10 Things You Learn At A Retail Job

1. Folding shirts: The job that never ends.

There is some sort of pheromone present in mid-size retail store shirts, one that is at its most deliciously potent when you have just finished perfectly stacking them by size, and finally feel secure enough to walk away for thirty seconds. All of them, the perfect little flapjack-esque stack of tops, ready to be daintily thumbed through by a discerning shopper to find their size, are soon to be destroyed by the rabid horde of semi-human creatures, flecking them with their frothy spit as they tear through your pile with the urgency of a pirate digging for buried treasure. Retail shoppers are born with some innate longing to find these shirt stacks and destroy them with such vigor that you are left considering suicide the second you walk back to your once-perfect display table. They are cruel.

2. People steal sh-t, and no one cares.

Though there will always be the facade of training employees to be vigilant and even aggressive towards shoplifting, it is an inevitable part of the retail world, and you totally stop caring. You’ll walk into a dressing room and see a bunch of plucked off security tags, or go into an electronics section to see a conspicuously empty video games section, and you just kind of sigh and walk away. The thing is, if you were to actually try to stop people who are in the process of stealing from your store — and a huge amount of them are organized and do this routinely to resell the stuff, this is their livelihood — things are not going to end well for you. A coworker of mine at a clothing store once got a knife pulled on her when she chased down a guy stealing a bunch of shirts. Her job was not worth a stab to the kidneys, and neither is yours. You are not paid to be a cop, and you quickly come to understand that.

3. Listening to the same song every hour, on the hour, is the cruelest punishment conceivable.

Most of the bigger chain retail stores have enormous music contracts that give them access to a certain number of poppy, easy-to-enjoy music to rotate at hour-long intervals from open to close, for at least three or so months at a time. Do you enjoy that Katy Perry song? Get ready to enjoy it ten times a day, every day, until you long to ram your head into the cash register repeatedly every time you hear the opening notes.

4. The customer is always right, which is the worst thing ever.

There’s going to come a point where someone is going to put an item in front of you that has clearly been used within an inch of its life and they’re going to insist on trying to return it and pretend like they’ve never touched it and that you should take it back and why aren’t you taking it back — I’m sorry ma’am but we have a policy — I’d like to speak to your manager where is your manager get your manager right now. You have lost the ability to care, and just want to give this horrendous lady her stupid refund because it’s not like it’s your money anyway and you would like her to evacuate the premises as soon as humanly possible. But God forbid your manager should walk by at this moment, because regardless of the verbal abuse that’s being slung at you over a 15-dollar refund, you’re going to be the one getting torn into and treated like a monkey wearing a nametag. “The Customer Is Always Right”: battle cry of the defeated.

5. You can never underestimate how cheap people are.

If something is marked at a certain price — even if it was mistakenly put above that price marker by a lazy shopper who didn’t want to put their item back in its proper place — your customer is going to all but reach over and rip out your esophagus before they let you charge them the actual price. People will stand for an hour at your register, screaming back and forth some nonsense about a coupon or “I saw this price on the shelf” or whatever other horrendous reason they have deemed worthy of screaming at you for. And you are usually powerless, because the price scans the way it scans, and you can’t fix it, so you just kind of stand there like some modern-day Christ figure and absorb their wrath until they eventually leave in a huff, talking about how they’ll never shop here again. You will then think, “Right, that’s a tragedy.”

6. Inventory is the worst part of being alive.

Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s worse than that. Much, much worse.

7. When your store closes, everyone needs to GTFO.

There is going to come that moment when, after staring relentlessly at the clock for the past hour, you are finally able to close up and get out of there. But wait, no, there is some useless person meandering around the displays, pretending like they are going to buy something, and being wilfully oblivious to the fact that you’ve already closed the front door to new customers and are standing next to them, staring at them, willing them to leave with your eyeballs. It is now your job to make them feel as awkward and unwelcome as possible until they get the message. I recommend following them around and adjusting things behind them until they can’t even make eye contact with you.

8. People set off small explosives in dressing rooms.

Or, at least, they must, given the state they are in 90 percent of the time upon someone leaving one. People apparently just try something on, decide it’s not for them, and then crumple it up and throw it on the floor like a scrap piece of paper. Hangers are scattered by the mirror, dresses are thrown over the chair, pants are hanging by their belt loops off a hanger hook — it’s like a war zone. You will come to find that the person who actually gathers all of their clothes, properly hangs them back up, and gives them back to you with a small “Thank you” is essentially a modern-day Gandhi. Otherwise, most people will just treat you like you are some combination of their mother and an indentured servant, only there to pick up after them and relieve them of the pressure of having basic human decency.

9. You’ll be forced to ask people if they need help, and then punished for doing so.

One part of working in retail — especially more “upscale” retail — is that you’re expected to ask everyone at one point or another if they need any help with, I don’t know, looking at shirts or something. You’re doing your job, and gently asking them if you can do something to assist them — no big deal. The customer could easily just say, “No, thank you,” and to be fair, some of them do. But many of them will take this opportunity to turn on you and hiss about how they’re doing JUST FINE THANK YOU as they shuffle away from you like you were about to mace them. People will not hesitate to let you know how much your simple question is ruining their shopping experience, their day, and their entire life. If you’re interested in quitting, I recommend doing the whole retail world a favor and responding to such rude customers with “Lol I did not even give a f-ck about helping you anyway you bridge troll.” Or something of the like.

10. When you get a call at 7 AM on your day off, you throw that phone across the room.

You throw it across the room, then you go out back and dig a very large hole, then you bury the broken remains of that phone, then you napalm the entire backyard, then you have your whole house bulldozed, then you destroy your phone service provider’s headquarters. You are not going into work today. They are not going to get you. TC mark


image – Greg Gerrard

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


More From Thought Catalog

  • jine

    I worked at a clothing store called Sirens for only a month. It was horrible.

  • FormerRestorationEmployee

    every SINGLE person in north america should be made to work in retail for at least one month of their stupid, spoiled, selfish lives so that they can understand what it means to be on the receiving end of all of this. the above points are at least 100% true. i will never forget how i learned each and every one of them the hard way, and i now fall all over myself to make sure that, if there’s anything that i can do about it, no one else has to go through that all over again.

    • yep.

      yeah, everyone should have to work a retail and a food/service job at least once. the way people treat cashiers blows my mind every day.

      • some dude

        Agreed. I worked at a Target for 8 months, and it was great work experience, but I was treated like dirt. Not all the time, but you would get those every other bad seeds.

    • SaraLily

      Agreed!! Once you have retail/food service experience, you can do IT ALL. haha it really should be a requirement. I suffered for 5+ years and everyday thank my lucky stars to have the job i do now! phew!

    • Barbara

      I agree. I think that order to graduate high school, it should be made an absolute requirement to work in retail and food service for at least a month or no diploma!!!!

    • CROLL

      Why people in North America? Because they are the reason that apparently you are on “the receiving end” of this industry that wouldn’t even exist to pay you to be on the receiving end of if it wasn’t for them? What’s with the (dare I say) racism against North America? What the hell did they do? Millions of people in North America work in very difficult jobs including jobs in retail. Get over yourself.

  • Shauna

    This is hilarious and insanely true, except for one thing–I actually like inventory. I know, I know, I’m a crazy person. But for some bizarre reason, I enjoy it.

    The worst thing in my experience (working at a store with misses and plus size clothing) was the different ways we had to fold or hang each item. Plus size pants are hung differently than plus size pants with belts (THE WORST) which are hung differently than misses pants which are hung differently than misses pants with belts.

    Also–expired coupons. “No, ma’am, I’m sorry, this coupon expired in 2007.” “So?”

    • phyllopastry

      I LOVED INVENTORY if only for the fact that it meant I was away from customers for a while. So you’re not alone in crazyland.

    • Gretchen

      I completely agree. I loved any job–folding and tagging a mountain of denim, reorganizing marketing, scrubbing a toiler–that kept me away from customers. So inventory was never so bad.

  • isobel

    so damn true. i worked in retail for 3 years and it’s quite a thankless job.

  • Erin

    Pretty funny, though i always enjoyed inventory and working in inventory because I never had to deal with customers it also helped that I had a great manager who cared. The plus was that it was an electronic store, and I knew there would be shrinkage, but i never let it get to me.

  • jency

    i totally agree with all of what you have said – even when I have worked in retail for only 2 months.

  • Jake

    Christ Fagan do you ever stop moaning?

    • FormerRestorationEmployee

      jake, you’ve clearly never worked in retail if you think this is just “moaning” :-/

      • Jake

        I currently do actually, and I know how irritating SOME people can be. But not every customer is like this, not even the majority. But, I was mostly referring to how most of her articles recently are just whining about working in retail or service jobs. Not to mention they’ve been re hashed numerous times. It’s getting boring.

      • VAL

        That depends on where you work. I worked for JC Penney for 5 years and I would get at least 2 of these 10 happening to me every shift. Luckily, some days were perfect but honestly, there is always one customer who feels like they deserve the world for shopping at your store and get pissed when you don’t give them what they want. People are crazy.

  • http://gravatar.com/ebfeskoe Liz

    Great essay. One of the greatest skills I got out of working years in retail is being able to tell when there is a full moon just by observing how people act.

    • http://twitter.com/kkasie19 kkasie19 (@kkasie19)

      LMAOOOO. I swear there’s a full moon every damn night. Also, I’d ‘like the shit out of’ this comment if Disqus was back.

      • Charlsie

        the full moon days are brutal! seriously it’s non-stop crazy!

  • spenserdavis

    Some true shit there. I work at a bookstore so it’s a bit different.

    One of the worst things is when I meet new people and they say “Oh my god I have always wanted to work in a bookstore.” I just stare at them with my cold, dead eyes until they get uncomfortable and leave.

    Only work in a big bookstore if you want to lose faith in the book industry for the rest of your life. A million copies of 50 Shades of Grey and the Tim Tebow book later, you’ll never want to finish that novel.

    • Jessica

      I worked in a big bookstore for five years and while a good 25-30% of my customers were jerks and/or idiots, I actually loved the job and miss it dearly. I don’t miss the tiny paychecks or the jerks, but I miss working with the books. Bookstores are unique in that it’s one of the few retail environments where the people working there tend to be very passionate about what they sell (less so in chains than in indies, but still – no one in Express is truly enthusiastic about jeans as my staff was about books). It gets irritating when people buy the same drivel en masses, but even when people are buying 50 Shades or Tim Tebow, at least they’re buying books and not Kindles.

      That being said, you learn that people ask dumb questions (“The alphabet just stops at M at the end of this row. Where do I find the Ns?” “Try the next row.”) They don’t read signs/coupon details. People don’t realize that cashiers don’t set prices and that they have very little power over the corporate policies. Also, cash registers are often designed so that the cashiers can’t circumnavigate those policies. Cashiers ask a zillion questions because they’re required to and they get in trouble if they don’t meet a quota of rewards memberships or credit card sign ups — I now always accept a free rewards membership even if I plan on never using it. People also don’t realize that cashiers are more likely to give a surreptitious coupon to friendly customers and put up a fight against asshole customers.

      I agree that everyone should spend at least year working in retail — including a Christmas season — and six months in food service. You’d learn to treat your fellow human beings with some respect, patience, and thoughtfulness.

      • VAL

        I applaud you. Everything you said is truth.

      • Melissa

        SO MUCH THIS. I used to work at a Borders and I miss it a lot.

  • $$$$$$

    so fucking true, every last sentence. 4 years at a tj maxx has taught me this

  • http://www.facebook.com/Cassandra917 Cassandra Cassidy

    This is all 100% true, I absolutely HATED retail.
    And it’s not just clothing, but general stores (a certain one rhyming with Tall-mart) and video game stores are just as bad.
    Idk how many times I’ve had customers mess up a display I was still working on!
    Luckily for me, I’m not in retail anymore, but I respect the people who still are and try to be as neat as possible when I shop. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I worked at RGIS for 3 years–I was the inventory specialist whose group would come by and keep track of all your damn items. And, yes, inventory is hell.

  • Cara

    I worked in reatail for YEARS! Luckily I had an awesome manager that wouldn’t do returns on stuff like that (but people tried almost EVERY day). Also, restrictions on coupons.. people can’t seem to grasp that one… and lastly.. CHILDREN! they are the devil if you work in a clothing store.. I’ve seen them literally crawl on tables knocking things off while the mom is completely oblivious destroying other parts of the store.. REALLY PEOPLE?!?!

    • VAL

      OMG THE KIDS! There should be a number 11 for the devil reincarnates. Mothers be aware of where your damn kids are at all times or better yet, DON’T BRING THEM TO THE STORE. I can’t even count the number of times a kid has knocked over piles of newly folded shirts. I began to just scaring the kid by saying something really mean or giving my infamous death stare. Scares them so much they stick to their mom cautiously eyeing me the rest of the time. :] I regret nothing.

  • http://twitter.com/ZhaoJanelle Janelle Zhao (@ZhaoJanelle)

    hahahahahahahahah true to the t

  • Chris

    Someone should make a t-shirt that says “Retail. We suffer together”…

  • http://gravatar.com/gretchenrouse Gretchen

    I can not praise you enough! The truth in this list is unbelievable. I can’t decide which one I agree with the most.

  • Miguel

    Retail is terrible, rental is worse. 5 years at Blockbuster taught me it sucks asking for your product back in a timely manner. #4 brought back a memory; I actually witnessed a customer call a coworker a monkey with keys (he told them he was the manager, but had to clarify he was the manager on duty and not the “store” manager). Terrible stuff, I’ve been called everything you can think of and probably some you can’t. I’m always nice to cashiers no matter where I am, a smile goes a long way, and if another customer is being rude, I have no problem telling them they are, or telling the employee to forget about the previous loser they just had to deal with.

  • 12345

    People who work in retail are like telemarketers, they just don’t realize it. Nobody wants to go into a store and have 3 people ask them if they need help when they obviously don’t. Then offer you some stupid “deal” that you’re not interested in. Then when you get to the register they try to get as much of your private information as they can, and offer you more “deals”, credit cards, rewards points, and fuck all else until you want to reach across the counter and choke the shit out of them. My favorite is when the cashier asks for your phone number, but tries to do so without phrasing it like a question. As if they somehow need your phone number to finish the transaction. (eg. “Phone number please.” -> “No.”, and then the cashier looks confused like I wasn’t speaking English). I actually had one guy tell me he couldn’t go through with the sale until I gave him my ZIP code, so I said “Okay, 12345.” Fuck those people, just because you’re hired to be an annoying ass prick doesn’t mean I have to forgive you for it. You don’t forgive telemarketers for being the most annoying people ever, do you?

    • screep

      Do you really think people who work in retail would give a shit about helping you or collecting your information if they didn’t get slammed by their manager after the customer leaves for not providing “good customer service”? We don’t profit from your sale. Nobody really wants your phone number. When my managers aren’t watching, I don’t say anything to a customer besides “hello”, because being pestered while you shop is annoying. But the managers do not understand that customers do not want to be followed, but they make us do it anyway because they think that that constitutes “good customer service” and that it will get them a sale. You’re the kind of person who makes it absolutely miserable to work in retail, and you should get a retail job so you can change your terrible attitude.

      • phyllopastry

        I had one customer that ripped me a new one when I was a greeter at a clothing store. My manager was standing near me to make sure I greeted each and every single customer that walked in the store and told each of them about ALL of our deals. Zero help from the manager, and had to continue smiling pleasantly the entire time. Isn’t retail the best?

      • Bodos

        Agree here. They don’t want to follow you around and annoy you with deals. But the manager (who buys into his own bullshit about said deals) wants them to, and he’s the one paying them. If you don’t follow a customer, they think you should be following them. If you do follow them, you’re usually annoying them. It’s no win.

        Two things about the giving of details too – 1) They don’t program the system, 12345. That’s just how it’s built and what they get told to ask for. They get in trouble with the boss if they don’t get at least one phone number or a zip. 2) In the company I worked for (furniture), phone numbers were required in case a breakage occurred or insurance was needed. A lot of people love to think it’s going to be used for marketing so they get all high and mighty, like they’re defeating the machine, but really it’s just making things difficult if it goes bad down the track. I had one guy who wouldn’t give me his address because ‘he didn’t want no junky letters from us’, and then wanted to haggle delivery. He couldn’t say how he was going to get it delivered when we dind’t know his address, but apparently we should have been able to work it out. He was even reluctant to give his address then. When money is on the line, a certain sort of person loses all logic. I hated retail.

    • K

      Maybe you should just never leave the house again. It’s a win-win, because you won’t have to feign interest in hearing store deals for like 5 seconds and retail employees won’t have to deal with your sour ass.

    • Cal

      You’ve obviously never worked retail, 12345. The replies to your comment have pretty much covered it. But also, secret shoppers. At certain stores an employee can be fired if they ignore someone who happens to be a secret shopper.

      • 12345

        It’s my job! Nobody gives a fuck. None of you seem to understand that “it’s my job” is not a justification for being a totally annoying asshole. I don’t forgive Iraqi foot soldiers for mustard gassing civilians, I don’t forgive telemarketers for waking me up at 2 am, and I sure as hell don’t forgive sales associates who try and sell every broke ass 20-something on a new credit card that they can’t afford (thinly veiled as a rewards card).

      • Justine

        You are an absolute idiot. I have dealt with dipshits like you, and in the store I work at, the register WILL NOT COMPLETE YOUR WORTHLESS TRANSACTION until you answer survey. You think I give a flying rats ass about your transaction? I just wanna get on with my day and fucking rude ass ANNOYING people make it very difficult to do so. 9 times out of 10 the cashier is JUST AS MISERABLE AS YOU CLAIM TO BE. So why are you being such a dick?? Please keep all of your purchases online so no one has to suffer through your utter incompetence. You’re the moron who doesn’t seem to be getting the reality of the situation.

        On a separate note, I can agree that I’ve had to endure all 10 of these things and while it has made me a much more durable employee, my faith in my job has faltered and I admit there are many days where I simply cannot bring myself to care. I’d rather work in the food service (even though that’s pretty damn miserable too since I’ve been a waitress for a while before my retail job) if only for the fact that I’d never have to see an article of clothing EVER AGAIN. This post did make me laugh pretty hard though, even if deep down I know I’ll be facing all these issues on Sunday. *sigh* Oh well.

    • Annoying Associate

      Trust me. We ALL know it’s annoying but we you are NAGGED RELIGIOUSLY by your manager about getting phone numbers, you just fucking do it. I only do it when the manager is within earshot, otherwise I don’t ask for shit. If someone doesn’t want to give me there number, fine. I don’t give a shit. Trust me, you aren’t hurting my feelings by not being compliant. Seriously, think before you speak.

  • Kimly

    This article is POINT-ON. I’ve worked in retail for four years…and going. Sadly.

    It can definitely be demoralizing..and it will make you question your worth for resulting to working at such a tedious job. But it is a JOB. Any service job will have a variety of its ups and downs and downright “nasty customers” who will not give a damn about you and treat you like some life-less robot that is supposed to abide to their every wish.

    But that is a service job. Regardless, if you’re working retail, serving in a restaurant, being a barista at a coffee shop….we are all forced to having to deal with these kinds of scenarios and people.

    I’ve just learned to kind of brush it off my shoulder. Because hey…I’m just happy I got a job :)

  • http://twitter.com/heronkady10 Kady Heron (@heronkady10)

    Very interesting topic Thank you so much for this
    Saving Thousands of People Hundreds of Dollars a month. Join the club today. Just click -> http://www.saversclub.us

  • http://twitter.com/bleedingmadras Grant Sorenson (@bleedingmadras)

    #3, especially in the month and a half leading up to Christmas.

  • lt

    story of my life right there. i hate people.

  • Charli

    Working in retail literally makes you lose faith in humanity. But the managers and head office are usually worse than the customer. Once we had a girl who wanted to return a jumper which she had clearly worn within an inch of its life, caused a huge fuss told me “You don’t know who I am, I ain’t just a pretty face” (clearly not, you’re a bell end) and my manager was on my side, refusing to refund her. So she called head office who told us to do whatever the customer wanted, undermining us and the refund policy and making me and my manager look like complete idiots. I have never wanted to punch a customer more.

    • Gretchen

      Yeah. I had a lady come into my store with goods wanting to return them for a full refund of her money with NO receipt. I told her she can do an exchange but unless she had a receipt I couldn’t give her the money back. She gave me a sob story about how she had an ear infection and her friend was supposed to help her move blah blah. Started crying. After a while she suddenly asks for the corporate address and number. Wtf? Um I will give you customer service. I don’t know that shit! At the end of it all I decided to suck it up, giver her the goddamn refund and make it VERY clear to keep her receipts until she is sure to she won’t use them again. Otherwise, she would have basically called customer service calling me all kinds of bitches and hoes and then would have gotten her way and made ME look like a fool. It is just not worth it. People suck.

  • Carly

    I once had two kids (they were Pikey children, take that as you will) who literally pulled their pants down and pissed in the corner on the shop floor. And the mother didn’t apologise or even acknowledge they done it.

    Also I have found used tampons and sanitary pads discarded in changing rooms. One of my friends claims to of had someone poo in the changing rooms where she works.

    Also not to mention people vomiting.

    And its always the shop assistant who has to clean it up.

    • Justine

      I have also found used tampons. ….and quite a few crack pipes, too. =/ ugh.

  • Justin Shanley

    nothing on this list compares to the foreign shopper who 1) can barely speak english 2) needs to be waited on hand and foot 3) smells like dirty ass and 4) leaves the biggest mess lying around!!

    I work right on the border of Niagara Falls, USA, and Canada and these Canadians are simply terrible people! Number 11 goes out to the foreign customer!

blog comments powered by Disqus