“There’s no price tag? Oh, it must be free, HAHAHAHA!” No.

After having worked in retail for almost five years now, I think it’s safe to say that I can write a book on my experiences as a retail employee. From screaming children and adults to destroyed stacks of clothing to hidden trash, I’ve experienced it all. I’ve worked four Black Fridays – well, three and a Brown Thursday – participated in numerous inventories and floor sets, stayed past my shift countless times, and worked plenty of Back-to-School and holiday sales.

These experiences have taught me a lot, such as time management and patience and how to be polite even in the worst circumstances. However, after all those years of dealing with customers from retail Heaven and customers who could only have come from the deepest pits of retail Hell and all those customers in between, I want to share some of my knowledge as both a shopper and a retail employee. Hopefully these tidbits of information help you not only make your next shopping trip more enjoyable for you, but for the retail employees as well.

1.) See the title of this blog?

If I had a nickel for every time I heard some free merchandise-related joke, I’d have…a lot of nickels.

2.) Something as simple as “hello” can make our day.

After hours of being on our feet folding and re-folding clothes, we just want to go home. So when we get unnecessarily snapped at for talking to customers, our days become much longer. For many stores, it’s corporate policy to greet customers as they come in. Trust me, we are not trying to be creepy, and we are not assuming right off the bat that you are walking into our store to steal something – unless you’re being weird and suspicious, but you’ll know that we know that you’re trying to steal something, trust me. Believe it or not, retail employees genuinely want you to enjoy your shopping experience; a happy customer makes for a more enjoyable experience for the employees as well. Many times, more than corporate or store policy, it’s just in our personality to be friendly. More often than not, I found myself at the receiving end of weird looks, total disregard, or “the hand” when I greeted customers. So when the rare customer actually said “hello” back to me, it definitely made my shift a little brighter.

2.) Trash cans are for trash. Displays are for merchandise.

Seriously, people. C’mon. I’m not sure what happens to people when a trash can isn’t within arm’s reach, but apparently it becomes okay for everyone to assume that the whole store is their dumping ground. As much as I love playing games, playing hide-and-seek with your trash is not my idea of a fun time, so please refrain from hiding it behind stacks of merchandise. I can promise you that if you ask – politely or otherwise – I will throw your trash away for you, because after a long day of being on my feet the last thing I want is to be in the store thirty minutes after my shift was supposed to end and find your breakfast sandwich wrapper behind the stack of t-shirts I’m re-folding for the bajillionth time.

3.) We are not babysitters.

Here’s a little P.S.A. for the parents out there: retail employees are not your babysitters, and we have no problem telling your child not to climb / touch / push / pull / go near / even think about looking at displays. Please keep your children in check and have an eye on them at all times. It is not cute when your child pulls down displays, no matter how much you want to smile and laugh it off. If your child makes a mess, please take some initiative. And by initiative, I mean help clean up the mess, not find the nearest employee and inform them that your child just spilled an entire sippy cup of juice in a trail throughout the store and then continue about your business. However, the worst thing you can do is simply not tell anyone that your child just dropped an entire cup of soda on the now-sticky floor.

4.) When a cashier is ringing you up, please don’t be on the phone.

It will make everyone’s life easier if you simply wait the five minutes that it takes for us to ring you up to make the phone call to your friend about  what she said to him and he did to her and what your plans are for the weekend and what you’re going to make for dinner – IT CAN WAIT. Not only is it rude, but it’s time-consuming for the cashier to try to decode your weird hand gestures, and it wastes the other customer’s time who have to wait for you to get out of line. 

5.) Don’t think we can’t see you stuffing that shirt way into the back of that display that’s two feet from where the shirt was originally picked up from.

I’m not entirely sure that people understand why stores hire sales associates, so let me clarify something for everybody: sales associates are hired to help you and to make sure the store looks presentable for the customers. To further clarify the latter statement, it is impossible for associates to keep the store looking somewhat neat if people keep throwing clothes wherever they want. It takes only a minute to return an item to where you originally found it, and even less time to give it back to a sales associate. Like I said, it’s our job to help you and make sure the store looks good, and I can promise that we would much rather just put the clothing back ourselves than have to find it smooshed behind a stack of totally unrelated merchandise, as this just adds unnecessary hassle and time to our shift.

6.) XS – XXL

That is how almost every store sizes their merchandise. Extra small on the top, extra large on the bottom. It’s not rocket science.

7.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

It amazes me how much customers will avoid talking to a sales associate. We’re not going to eat you. Yes, some of us have been working for hours and hours without a break, and we’re definitely hungry, but unless you’re shopping in a florist’s shop and your name is Seymour, you have nothing to worry about. Our sole purpose is to help you, the customer, have the best shopping experience you can. If you can’t find something, ask us. If you can’t reach something, ask us. And if you aren’t sure about a price…you guessed it, ask us. 

8.) We talk about you. #SorryNotSorry

I would be lying if I said the opposite. Yes, we talk about you, so please be on your best behavior. We love sharing our experiences about the wonderful customers we get, but you can be damn sure that if you’re rude or leave a pile of clothes in your wake, all of the employees will know about you. All. Of. Them.

9.) If a sales associate is helping a customer, wait your turn to be helped.

Yes, we see you hovering over us. We know you’re waiting to be helped. It doesn’t matter if you have a question that will take one second or one minute to answer; it is rude and disrespectful to interrupt another customer who we are helping.

10.) We are human beings, not dogs.

I wish I could count the times that someone has whistled, snapped their fingers, or loudly cried some manner of “Oy” to get my attention. Unfortunately, I can’t, because it’s happened so often. We are human beings, not your maids who are in the store to cater to your every need. We may not appear busy, but really we’re staring at the table of upturned t-shirts debating whether or not it’s more feasible to just dump them all on the floor and try to reconstruct all the stacks all over again. If you need help from an associate, walk over and actually say you need help. Yelling “Oy” and snapping your fingers at me and then waving me over will not make my feet move towards you any faster. 

11.) “I was just calling to see if you had this sweatshirt in the store. It’s blue, with a hood. The company’s logo is on it.”

News flash: we have plenty of blue hoodies in the store, and all of them have our company’s logo on it. If it’s not something we can help you find in five minutes, we will most likely just tell you we don’t have it. To make it easier, when you’re looking up merchandise online and calling the store, look for the product code or style number; associates can quickly look it up and let you know if the item is definitely in the store or not. Also, if you look up an item online and then come to the store to find it, bring a picture of the item with you. 

12.) Don’t ask multiple associates the same question.

This really only applies to those who persistently believe that all the associates are simply lazy, incompetent a-holes who have nothing better to do than lie about whether or not an item is in the stockroom or lie about the prices. If one associate says that there is no more merchandise, then there is no more merchandise. Of course, I’d be a liar if I said there are people who simply don’t want to check the stockroom; however, we are hired to make sales, and to makes sales we have to sell merchandise. Associates are the ones who spend all the time in the stockroom and take care of shipments and inventory, so trust them when they say that there may not be any more of a certain item. However, don’t be scared to ask the associate to call another store to ask; oftentimes, the associate will offer to do so themselves, or you can simply look online. One of my biggest pet peeves is when customers ask one associate for the price of an item, and then ask another associate when they are dissatisfied with the answer. Don’t be that person.

13.) We don’t price the merchandise.

Related to number twelve, I would just like to make it crystal clear that neither the associates nor the store managers set the price of the merchandise. If an associate tells you that the price of an item is something that is higher than what you expected, we are in no way able or willing to give you a discount simply because you don’t like the price. Those are corporate decisions. Don’t shoot the messenger. 

14.) Do you want your money back? Bring your receipt.

Before you purchase an item that you think you may want or need to return, ask an associate about the store’s return policy, as some stores will only give you back store credit regardless of the method you used to pay for your items and many stores have a specific time-frame during which you can return items. Most stores, however, do credit your money back the same way you purchased the items; i.e. if you used a debit card, the money will go back on the debit card. All stores, however, will require you to have the receipt on-hand in order to receive cash back, and every store I have ever shopped in will NOT give you cash back for items purchased with a credit card. If you come in empty-handed, expect to get only store credit. 

15.) “Are you guys closed?” Not at all! Please, disregard all the other stores that have their gate down and come on in.

Those numbers with AM and PM next to them on the door? Yes, please disregard them. The retailer for which I worked had a corporate policy that disallowed associates from requesting that customers leave the store. As this was the case, when customers stayed past closing time, we often turned the music down and lowered the gate a little. *Hint, hint*. Please do not walk into a store five minutes before it is about to close unless you absolutely know for sure what you are going to purchase. Definitely do not walk into a store five minutes before a store closes if it is going to be a large purchase or a large return or exchange. We are tired, we want to go home. Most importantly, don’t ask us what time our store closes and then inform me that our store in another mall closes at a later time: I will hate you and think of at least a hundred different ways (in my head, of course) to politely (“politely”) inform you that you can go shop at said mall instead.

16.) Don’t decide what items you want to buy while you are being rung out.

I understand that many people may be on a limited budget, and oftentimes it’s easy to realize too late that you have selected an overabundance of items that you may not necessarily be able to pay for. However, the cash register is not the time or place to decide which items you do and don’t want to purchase. For the cashier’s sake and the sake of everyone else in line, do not ask the cashier to ring each item up individually until a certain monetary amount has been reached, and don’t keep switching between this shirt and those pants and that shirt and these pants until you’re satisfied with your purchase. All the merchandise in the store will have a price displayed for it, and if it doesn’t, ask an associate. Deciding at the register which item you want to buy also increases the associate’s workload as we are then required to put back those seventy items you decided you didn’t want. So please, please, please make sure that prior to checking out, you have added up the cost of the items and you know exactly what you want to purchase. 

Honestly, this list could go on and on. However, I don’t want anyone to get me wrong; I absolutely loved my job. I met some of the greatest people and learned some valuable lessons while I was working in retail, and I can say wholeheartedly that it is definitely an experience that I believe everyone should have at some point in their lives. 


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