What Working in Retail is REALLY Like

Updated on May 19, 2020
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I've gone through six retail jobs in the past three years and I can tell you that some are better than others.

If You Shop Retail, You Need to Know What It's Like to Work Retail

Do you see that smile? Have you ever wondered if it was genuine? Or if they have to plaster that grin on their faces and greet you?

Well, speaking from experience, I can assure you that most of the time our smiles are genuine...for the most part. You see, we sales and store associates love our customers and the environment, as long as we aren't being bombarded every so often with angry customers or angry managers.

Working in retail isn't always all fun and games, though. It really all does depend on where you work. I've gone through six retail jobs in the past three years and I can tell you that some are better than others.

Let's start with the customers.


Customers, like you and I, are truly the backbone of the company. We shop at these stores and help them make the sales that they require to stay in business. We go to these stores to search for great deals on clothes and other items that we think that we need (even though we really don't). Many of us go to stores, such as Burlington, Ross, JCPenney, and Sears, for perhaps an article of clothing or two, but leave with something for our husbands, daughters, mothers, and best friends. Trust me; it is very common for that to happen.

Sales Associates

Sales associates are here for you and to help you. However, that doesn't mean that they will always be available. Sometimes, there will only be one sales associate available at a register, and he or she will have to take care of the long line all by themselves, as well as fix everything around them! You stood in that line, so I know you feel the pain that the other customers feel while they're waiting. Be considerate of others; it's respectful and important. Now, if you think about it carefully, is it really logical to get mad at one person for not being able to answer your every call? I don't think so, but hey - my perspective may be biased.


Another thing is pricing. It is understandable that you might get upset that a really cute blouse is actually being sold for forty dollars instead of ten like the sign said. It is understandable that the sign might've tricked you because you didn't completely read the fine print or little wording at the bottom or to the side of it that explained the discounts. I understand that, the managers understand that, and we feel for you. We empathize with you. But, that is no excuse for you to get angry at the associate for a wrong price.

To Whom Should You Complain About Prices?

Little do some customers know, and it is shocking to say the least, the sales associates that you see at the register are not the ones that make the prices! Most of the time, we just clock in and go straight to work, not even reading the sales signs. There are pricing and merchandising teams that come to the company at four or five o'clock in the morning and put up these signs and sales. We aren't in charge of that, nor do we have any control over that.

What we CAN do for you, is to honor your request. Everyone has heard the saying, "the customer is always right." Because of that quote, and because we understand where you are coming from, we will change the price for you. It is no problem.

Although, if you're saying that a 75 dollar item is supposed to be 15 dollars, then we have a problem.

Returns and Exchanges

Going back to the customers, each store has a different policy for returns and exchanges. Some are thirty days, forty-five days, or even sixty days. Some are nonrefundable, too. Make sure you know what the store policy is before you get angry at the computer and associate, both who are telling you that you've had the item beyond the returnable limit.

The whole returning process is a pain, and when you try and return an item without a receipt, it is even worse. As I'm not going to delve into that right now, for future reference I plead you to please hold on to your receipts, or ask to have it emailed to you.

Retail Etiquette

Another thing that associates have to worry about is manners. We have to conceal our emotions and be nonchalant for the most part, even though in reality we want to make you understand what is going on in your transaction. Yes, it is true that we make little mistakes here and there, and we want to catch them because our job could be on the line. I've known some of my co-workers who've been terminated because they once raised their voice at a customer. We don't want our jobs to be threatened, so we do our best to please you.

Coming up to the register with an attitude or talking on the phone is what we consider rude. Part of our job is to greet and interact with you, but it is nearly impossible to do that if you're intimidating or speaking with someone else. All we ask is that you help us help you.

What exactly do retail store associates do when there are no customers around?

Truly, anything we can.

We clean our registers; at least, I did. The company provided us with cheap knockoff Lysol wipes, so combine those wipes with some hand sanitizer and there you have it! A germ-free register.

We also put clothes back on their rack and hang up the ones that need to be hung. Most of the time that you don't see us at the register is because we are putting the items back where they are supposed to, so our supervisors and managers don't come breathing down our back.

As you know, we are on our feet the whole time. Not once have I seen a sales associate actually sit down somewhere. We have to have firm control of our bladder because once we go to relieve it, a whole line of customers appears out of seemingly thin air.

Working in retail can be fun, if you help make it fun too! There are many advantages and disadvantages of working in retail, but maybe we can save that for another article.

Until next time!

© 2019 Ruth Parvilus


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