Being Kind To Retail Workers

 

First of all, let me start out by saying that I get it. We’ve all been in situations where the customer service in a particular establishment was far from five stars (or sometimes even three stars…)

But the truth is, a lot of the time, people are a lot harder on cashiers and other people in retail than they need to be.

For a few months, I worked as a retail employee at Target.  I’d just left an awful (and I mean, awful) job at a daycare and working in retail was not the hell everyone made it out to be.  That being said, there was plenty of garbage people I had to deal with on a weekly basis, and some people who just didn’t realize that they were doing things that bother/irratate retail employees.

Target pays well, but the situations I had to handle made me really appreciate, all the more, retail businesses that don’t pay as well.  If I had been making minimum wage, I probably would have left long before I did.

Want to know some of the things that people do that cause retail employees to want to drink while on their thirty minute breaks? read further!

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This is a common one. I regularly see it complained about by (a certain generation) on Facebook.
Trust me, if you, a shopper, have noticed that things are backed up because there are fifteen check lines and only three of them are being operated, then I can promise you that those three cashiers are already very aware of the problem.
If you have to wait thirty extra minutes for your items to be rung up, then the problem isn’t that the cashiers are lazy and don’t want to work…you packed your day too full and you need to learn to enjoy waiting.

More often than not, when the cashiers are short staffed, it isn’t their fault.  Management probably only scheduled three cashiers, and trust me, those three are fussing about being overworked every second they get in the break room.

“Why don’t they just pull someone off the floor, then?” you might ask, and when I worked at Target, we would.  However, that comes with its own set of problems.  If you pull someone from clothing, that is one less team member working in clothing and that means guests aren’t going to be helped.
I swear, when we’d pull someone from a department to help up front in the check lanes, that is when then everybody and their aunt would suddenly need help finding items in that department…and the person who could best help them is up front ringing up bananas and blenders.

“Why do they only schedule so many, then?”  There are actually two answers to this.  Firstly, the majority of the cashiers I worked with when I was at Target were part-time parents or students. The day might start out with six cashiers, but by 3 p.m., the majority had left to go to classes or pick up their kids from school.  The position of a cashier is the one best fit to part-timers since it requires the least responsibility.  You don’t have to worry about finishing stocking, or being stuck and not able to clock out on time.  It is, almost, the perfect part-time job.
The second answer is, you the customer are telling management to employ a lesser amount of cashiers.   Every time you go through a self-checkout (of which I am also guilty), you are telling that store that cashiers aren’t needed.  The more people who use self-checkout, the fewer cashiers that store will eventually put on the schedule per day.

If you feel the need to complain about the lack of cashiers, don’t do it to the cashiers themselves, you are preaching to the choir there. Instead, ask to speak to a manager and vent your frustrations to them directly.   If you don’t want to go through all that work and hassle….then maybe just not complain at all.

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They see you. They see you making spills and messes and just walking away.  They see you letting your kid destroy the toy aisles and not making him/her pick up the play goo your child opened and then left to drip down the shelving (actually happened. I wish I was joking. Want to know how you get half dried and tacky play goo out of shelving cracks and crevices? you don’t. You just can’t).

Here’s the thing….if you make a mess and you aren’t able to clean it up, just tell an employee so they can handle it right away, alright?  Christmas time at Target was awful (for more reasons than one), for the fact that kids/adults would drop glass ornaments on the floor and just.walk.away.
Contrary to what your mom told you, they aren’t going to make you buy it if you accidentally break it, alright? It’s a hazard to leave broken things just laying around, and team members aren’t your mothers, following you around every second with a broom and dustpan.

If you are shopping at a store that offers a restaurant/cafe inside, then don’t just leave your cups/food wrappers/popcorn papers laying around.  There are trash cans, they are for that use. Can’t find a trashcan? ask. just ask.  Don’t go, “Oh, can’t find a trashcan to drop my half-drank now-cold Starbucks into…I’m going to instead hide it behind this box of Legos…because that’s the right thing to do.”

Hint: it’s not the right thing to do. Do NOT do that.

(do I sound bitter? a little?)

And it might not seem like ‘making a mess’, but if you pick something up and decide you don’t actually want it, don’t just stuff it on the nearest shelf. Bring it up with you to the front and they can make sure it goes back to where it belongs.  When you stuff items in places, it makes problems for the employees and for other shoppers.
example: you pick up the last remaining DVD for Disney’s Frozen. You go buy your groceries, and decide, “Nah, I’ll just buy this movie on Amazon Prime”, that’s fine. But when you just stuff the DVD amongst the paper plates and walk away, the store’s inventory still shows they have one left in stock.  So another customer comes into electronics and asks if there are any Frozen DVD’s in stock.  An employee checks the inventory database, sees they still have one, and proceeds to direct the customer where the inventory says it is stocked.  It’s not there. the customer now returns, fusses, and demands to have the back checked. The employee checks the back, knowing they won’t find any, and calls up to guest services to check the return bins (which, if you’d brought the DVD to the front and told them you didn’t want it, that’s where it would go).  Naturally, it isn’t there either.
There is more fuss, and eventually, the customer leaves.
Later that night, while closing and “zoning” (making sure everything is neat and where it belongs), the Frozen DVD is found stowed amongst the paper plates…where it has been this whole time.

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Let me start off by saying, this isn’t saying asking for a price match, or double checking to make sure the labeled price is the price your item rang up for, all that is fine. It is so much more convenient for the employee to alter the price right then rather than you returning and wanting to have the price reduced after you buy it.

No, what I mean is coming in with a three-month-old sales flyer and demanding the employee honor the price because “you just found it” in your mail stash.  Or coming in and wanting to purchase a video game, but wanting it cheaper because a friend told you they bought it for $20 yesterday, why isn’t it still $20? (There was probably a sale going on then and it ended. Or your friend lied).

Also, if you find something on the $10 rack, and when you get up front, you discover that it is actually $19.99, don’t blame the store.  Almost 100% of the time, the fault is another customer who decided to just stow it there (another reason to not stow/stuff things places). 

Also the snide, “can’t you cut me a deal?” or “oh, no price tag…must be free!” remarks aren’t cute. Just a heads up.

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Employees and cashiers are the last people who are involved in making store policies, but often those who have to enforce those policies.

Working in electronics, I was only allowed to sell three video games per person (like, the same game. You could buy one of each of all 40+ games, but only three of the same game) and only one Nintendo Switch per person.  Did that mean some people were put out because they had three grandchildren and all three wanted Nintendo Switches? yes.
Did I get fussed at and pointed fingers at a lot because of that? you betcha. Did they ask to see my manager, who in return said the same exact thing as I did? yep.

Here’s the thing, a lot of time, store policies are set up for a reason.  You can only use so many coupons because extreme couponers are legit scary and will end up making the store lose money. You can only buy one Nintendo Switch/three of the same video game because we would have people (usually the same people, honestly) come in and try to buy up all of our hot items so they could sell them on Facebook or eBay at a raised price; then, the honest folk who would come in and want it wouldn’t be able to purchase it.

The rules aren’t there to restrict good, honest customers, but sometimes good, honest customers end up trapped by the rules.  It’s unfortunate and frustrating, I understand, but it isn’t the fault of the girl or guy working behind the counter or register. Don’t blame them if they can’t break the rules to please you.

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This does go back up to the first one (complaining about the lack of cashiers) but it applies to other areas too.    The prime example I have from my months in retail was when a customer (called ‘guests’ at Target) would request something from the back room.  I would go back there, go through the hassle of finding the item, pulling it (marking it as transferred from the backroom to the sales floor) and bring it to where the guest had been waiting…only for them to have walked off.   Waiting sucks, but making an employee go through all that work, making them leave the sales floor (which made them unavailable for other guests) only for you to decide you don’t want to wait 5 minutes for them to get the item you requested is incredibly rude and frustrating.

There were other times, such as customers complaining because it took a few minutes for a team member to get to their location when they pressed the help call button (especially on days when the store was crowded), or the time when a woman asked to speak to my manager because I had to go find a pair of working keys so I could unlock a display case for her…it took me no more than 3 minutes to jog to the front, get the keys, and return but she responded like it was 3 years.

If you can’t be patient enough to let the retail employee serve you…then the problem is not the employee.

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The store closing countdown announcement was honestly one of the best sounds of the day.   As a team member, it meant that it was getting close to the time when I could clock out and go home.

However, employees can’t just leave as soon as the store closes. There’d always be an hour (at least) after closing when we had to straighten aisles, bring in all the carts, and make sure all the returns were placed back on the shelves. During holidays, that hour was lengthened to two, sometimes three+ hours after closing.

So when there is a customer who decides they want to stay and continue shopping past the closing time, it inconveniences everyone in the store.

The closing time is not a recommendation for when you should leave. It is a time when you need to be out by.  If the announcement says the store is closing in five minutes, then don’t think that means ‘be at the register’ in five minutes.  It means ‘be walking out the door’ in five minutes.

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Kind of a no-brainer one, right?
Actually no.
When you steal from a store, you end of inconveniencing other, paying shoppers (who can’t buy that thing you stole), you add to making policies more stringent, and you cause a ton more paperwork for the employees.

During my last month at Target, there were two guys who regularly came in and stole certain Nintendo attachments. We had them on camera, their faces were plastered across the loss prevention office, and one of the loss prevention guys had almost a personal vendetta against them.   It became super frustrating because we were never able to catch them (eventually, a week after I left, they did catch the both of them. Stealing never pays off in the long run, folks).

Just don’t steal. It’s kinda against the law.

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There are things that a retail worker does know. For example, want to know which video games are hot sellers right now? the electronics team member (if they are a good team member) can probably tell you.  At my Target, the girls and guys in the Health and Beauty department were hired for their beauty product knowledge. The apparel department team members could tell you about recent popular styles.

However, asking questions like,
“Do kids like this toy?”
“Which apple watch band will feel best on my wrist?”
“What is the charge-by-minute for this computer charger?”
“Do these shoes have a comfort level, that you know of?”
“Will this fit a human being?” (it was a dog collar. I don’t even want to know).
“Should I wait to buy this until Black Friday?” (asked two months before Black Friday…two months before I even know what sort of sales will take place for this item).
“When will this be ordered so it can come back into stock?”
“What is the sound density of these speakers?” (is…that a thing?)

Are all questions that the average retail worker just won’t know.  At Target, we weren’t allowed to say “I don’t know” or “That’s a stupid question” or “Are you actually asking or just asking to sound kinda intelligent because I think it’s the latter”.  So, I spewed so much BS.

If you have a question that you think may be a difficult one, start out with “Are you an expert on–” and go from there.  Retail workers aren’t your personal makeup attendees, your wardrobe specialist, or trained electronic repair people.  Their job is to sell items, not fix them or perfect you.

Example: I know cameras pretty well. I’m a photographer. It’s my *thing*, it’s part of why they put me in electronics.  My other coworkers were hired for their video game, cell phone or tv knowledge.  If you asked them what SD card size was best…they’d give you some glorified, made up, magical explanation.  But if you started out with “are you an expert on cameras?” they could admit that it’s their weak spot and direct you to someone (me) who was.

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That’s the biggest thing. We all mess up. We all ask dumb questions. We all forget to put stuff back. We’ve all rushed in last minute to a closing store. We’ve all done things that tick retail workers off.

But as long as you are polite, as long as you treat them with the respect of actual people, then you can get by with other minor rudeness from time to time.   I loved it when people engaged in conversation with me about Star Wars when I asked if they were a fan due to the Star Wars funko pops they were buying, or when the lady who asked me to give suggestions for a gift for a 10-year-old boy smiled and thanked me for putting in the time to help.

Treat the retail workers like people, because that’s what they are.  Usually underpaid, undertrained and overworked people.

 

Do you or have you worked in retail? I’d love to hear any interesting stories from your time as worked-to-the-bone retail employee!

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