I spent twelve years of my life working in retail, and I have a confession: I actually enjoyed it.
. . . for the most part.
During high school, I had the privilege of working at two indedpendently-owned bookstores on Long Island. When moved to Pennsylvania for college, I worked at yet another amazing bookstore. I absolutely loved working with the owners of these stores. They helped me grow not only in my understanding of the book business, but also in my faith. After graduating college and waiting to find a job in my field, I worked for a corporately-owned hardware store and later a corporatelly-owned bookstore. Although I worked with some great managers at these stores, there is something about the corporate retail environment that just was not the same as the “mom and pop shops” that gave me my love for retail.
Regardless, working retail has given me a perspective that foks who have never worked retail might not have. If you’re wondering why a cashier keeps asking you if you want to buy a magazine subscription when all you want to do is pay for your t-shirt and get out the door, why there’s rarely anything in “the back” of a store, or how you can make an impact on people when you shop at their store, keep reading. Welcome to . . . Confessions of a Former Retail Worker!
1. Sorry, there’s not too much in “the back,” save for my lunch.
“Do you have this book in the back?”
“Can you check to see if you have more in the back?”
Sometimes it sounds like “the back” is this magical place where all your purchasing dreams will come true. While a lot of folks have the notion that stores keep excess inventory in “the back,” that’s actually not the case. All we stored in “the back” at my bookstores were boxes for what was already out and my lunch. Sure, we had some extras of gift items already boxed in the back, but there really wasn’t much else there. Still, this question is constantly asked of retail workers, but with the exception of shoe stores and perhaps some big-box retailers, the answer to “Do you have this book in the back?” will probably be, “No.” (Confession: Despite the fact I know this, I caught myself thinking about asking this question just the other day!)
2. I didn’t say “No” to ruin your day—it’s just my job.
“Can I use more than one coupon?”
No, I’m sorry, just one.
“Can you give me some coupons to use on this transaction because I don’t have any?”
No, I’m sorry I can’t.
“Can I return this item that I opened and is twenty days beyond the return period?”
No, I’m sorry.
I promise you that I’m not telling you no because I want to make your life miserable—it’s just that the store has certain policies that, as an employee, I have to abide by. When I worked retail, I did everything I could to make a customer happy, but sometimes, I just had to say, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”
So if you find yourself angered by a retail worker’s “No,” please remember that they are just abiding by the store’s policy—to do otherwise could cost them their job. If you do feel that the policy is unjust, it’s better to write a letter to the owner or corporate office than to unleash your anger on the employee, who really has no power to change the policy and probably isn’t getting paid enough to feel the brunt of your anger. Better yet, consider taking a day or two to think over what you’re upset about and consider why the store has the policy it does. At some point, a store does have to say no in certain situations in order to remain in business. Imagine if you coulduse 3 coupons . . . on one transaction . . . on a sale item . . . and pay $2 for a $50 item? That would be great, right? The problem is the store wouldn’t make any money and would be out of business in a week.
3. I’ve seen God’s love through the people I’ve worked with.
So those bookstores I worked at? They were actually Christianbookstores. I didn’t tell you that at first because I didn’t want you to just write me off thinking, “That doesn’t count as retail! They just sit at the register with harps all day singing hymns and showing people Bibles.”
Umm . . . That’s just weird.
We only play the harps between 2 and 4pm.
In all seriousness, I’ve seen the people I’ve worked with emulate God’s love to customers. Sometimes they went out of their way to remind people just how much Jesus cares for them.
I remember when a customer came in looking for a Cherish Teddy figurine. (Think Precious Momentsonly with bears.) Every year her niece’s mom would buy her a new bear in the set for her birthday, but this year, her mother had passed way. Wanting to continue the tradition for her niece, she came in to our store. Now, we didn’t carry the items, but that didn’t stop the owner of my store! She called over to otherstores in the area to see if they carried them. Once she found a store that did, she drove the long distance to pick it up for the customer.
That’s a really nice thing to do, right? I mean, we wouldn’t make any money on the item by buying it from another store and paying full retail price. But what stood out to me more was when the customer came in to pick up the figurine. The owner said something like, “No charge. This is our blessing for you and your niece.”
Who does that?! It was one of many amazing pictures of God’s kindness and compassion that I witnessed working at these stores. Sure, the store needed to make money to stay in business, but some things were more important than making a profit. It was times like this, and the times when I saw my co-workers hold people as they cried, and the times we all prayed with customers in difficult life circumstances, that I saw the love of God in the midst of my store and through my co-workers.
4. Please don’t be mad at me for asking you seven different questions at the cash-wrap, that’s how I keep my job.
Many corporate-owned stores require that employees try to upsell customers at the cash wrap. One of these stores I worked at had us try to sell a bunch of things all in the same transaction with the same customer. It was annoying, I hated doing it, but it was part of my job. So, if you notice that someone is trying to upsell you, please understand they are just doing their job. Politely decline, or, if you’re in a really good mood, add that $5 item and give it to someone as a gift—it’ll look good for the employee, and might keep them from having corporate breathe down their neck about it.
5. You have more power than you realize, use it to brighten someone’s day, not make it miserable.
When I worked retail, there were certain customers that were incredibly kind and really made my day. In fact, there are several I still remember from years ago that bring a smile to my face. One of these even gave me a very unique cross necklace he had carved himself. On the front side it was jagged and rough, but on the other side smooth. He said something like, “Nobody wants to be on the rough side,” he said, “We all want to get to the smooth side, but get there through the cross.” It’s true. We find true peace in the midst of the cirumstances of our lives through Christ—even in the midst of terrible hardships. I keep it in my office today his message impacted me. I was going through a hard time in my own life and I needed to hear that. God used him that day to bless me, and I don’t even know his name.
But then there were other customers who made me feel worthless. I still remember some of the angry customers I’ve waited on. I remember being surprised at their frustration or anger over not having an item in stock or not being able to use two coupons or something. Those are the bad memories.
The question is, which kind of customer would you rather be? You can let your light shine for Christ just by being pleasant to the person waiting on you at the store.
Just by smiling.
Saying, “Thank you.”
Asking, “How are you doing?”
Remembering their name.
By not being a jerk.
We represent Jesus to everyone around us. We can either show them that He is awesome, kind, and compassionate, or we can make them think He’s just as angry and unkind as we are behaving. Make a choice to be a good witness for Christ wherever you go.
6. Items on clearance and items on sale are two separate things.
This is just a pet peeve of mine and for some reason I feel the need to educate the masses. An item on sale is an item that a store has temporarily discounted for a period of time. A clearance item is an item that they are clearingout of the store and not getting back in again (usually because it’s not selling well). Thus, if you have a coupon for a discount off a clearance item, it will only apply on the latter, not the former. Learn this now and avoid disappointment later!
If you’ve worked retail, what other things would you add to this list? What would you want your customers to know about working retail? What stories do you have? Comment below! And remember, be a good witness for Christ wherever you go!