11 Harsh Truths People Who Work Retail Wish Everyone Else Would Keep In Mind

Working retail is neither the hardest job nor the easiest one, but it does tend to be wildly misunderstood by the customers. I worked retail for years, and even now I find myself compelled to rip t-shirts out of piles like an animal, but almost every single time I am stopped by visions of hours spent folding, fluffing, and rearranging walls of denim. Here are a few things most retail workers, past and present, wish everyone would keep in mind when pawing away at those piles of overpriced clothes.


1. Employees are being instructed to do everything they are doing. You are the customer and the store wants your money, but whatever the employees are doing? Not about you.

No one wants to know how your day is. I repeat: no one cares about your day. Nor does anyone care “how it’s going” or “what’s up?” They are asking because a corporate person somewhere decided on the appropriate greeting for the salespeople to use, had that greeting printed up and three-hole punched, and instructed other workers to place that instructional hand-out into the retail Bible binder that would go out to every single store in the chain. Everyone working retail at a major store is operating under the auspice of an out-of-touch corporate person who thinks “Hi, how are you?” is the best way to lead into selling denim. We’re all struggling in this awkward interaction together, so get over yourself and say “good, thanks!” or just shop online.

2. They have probably been in that godforsaken mall for an excessively long time

Whether it’s working every day after school until past 9PM as the part-time associate or working 10 hours without seeing the outside world as the sales manager, trust me on one thing: the employee hates the mall more than you hate the mall. I loved working in the mall as a teenager — Auntie Anne’s, my friends visiting, making money for standing around most times — but I’d inevitably become cagey and wish that I could leave the mall and be literally anywhere else. It is as soul-sucking as an office, and often more so, like when you discover gross things in the fitting rooms or have to watch a middle-aged father model a bathing suit to you because he’s making a strange attempt at flirting. The mall is a tomb of weirdness and you don’t get to see sunlight a lot — the employees are working at the disadvantage, not you. No one is sorry that you hate watching your girlfriend try on pants. Get over it.

3. Yes, they chose to work this job, but no, they did not choose to work on this day of gross human behavior

Black friday. Post-Christmas giftcard redemption madness. Post-any holiday gift return hysteria. Summer-time swimwear and skimpy fashions being rolled out in January before the gravel-filled snow grossness is even gone from the icy east coast ground. All of these times make for hostile environments in which the customers see the retail employees as an obstacle, and the employees see the customers as a horde of consumer zombies with a few humans sprinkled in. What if we were all just more decent? Would be cool.

4. Picking up your trash probably isn’t in their job description.

Keeping the store clean is definitely in their job description, but peeling your used maxi pad, condom, or cheap-cheese-encrusted paper plate from the mall pizza place off the ground of the fitting room? Nope! Wasn’t mentioned on the first day, babe! Please be less disgusting in public spaces, especially the ones that are meant to make you feel good/em> about appearances.

5. They clean every. Single. Hour. Of. The. Day. And. Night.

They fold. They dust. They hang. They sweep, swiffer, and mop. They space the hangers one finger apart from the other hangers. They fan the sleeves. They windex mirrors, countertops, and windows. You unfold. You pull. You break hangers. You smudge fingerprints. You drop crumbs. They are cleaning up after you, don’t be an animal. Life the shirts. Take the shirt you want. Put the rest back. If it were up to them, everything would be hanging and nothing would hurt, but that’s not the world we live in.

6. Your children are not their responsibility.

If you are not watching your child and your child knocks over a tower of shoe boxes, please do not look at the employee with a your eyebrows angry-birded together in a “how did this happen?!” fashion — it happened because you brought your kids to the mall and they behaved like kids. Watch your kids, because no one at the mall will and most people working at the mall were kids like, five years ago anyway.

7. The entire mall does not know what the rest of the mall is doing, unless it is gossip that doesn’t concern you.

Honey, why are you asking the Lady Foot Locker employee about the shoes you saw on sale at Kohl’s? Why are you asking the Pac Sun employee why the jeans are not the same fit as the Hollister jeans? And why on earth are you asking the food court stand kids about the Panera Bread located across the highway? Everyone is kept in their own little retail cave and only knows about the sales they are told to know about, which take place in their own damn store. They aren’t here to find you the best deal, or to explain why the corporate overlords are charging you out the ass for that camisole that costs $2 to make. They don’t know! They only know which managers from one store are feuding or fucking the managers of some other store, and you don’t want to know about all that — some dark shit goes down at Dairy Queen and Piercing Pagoda and Tilly’s, take my word for it.

8. Not everyone makes commission — in fact, your purchase is pretty meaningless to most of the employees present.

This is an unfortunate truth, but it’s real: the pay of the people who help you the most is almost never directly affected by the dollars you’re spending. I worked retail for over five years without ever seeing a dime of commission, and raises are few and far between. So, no, you are not “doing them a favor” with your $350 spree during back to school. You are doing that asshole who owns Abercrombie a favor, or the evil masterminds scheming to make bad dresses that last one wash over at Forever 21. Don’t kid yourself.

9. Just because labor laws make call something illegal does not mean that corporations respect those laws.

See: breaks, injury, shipment intake processes. Fun story: I once injured my lil pinky finger while censoring polos at a store that shall not be named and didn’t notice the wound until I’d already bled on the undersides of several collars. Those shirts got spot-cleaned and put right back out on the racks. Gross, right? And that decision was not my call, or my manager’s call, or the regional manager’s call, even. Corporate demanded that we bypass all of our legal practices — that would entail damaging those shirts out, because they had human blood on them — in order to have the shirts cleaned and put back out. And sold at full price. This was just one experience, but talk to anyone who works for less than $10 an hour and they’ll tell you about all the other fun ways in which standards and laws are consistently, almost comically disregarded.

10. Half of the people working in retail are teenagers.

Do you really think this teenager should have an encyclopedic knowledge of whatever random thing you want? I never understood the outraged grown men who would complain to high school kids’ managers after the kids couldn’t identify the obscure item that the grown man was struggling to describe: “I saw it online, it’s red. Like a button down. You guys don’t have that? You don’t know?” Yeah, of course these adolescents should be good employees and work hard to ensure your satisfaction, but are you going to make a kid sit on the phone for 30 minutes when they have a line of ten other angry people behind you, all so that you can sign up for a credit card and get 10% off? Chill out and grab some patience, you’re grown and they are not, and they’re really trying to help you the best ways they can. And if they’re not, then help yourself. You can Google the shirt, you can sign up for the card online.

11. They might never get a break — not one break to actually sit down, for eight hours or more.

Once again, this is not retail-specific. To be sure, people are underpaid and overworked in every industry. But retail break time, at least, is interesting in the way that it’s all smoke and mirrors: it seems so chill when you’re a customer, like no manager is ever working hard and every employee is just waiting for their break. The reality is that the employees who work the most hours tend to get the least breaks, if any breaks at all. Oftentimes, it is the manager or senior sales rep who is working just under the overtime threshold, day in and day out, without ever receiving the benefits of over time. In order to compensate for the junior employees who (are likely very young and therefore) do need to receive their breaks, the senior managers will work throughout the entire day, nonstop. All of this to say that when it looks like they’re “being lazy” or “doing nothing” on the sales floor, they are likely just taking a moment during a slow hour to chill and discreetly devour a granola bar. Because they spend the rest of their day busting ass and forgetting to eat. Have mercy. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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Crissy is a writer living and lol’ing in Los Angeles. She’s on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, for better or worse.

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