Kathy is a freelance writer for Textbroker, Verblio, and Constant Content and published author in Neon Rainbow Magazine.
More to it Than Scanning and Putting Price Stickers on Things
Interesting Experiences and Observations of Human Nature
Having done retail price change work for about nine years (my first five years were spent in other areas like stocking shelves)... I got to see good parts of human nature and some not so good, and some that are just interesting. We have a cat who LOVES being petted and getting attention, around 3:00 am! So, I was awake one night with her anyway, and I found myself thinking about some of the experiences I had, especially back when I did price change work in retail. I thought some of my experiences and memories might be interesting to others.
You might think it was an easy thing.. just scan items and if a ticket pops out of your printer, you just put it on the item, but there was a lot more to it than that! We had workloads with a certain volume of items each day that we were expected to at least attempt to keep up with. Sometimes they were beyond the capabilities of any human being, but so often that is the case with company expectations of their employees.
We went through the entire store each day changing price labels that were on shelves, and on certain days, we ticketed items that had gone clearance. The way things were set up, we did clearance in different areas of the store on certain days. For example, on Mondays, we ticketed the children's and infant's departments. You had to scan clearance racks and search for brand new markdowns and move those newly ticketed items to clearance racks. Towards the end of my time there, we also had to group items onto racks by what percentage the prices were off of the original prices.
On Tuesdays, we did the women's department, Wednesdays were the men's department, Thursdays were intimates and accessories, and Fridays we did shoes and jewelry. We also did hardlines areas of the store: Health and Beauty, Food, Sporting Goods, Housewares, Domestics, and so forth. Those were done on certain days as well.
Interesting times were when customers would learn what areas you'd be working in each day (usually by "schmoozing" with price changers). And they would "stalk" you as you scanned the clearance items and as you scanned the end-caps where clearance items were placed, as you marked things down even more.
Some people loved to bother you while you tried to work, others would simply "hover" watching to see when you finished your work so they could have "dibs" on the newly marked down merchandise. It was almost like a sporting event to some ladies. Get to the stuff before anyone else had a chance to find it!
Sometimes it was women who had kids in school that would hit the store as soon as everyone was gone. I guess they'd get their husband out of the house and off to work, and then get the kids off to school, and then shopping it was! They'd get a cup of Starbucks and stalk... I mean shop... clearance and other items at the store. We used to HATE finding those half-full Starbucks cups all over the place by the way, but I digress.
Competitive Shopping Really WAS Kind of a "Thing"
I guess it is the thrill one would get and the release of endorphins knowing that you got an item for 75 percent off, or more off, if it was after a holiday. I can remember people wanting to know when items, especially holiday themed items, were going 90 percent off and they'd be there waiting before the store opened to grab whatever they thought they needed but probably didn't.
I mean, who could want or possibly need 25,000 bags of candy corn or 85,000 pencil erasers or rulers? OK, maybe teachers would want the back to school items. But candy corn? I remember one year marking down about 350,000 packages of hand warmers... we think that was a corporate mistake made by someone, and they all ended up at our store.
Certain departments had more "stalking" activity than others. Famously, people loved domestics, because who doesn't love getting sheet sets and towels for 75 percent off? Housewares was another popular area. And the toy department the day after Christmas or several weeks later when stuff went 75 percent off? Shangri-La for anyone with kids or for anyone who knew they'd have to go to kids birthday parties throughout the year!! I remember talking with one customer who told me she had closets FULL of clearance stuff just for these occasions! Smart I guess, especially if you do have the room to store items!
I even took part in some of this. I'd find myself Christmas shopping throughout the year and storing things in the basement and saving them to use as Christmas gifts. I always did it honestly though. I'd ticket things and go back to shop after work or the next day... if things were still there, I'd be lucky!
Some people took it to a whole other level though. We would find stuff that people had "hidden" all the time. Things that were stuffed into microwaves... things hidden in backs of shelves, even things hidden inside of other things. We'd assume it was someone who was waiting for the item to be marked down even further so they could come back after the final markdown and get it. It got pretty crazy sometimes.
I think a lot of that is driven by greed. People want things as cheaply as possible, and they want to be the first one there to get it! If an item is hidden where others can't find it, you have a better chance of getting it later.
Like I said, I did it honestly. Which is why I worked in retail for over 14 years. I DID see employees who were less than honest, however, and needed to be let go. They eventually lost their jobs.
We Did Have Some Fun Times
We Had Fun, Too
Sometimes we did have fun, or if we didn't, we did our best to create fun. We used to find things when we scanned that had gone past their "shelf life" and needed to be salvaged out. Clothing and items would go into boxes in the back of the store in the receiving area, and the boxes would eventually go to Goodwill.
I remember a particular box of lingerie and bras that created a good time and lots of laughs as those who were not particularly ... endowed... tried things on and put on a hilarious fashion show, all in the backroom of course, out of sight. I also remember working overnights after Christmas marking down items in the toy department that turned into a rather rowdy stuffed animal tossing competition. See, I can talk about these things now since it's been nearly 10 years ago since I left that job! You work an overnight shift in the toy department, and about 4:00 am... the tiredness that goes right to your soul starts to get to you! You have to laugh or go nuts... we chose laughter!
I'm sure things are a lot different now... but back then if we found that it wasn't much fun, we created fun. I think laughter is the best way to beat stress and helps you to not take things so very seriously all the time.
No Sense Risking Your Job Due to Dishonesty or Theft
I do remember some employees being terminated for theft, or simply for dishonest practices. We had items that if tags were missing, or honestly, sometimes we had merchandise returned to our store that we never even sold ... Martha Stewart sheets comes to mind... the store I worked for NEVER sold anything "Martha Stewart".
An unknowing person at the guest services desk would take the items back and issue refunds when they weren't supposed to and then we'd have to either salvage things out, or try to put prices on things to sell. "Martha Stewart" had to go to salvage. But, we had a set of shelves where un-ticketed items, things that were missing bar codes, and unidentifiable items went. It was our job whenever we had time to go through these things and tag them with "as is" tags. We'd have to research the items, enter a department code for the item, and then find a similar item... enter the other item's price... and then we had ways to print a 75 percent off ticket.
One Christmas season, I remember a new hire who was working with us in price change. She was asked to go through those shelves and she did the job... but she also added items like jewelry that she wanted to buy, and marked the items down. Later, she helped herself to deeply discounted items! An alert cashier told someone in asset protection. She came to work the next morning bragging about how she had done all of her Christmas shopping for 75 percent off... plus her employee discount. She was walked out later that day for dishonest and deceptive practices. It wasn't technically complete theft, since she did pay something for these items, but what she did was very dishonest and just plain wrong.
I also remember an employee unloading the truck and dropping items (electronics mostly) off of the truck into a gap between the truck and the dock door. Later in the day when he drove his car around to retrieve the items, he was caught on video—there were cameras everywhere—and he was terminated soon afterwards. You may think that no one would be that dishonestly brazen, but it sure happened! Not a lot, but it did happen.
If there were things that I wanted to buy that had been marked down, I waited until after work, and IF they were still there I'd get them. Otherwise, I'd chalk it up to bad luck. I always thought there was no sense risking your job for stupid "stuff." Sometimes I'd even go to another store to shop, one that I did NOT even work at, to buy things, especially clearance items.
You Can Find Greed and Dishonesty Anywhere: You Can Also Find Great People
I learned that greed, wanting something for practically nothing, and sometimes outright dishonesty were just parts of dealing with retail. I also remember the VERY, VERY good people that I worked with, some of whom I'm still friends with ten years later. They are the ones that I try to emulate and keep in touch with. They helped to give me the best memories and restored my faith in human nature when things got tough.
Isn't it that way in any job, though? All throughout society we find dishonest people. But then offsetting that are the ones who are honest and trustworthy to a fault. Those who would do anything for you, or give you the shirt off their back if you were going through a tough time. These are the ones that I choose to hang with and to keep in my life. These are the great memories that made the job worthwhile.
Happy shopping! But just remember that the people helping you are human too, and they have lives and struggles that we know nothing about. The best advice I can give is to just be kind. Always.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 KathyH
KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on September 16, 2019:
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! You reminded me of the craziest day of the year in retail- Black Friday! We would have a line that snaked around the side of the building of people who all wanted to get into the store first when the doors opened. This was usually around 4am when we were just arriving to work. It was very bizarre!
Once the doors opened, people actually RAN down the aisles, usually to get to the electronics department to get the latest video game system or large screen TVs that were on sale! I’m surprised someone didn’t get knocked down and hurt!
Retail can be a crazy business! It brings out peoples competitive side for sure! Thank you for sharing your story!
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 16, 2019:
This is a very interesting article. I have worked enough jobs in my life to know that there is a lot more to a job that goes unseen, so I feel basic respect for anyone who is working a shift anywhere with basic ethics in place.
I had to chuckle at your descriptions of people "stocking" you to get the scoop on where the best deals would be. I am reminded of a time I went on a Florida business trip with my husband, back in the 1970s, and went shopping early one morning in a mall shop nearby. I had never experienced the competition for sale items, and was blown away by a fight that broke out over shopping carts. There was a 'cat fight,' I am deciding to call it, where two women grasped the same cart-- the last one-- and pinched, screamed at, and hit each other. Finally, security intervened. Through the whole chaotic experience, a man with a soothing voice kept repeaing things over the public address system like: "Slow down, people. Take your time. There are enough bargains here for everyone." I was so flummoxed that I don't remember that I actually purchased anything.
Good article. Enough time has passed that it is interesting to young people to read about how their jobs were 'back in the old days'.