What I learned working on retail

Having worked for two years in a retail store, and, more importantly, having successfully lived through the holiday season, I wish to share what I have learned.

I can smile pleasantly while explaining to the 50th customer today that the oh-so-cleverly disguised Customer Service desk I’m standing behind(and under the HUGE “Customer Services” sign) is in actuality … Customer Services and NOT a register. Now I realize a curved desk containing two computers and two phones is easily mistaken for a register, but can you really ignore the line of 20 people holding items waiting under the “Please Pay Here” sign? Yes, I can take your money, but you still need to purchase the item at the register. No, I’m sorry, we don’t have a special register for newspaper/magazine buyers.

I am able to direct people to the DVD section(“straight back under the DVD sign”) and the children’s section(“Straight back under teh children’s sign”) without sounding snotty. I can tell them with a perfectly straight face that Yes, I have a bathroom, and Yes, I actually do know where it is.

I can commiserate with them that the brand new book that came out yesterday is not available in paperback and will probably take 6 mos to a year (or more) until it does. And I’m sorry, but telling me that the book is new, was featured in a magazine/newspaper/morning show does not tell me what the book is. No I do not watch these shows/read all the magazines/newspapers and/or keep back copies of them.

Yes, we have a bestseller/new book display. No they are not every new book that has come out in the past 6 mos. No we don not have a list of the NYT bestsellers, but I will gladly sell you the Sunday NY Times.

But mostly what I have learned is this: Just when you think you’ve seen it all, some asshat comes up and proves that yes, there is always someone dumber in this world.

I’ve learned that people will take almost any degree of sarcasm if you say it with a straight face.

Customer: What sizes does the coffee come in?
Me: Small, medium, and large.
Customer: What’s the difference?
Me: One is small, this one is bigger, and this one is bigger still.
Customer: Oh.

… or, in a similar vein (and yes, these actually happened)

Me: These come in raspberry or blueberry.
Customer: What’s the difference?
Me: These have raspberries, and these have blueberries.
Customer: Oh.

Or the lady who pointed, across the store, at a fridge full of various kinds of juice:

Lady: What’s that? [meaning, presumably, ‘what kind of juice is that one, top shelf, second from the left’, or something]
Me: It’s a fridge.
Lady: Oh.

Oh, the memories. I’m reluctant to get involved with this thread because it will bring back too many memories I’ve worked hard to suppress !

all hail the customer service worker … they are made of stronger stuff than most!

a friend of mine managed a sporting goods department at Monkey Wards way back when. His favorite was:

Customer “How much is this bike and what colors does it come it?”
Employee “The red one marked $59.95?”
Customer “Yes”
Employee “It’s $59.95 and it comes in red”
Customer “Thank you”

I would be fired in less than an hour if I had a retail job. That is a fact.

With the number of voters who work in RETAIL, I wonder why, “I shot him just because he needed killing.” is not a violable defense in homicide cases?

I am amazed how dependent customers are. If they would just think about the answer to their questions they wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of asking. At a thrift store I worked at they asked which colors were half off. Let’s say orange and yellow. There were huge signs all over the place with large orange and yellow (or whatever colors they were that week) squares to indicate. Then they would ask, “What does the O and Y stand for?” On the same signs there would be many indicators of what colors were this week. Initials and the words of the colors in both English and Spanish.

“Orange and yellow” I would say.

“Oh yeah, duh!” Then they would laugh. I wouldn’t. My God, people. How the hell do you dress yourselves in the morning?

Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m in a store and I have a question, I take time to think it out and think out all possibilities before going to ask an employee.

Another thing I loved is when someone wanted to see something on the shelves behind the registers or in the display cases. They would just point. I would open the doors and run my hands over each piece of jewelry. “This one?” I would ask. “No! THIS ONE!” and they would point vaugely. It would be nice of they described it. Or they pointed behind me and said, “I would like to see that purse”. There were at least five or six purses on the shelf behind me. I would point to each one until the customer finally said, “Yes, that’s the one.”

My friend’s dad working in a camera shop:

Customer: What kind of film should I get?
MFD: It depends on what kind of camera you have, and how far away you will be.
Customer: I have a Nikon, and I’ll be in Detroit.

Now, I have often said idiotic things, and not only to shopkeepers. But I at least have the decency to say ‘This may sound idiotic, but …’ or ‘I guess that was a silly question’ or ‘Maybe I wasn’t making myself clear.’ Because these customers didn’t make such disclaimers, I have no problem mocking them senseless.

Same in my deli. “Half-pound of that.” Mind you, not only is their finger at the least two feet away, there’s a fucking caseful of food between me and your finger! If only I were able to see through large pieces of meat and metal and plastic and refrigeration parts and such…

And of course, I ask, “Can you give me the name, please?”

Their response? Say it with me folks, “That one.” * So, I huff and puff, and make the thirty foot walk out of the deli (taking my sweet ass time) and back around to where the putz is, and ask them, “The one labelled ‘Mortadella’?” “Yeah.”


*- This really deserves a smartass reply. Anyone want to give me ideas?

And from the ‘What I learned shopping in retail’ files…

Scene: me browsing in a hardware store nut/bolt/washer/other little metal things aisle with a picture of what I’m looking for.

Guy who works there: Can I help you find anything?
Me: Um…I’m looking for ‘copper bushings’ like these (show him the picture)
Guy: Oh…well I don’t know if we have that…this isn’t my department.
Me: Thanks for the ‘help’.

Keep a quantity of something undesirable in the case, labeled “That one,” and start weighing it out for them. Then again, if they aren’t reading the labels, they probably won’t get the joke.

Wednesday night, Marcie decided that she absolutely had to go shopping—she gets that way, sometimes. Since it is impossible for me to spend enough time with her, I go along on ALL shopping expeditions. At JC Penney’s, we actually heard a telephone conversation wherein the employee was being asked by a customer to detail EVERYTHING in the store that was on sale and what the markdown percentage was. She finally said that almost everything was on sale and at substantial savings. That answer wasn’t good enough, and she finally more or less hung up on the alleged customer. No doubt he/she will be in to complain. Oh, well, back when I owned an automobile repair shop, a guy once called to get a price quote—his car had stopped running the night before and he needed to know how much it would cost to fix it.

The thing I most remember from when I worked in retail: If there is a display table of, say, winter hats with a sign that says “Hats - 50% off marked price” and some customer drops an item, say a scarf, that they’ve decided they don’t want to buy any more on that table (you can see what’s coming, yes?), some other customer will pick up that scarf and demand 50% off, because the sign said so.

I get people who want me to read them a synopsis of a book, or find a quote. One guy even directed me over the phone to the book he wanted. When I got back and said, yes I had it, he just wanted the isbn … which I have in my database on my computer.

Would that be the deli equivalent of the any key?

I might make it that. But only later in the day when the Authority Figures™ have gone home. Hyeh, hyeh, hyeh. Then again, the Authority Figures™ don’t pay much attention to signs, either. The Lewis Black quote in my sig has been on my nametag for the past week, and no one’s said a word.

Don’t blame the Guy too much . . . those Big Box Stores have a tendency to shuffle employees out of their departments abruptly to cover people that have finally gotten fed up with the sub-human treatment and walked off. A friend of mine, for example, had been hired for, and worked, in the paint department for almost six months. On morning, the manager uncermemoniously ushered her over to power tools, and said that this was now her department. She protested that she knew nothing about power tools, but he just shrugged and said she’d learn. After a day of furious customers berating her for no knowing the specs of this or that, she fled in tears, never to return.

shudder When I worked in a bookstore, I wanted nothing more than to post a sign on the door that said, “Actual Book Readers Only.” Nothing was worse than someone who wandered in, looking as confused as if they’d entered a store that sold African fertility idols, wanting to purchase a book for a friend’s child. No, they didn’t know what KIND of book, or what the child was interested in, and no, they didn’t have any favorite books from their own childhood that sound like a good idea. But they knew they did not want anything fanciful, with dragons or wizards and the like, nor did they want a lot of pictures, yet it should be somewhat long (and I swear to God someone actually said this) but not with a lot of words. And, oh yes, the child is sixteen.

Or, the customers looking for a book, of which the title, and author were a complete mystery, but they did know the main character was named “Sam,” and it was either a love story, or science fiction . . . maybe horror. When I could not produce the book, how angry and rude they would become! “Well! I’ll never shop here again!” GOOD.

One of the most entertaining jobs I’ve had, if you’re a masochist, was a front desk clerk at a hotel. “Yes, sir, it’s entirely my fault you don’t have a room. I should have realized that when you made a reservation for our branch in London, England, that you really meant this hotel. Yes, sir, it’s entirely my fault that we do not have sixteen connecting rooms by the pool vacant on our busiet week of the year. Yes, I realize that Acme Widget Corp. is a huge conglomerate which can, at a mere word from you, bankrupt this establishment and see that I never work again, you should have made a reservation.”

Ah, the public.

More tales from the video store:
Customer: I’m looking for a new movie, it’s called The Animal.
Me: It’s on the New Release wall over there. (I pointed)
Customer: Which one?
Me: The blue on that says “The Animal” on it.

Keep in mind, we’re about 10 feet away from the movie in question.

And waitressing customers are stupid, too.
Customer: Are your mashed potatos real?
Me: Yep, they’re made freshly every morning.
Customer: I mean, are they REAL potatos?
Me: Yes.
Customer: Made from actual potatos?
Me: Real, honest-to-goodness spuds.
Customer: And the turkey, is it real turkey?
Me: Yes. It’s handcarved.
Customer: Is it from an acutal turkey?
Me: Yes.
Customer: Not from like a turkey-loaf or anything?
Me: ::blinkblink:: NO.

Ooh, I’ve gotta add to this one.

Actual exchange at the Target I work at (too many times to number):

Customer/Guest (whatever): “I need a video game for my child.”

Me: “Ok, what kind of games does s/he like?”

C/G: “I’m not sure.”

Me: “Well, how old is s/he?”

C/G: “Almost five.”

Me (the education major): blank stare “You want a video game for a five year old?”

C/G: “Yeah, what ones are good for that age?”

Me: “None of them. Running, there’s a good start. There are no games that are good for your five year old. Please remove yourself from my presence. Your television is not a babysitter. You moron.”

Ok, so that last one is a little exaggerated. I have told people that there are no good games for that age in the past, and gotten dirty looks for my efforts.

Who lets the general public out, anyways?

Customer: I’d like those 40 -32 Levi’s 501 there on the top.
Me: Ok Let me go get a ladder.
(bring out our huge ass 60 pound ladder)
Me: Here you go.
Customer: These have button flies!!! (almost angery)
Me: Yes they are 501’s
Customer: Why don’t you tell people that?
Me: We do its on the sign right here (Point to 10 inch by 10 inch sign describing jean). you can also look at the other 501’s
Customer: Well give me the 501’s with zippers.
Me: 501’s don’t have zippers, thats why they are 501’s. Try 505s they are almost the same thing but with zippers.
Customer: But I want 501’s
Me: But you don’t like button flies, thus you don’t want 501’s
Customer: No I want 501’s with zippers.
Me: Again they are 501’s because they dont have zippers try 505, or 550 0r 560 none of those have button flies.
Customers: Why do you sell jeans with out zippers?
Me: because people will buy them.
Customer: but I don’t like the button flies.
Me: So get a 505
Customer: But I want a 501
Me: Here is your 501
Customer: But it doesn’t have a zipper
Me: Its quite a shame isn’t it? (walks away)

In a former life I designed the crematoriums at Bierknau so I had to work as a desk clerk for 4 years in this life. The most evil words in the English language were “Family Reunion” and “Weekend Guest”.
Family Reunions: 923 people who’re already pissed because they just drove across two continents, made a wrong turn in Cleveland which made them wind up in Sacramento on their way to Birmingham, the entire way driven in a car with 3 ADHD kids, a pregnant Rottweiler, an incontinent great-grandparent, and a wife they haven’t slept with since the last Bush administration, then they get here and they’re mad because they can’t have a room adjoining all 9 of their favorite cousins, the Rottweiler can’t stay in the room, the hotel doesn’t offer a discount for the Johnny’s Fine Liquor and Check Cashing Emporium Quantity Buyer’s Club and the hotel wants payment at check in instead of a check sent after they get home if they liked the stay… uuurrggghhh… helljob.
Or businessmen who’ve had to play the buttmonkey to their own boss all day long and are looking to vent and the non-availability of a room on the first floor in a 52 story hotel offers just the incentive for them to grow a teeny-tiny set and yell at somebody they know can’t yell back.
And the housekeeping employees who for reasons known to God and the Soviet Red Army Chorus think that front desk clerks make megabucks and act like you’re house slaves and this is the Haitian revolution if you ask them to walk 2 steps out of their way to the customer who just checked into a room with no sheets.
And the fucking sales managers who overbook the hotel by 45 rooms and then drive their Volvos home to their split-levels at 5 pm so that you can calmly explain to 45 people who’ve flown into town for a convention that starts at 6 the next morning “Yes, I know you made the reservation 3 years ago, left your dying mom and pregnant wife to catch 8 planes to be here, and I just told you we can’t honor your reservation, but cheer up… our sales manager has made arrangements for you to stay at the HOTEL DE MAISON CRACQUE which is almost as nice as ours except it doesn’t have an atrium and it’s next to the bus station and the desk clerk wears flip flops, a mullet, and Miami Dolphins cut-offs, and the sign outside advertises “ROOMS FROM $60 A WEEK- NO I.D. REQUIRED- DISCOUNT FOR PEOPLE SEEN ON AMERICA’S MOST WANTED”, so please stop screaming and put the ice pick down…”

I also worked in a bookstore. I had several older customers who were sweet as could be but had to tell you the plot of the books they were reading, why they were reading them, and about the first time they saw a butterfly, and invariably the books they were reading were “LOVE IN THE YUGO- Number 3,092 in the LaTorra Flambe Romance Series” (and they’d have to tell you why this was different from numbers 1 through 3,091 in the series) or, worse yet, HOW YOU CAN ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN FOR JUST $30 {$10 PAPERBACK} by Reverend Billy Jack Hinncrouchswaggart.
I also grew to loathe the customers who would come in, read every single word in a magazine as if we were a frigging library, then put the magazine back on the shelf with visible crease lines, sweaty palm prints, and in the wrong place. Or the people (several of them old) who would peel off the 50% OFF stickers WHILE YOU COULD SEE THEM, then paste them on another book and insist it was on sale when we got there. Telling them there was a security cam helped some (there wasn’t), but after a fight with the manager over one such charlatan I just started ringing them up with the discount.