20 Things You Learn About People When You Work In Retail

When I was 23, I went through a premature Quarter Life Crisis. After much (read: little) deliberation, I quit my full-time digital marketing job and started working part-time at a women’s clothing store while I tried to ‘find’ myself. I ended up helping a lot of grumpy old ladies try on sweaters that had birds on them. But I learned a hell of a lot about people in the process.

1. Sometimes people freak out if you force them to make eye contact with you. In a world where we spend most of our time on our phone, stalking Brittany-from-high-school’s Instagram and being pissed about how skinny she is, we’re completely startled if we have to actually look someone in the eye. Working in retail is like a game of seeing how many different places someone can look before they are finally forced to stare into your terrifying face. 

2. Coupons confuse people. If they bring in a “Buy One Get One Half-Off” coupon from March 2012 and you inform them that they can’t use it because it’s almost three years old, they are flabbergasted. And you are the devil.

3. If there is a decorative chair in your store, husbands will fall asleep in it while they wait for their significant other to finish trying on scarves. Sometimes they will drool and snore. You will get more used to this than you’d like. 

4. When you’re forced to lie and tell a woman that a dress looks good on her, your voice will go up three octaves. 

5. If you ask someone if they would like to open a credit card, they will launch into a story about how their identity was stolen and how this is directly your fault. 

6. If a store closes at 9, one person will come in at 8:58 and think nothing of it. When you turn off the music at 9:00, they will not pick up on the fact that this is your passive aggressive way of saying “Get the f*ck out, I have places to be and bags of wine to drink.” 

7. People forget that the world doesn’t revolve around them. One time, a woman entered the store while I was working and said, “Have you gotten any new pants since the last time I was in here?” She was confused when I informed her that I did not keep track of her daily schedule, nor did I know when she had last been in the store. 

8. People will believe anything you say if you sound sure enough about it. I made up more information about corduroy pants than I care to admit, but hey, it kept my imagination active. And no, the material in corduroy pants does not help you lose weight. 

9. People assume you should know everything about their life. In the ten months that I spent working at this particular store, the amount of times that someone pointed to a sweater and said “would that fit my mother-in-law?” was approximately 7. Each time that I had to say “I’m sorry, your mother-in-law is not standing in front of me so I don’t know,” a part of me died inside. 

10. Women always whisper the word “fat.” If they’re asking you how they look in a dress, they’ll say “Yeah but I don’t want to look…” Pause. Whisper. “Fat.” Every time you say the word “fat” out loud in a retail store, Grey’s Anatomy is renewed for another season. 

11. Some people are just happy to be alive. They are delighted by the simplest things, such as you offering to wrap their sweater in tissue paper. Find a way to shrink these people and carry them around in your pocket, because they are awesome. 

12. A black sweater means two completely different things to men and women. If a man comes in looking for a black sweater for his wife, he wants something black and sweater-ish. If a woman comes in looking for a black sweater, she means that she wants something cute, but like not in-your-face, but not like you’re trying too hard, but it has to be fancy, but I don’t want to sweat too much in it, but it needs to match a skirt I have in my closet that you’ve never seen, but you need to pick a sweater that will match that skirt even though you’ve never seen the skirt. 

13. After a certain age, people just don’t give a shit. I worked in a clothing store that tended to draw older women, and I saw enough granny panties to last me a lifetime. Once people hit a certain age, they’ll just fling their dressing room door right open and show you everything they’ve got. You will be surprised at how quickly you become immune to this. 

14. Nothing pisses off an angry person more than being annoyingly nice to them. So if a customer is rude to you, tell them to have a nice day in the most sickly sweet voice you can muster. It will ruin them. 

15. People will keep buying velvet pants, no matter how hard you try to convince them not to. 

16. “Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?” is sometimes the most complicated thing you could ever ask a person. Because if they’re playing Angry Birds at the same time that they’re talking to you and trying to purchase six blouses, they’re not paying attention to a word you’re saying.

17. People will tell you when you’re wrong, but not when you’re right. If they think you did the math wrong when you ring up their stuff, they will patronizingly explain to you why their purchase should be less than what it is. When you explain that it is all automatic on the computer and show them why the amount is correct, they will make a simple “Hghm” noise and leave the store quietly.

18. Everyone shops for the version of themselves that weighs ten pounds less than they are. This is human nature. When a woman really wanted a pair of jeans but they were a little snug, she always said “well, obviously they’re going to fit better when I lose a few pounds. I’ll get them!” My thought was always why not get the correct size AND get to have pizza? But I was alone in that. 

19. People will tell you their least favorite part of their body as a sort of defense mechanism. If they’re modeling a pair of pants for you, they’ll tell you that they have massive thighs before coming out of the fitting room, as if this will prevent you from ever thinking it or saying it too. 

20. People assume you have the answer to everything, no matter what the question is. One time a woman came out of her dressing room, looked at me, and pointed to a pile of clothes on the floor. “How much will that all cost together but with 30% off three of the shirts?” she asked, as if she expected me to pull a calculator out of my ass and figure it out on the spot. I was tempted to tell her that this wasn’t some kind of Good Will Hunting secret genius scenario, but instead I raised my voice three octaves to sound less like I wanted to punch her, and said I would go figure it out for her. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Mean Girls

About the author

Kim Quindlen

I’m a staff writer for Thought Catalog. I like comedy and improv. I live in Chicago. My Uber rating is just okay.

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