If there is one thing I want my hypothetical children to do, it’s work in retail. Not forever, just a short sentence. Having suffered through this myself, I know that it is the most brutal character building experience short of joining the army. I strongly believe that we in the developed world should have conscripted retail service. This isn’t because I hate everyone and want the following generations to suffer. No, it’s actually because I believe that the experience creates nicer people.
I worked in a popular office supply store (let’s call it Paperclips) for just shy of a year. The job itself wasn’t too demanding, though admittedly I was not amazing at it. Turns out my true calling is not business card design or paper stacking, who knew? I worked with my lifelong best friend and an amazing team of people who I’m still friends with even now. We were all similar ages, mostly at University or in my case at college, working evenings and weekends. Just normal young adults trying to earn some extra cash while studying for their "forever careers."
I often wonder why people don’t see that when they first walk into a shop? Do people who have never worked in retail honestly just see a clan of uniformed robots who live and breathe shop life? If you receive "bad service" in a shop, please take into account that the person serving you (who must smile appropriately at every single customer) may have received the worst news of their life that morning, or may be ill (sometimes a sick day equals no more job) or just plain nervous. I can't count the number of times I was called to the tills having no clue how to use half the functions (I worked in the printing department mostly) and had to blag my way through every transaction.
I understand that people get wrapped up in their own priorities — it is very frustrating when you meet an unexpected obstacle to your plans. However, I will never understand people who shout at the person behind the till. If you have never worked in retail, let this be a gentle reminder: we’re just normal people and there really are hundreds of little policies and rules that may prevent us from doing what you want us to do. Sorry random glasses man, I’m not willing to risk my only source of income so you can save 20p on this sharpener.
I will never forget one particular regular customer who was known around the store to every member of staff by a particular name I won’t repeat, I’ll just call him Mr. Nice Guy. An important part of this tale is that the company I worked for was bought by another and ended up closing a lot of stores — mine included. We had been officially closing down for two months, by this point we were an "everything must go" shop as we had stopped receiving deliveries weeks ago. Enter store regular Mr. Nice Guy with an A4 shopping list, positively fuming that half his list was not in stock.
“It’s absolutely disgusting that you don't have these items in stock,” was more or less how he phrased it, with an unnecessary shout and the pointed finger of shame. He continued to shout at me (a 5", seventeen-year-old girl), informing me of how stupid I clearly was for a few minutes before I could open my mouth. I always forget the mathematical correlation between stock availability and my own intellect, my bad. Finally I managed to speak and calmly explained that since we had been closing down for two months now (gesturing to the enormous yellow closing down signs literally everywhere around the shop) we were no longer receiving new stock, so when things sold out they were gone. This was met with an indigent cry of:
“But I need four thousand poly pockets!”
Now, I’m looking at the last remaining box of ten poly pockets we have, he’s looking at the last remaining box of ten poly pockets we have, we both know the math isn't on our side. But all I can do is bite my tongue and repeat the same thing I just told him because what else was there to say?
I had it relatively easy working retail because I’m so short most people feel too guilty to actually shout at me. My manager was also a short woman, an amazing person generally, but was constantly told she simply could not be the manager since she was a young, blonde female. Never mind that she knew everything there was to know about anything in that shop, little ladies aren’t in charge and that’s that.
In the end Mr. Nice Guy went home empty handed, or more likely he just went to the superstore across the road, threatening to call Trading Standards on us for possibly the fourth time that month.
Now I simply cannot believe that he would ever have treated us in the way that he regularly did if he had ever been on the receiving end of that himself. I know that every one of my friends who has worked in retail now makes an effort to be nice to the people we come across in shops. It makes sense because, at the end of the day, the people who work in shops are just that…people.