: presentable) for the next day. This includes pulling everything forward and moving it to the right spots. If you’ve put everything in the wrong spots, recovery is going to exacerbate it, because they don’t have the time to fix the whole thing. Then when people put up sale signs, they put them up according to where items are SUPPOSED to be, not where they are. Now the items are in the wrong spot and marked for the wrong price. Which means customers are going to pick up the item thinking it’s one price only to find out it’s not. Which means now checklanes are slowing down while someone goes to do a price check, to find out the item was in the wrong spot which means now the price has to be adjusted, and the store lost money on the sale.This is not an exaggeration, I see this happening constantly. A well-functioning store should have few to no scenarios like this. But when you’re too apathetic about your job to do it right, this is what happens.

    This goes for everyone in any position. Putting up sale signs properly leads to fewer price checks and drives sales. Running a register properly and ringing up customers quickly and efficiently — a skill I see very rarely, unfortunately — keeps business flowing, and keeps customers happy and willing to return. Recovering properly keeps the store looking good and makes it easier for people putting out freight — if we have to stop every five minutes to fix things that should have been done the night before, just so that we can fit our merchandise on the shelves, we’re wasting valuable time to get more items out.

    For anyone in a floor associate or cashier position, all of your duties are pretty damn simple — trust me, I’ve done all of them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do your job right, and in the long run, everyone’s jobs will be easier if everyone does their work the right way.

  4. Don’t get spiteful. We’ve all had times where our managers annoyed us and we felt like doing nothing for the rest of the day. But actually acting on that impulse wastes everyone’s time. It puts you in a position to get in trouble for not doing your job and makes everyone else’s work harder, because now they have to compensate for you. There’s a reason many stores refer to their associates as a team, and that’s because we’re all working together on the same goals, and our individual actions reflect on the whole group. If one person decides to leave a mess in their work space before going home for the day, we’re all going to get lectured the next day. If one person decides not to do any work because they’re pissed off, guess who’s going to get yelled at for nothing getting done? All of us. Don’t be “that guy,” the one who gets everyone else in trouble.
  5. Put the customers first. I know, it’s one of those dumb corporate adages. But it’s also the essence of retail. If you’re not treating all customers — even the worst ones — with respect and a happy, helpful demeanor, then you’re not providing them with the pleasant experience that drives sales. You’re also risking exacerbating an already bad situation, which is not something anyone needs. A bad customer tends to lower morale; making the situation worse only lowers that morale. And let’s be real, we don’t have a whole lot of morale to begin with. Treat the customers right and sometimes they’ll do the same. Other times they won’t, but at least you can keep the situation from getting worse.
  6. Respect your co-workers. We all have co-workers we can’t stand. For whatever reason we just don’t get along with them or don’t like them. But don’t let that get in the way of your professional relationship. Disliking someone doesn’t mean you can’t (and don’t have to) work with them. Don’t stir up trouble. Keep things calm and respectful and everything will be much easier for everyone.This isn’t just about not fighting, though. Say your co-worker is working with a customer and trying to explain something to them. Do you think it’s right for you to jump in, interrupting your co-worker mid-sentence, and take over the explanation? Would you like it if someone did that to you? Don’t take over unless you’re asked to. It might come as a surprise, but you’re not the only person who knows how to answer questions. And honestly, what purpose does it serve to cut off your co-worker and explain things yourself? Are you that desperate for approval that you need to get it from a customer thanking your for information? Disclaimer: I was recently in the middle of a sentence, talking to a customer, when a co-worker decided it was right to talk over me and try to explain everything instead. Which was unnecessary, especially given that the topic wasn’t even part of their job. So if this last paragraph sounded a bit bitter it’s because I’m still a little pissed off that I was treated so rudely, a fact which they certainly never thought about, and which it would have been worthless to try to broach with them.
  7. The old adage holds true. You probably already know which one that is. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” I mean, I’ve already outlined this above, but it bears repeating. You’re there to work; you’re being paid to do a simple job and provide service to people. And it might not feel like you’re doing anything important; I know I’ve felt that way many, many times. But without us, stores wouldn’t be able to function. I talked about this in the last post, as well, how treating minimum wage employees poorly is ridiculous because we provide necessary services that other people think they’re “too good for.” So your job is worth doing, because it drives everything. So don’t half-ass it. Doing it right is ultimately better for everyone — your customers, your co-workers, and even for you. If you do your job right and the fullest extent, you’ll earn respect from the people you work with, from at least some of the people you help, and you’ll feel better about yourself having accomplished something — even if it’s so mundane and menial as putting freight in the right spots.

I guess what it all comes down to is a matter respecting yourself, the people you work with, and the people you help. You don’t have to like your job. But if you do it right, well, then at least you might not hate everything so much.

Stay tuned for the next installation, where I tackle management and the way employees should be treated.

 

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