• Fri, Apr 25 - 1:00 pm ET

20 Annoying Things You’ll Only Understand If You Work In Retail

In an attempt to support myself in New York City as I perused my dreams of being a writer, I started working at an upscale clothing boutique on Madison Avenue. Nothing could have prepared me for the people I would meet and lessons I would learn amid all the cashmere and silk. To be fair, I don’t think anything can prepare for the very particular annoyances and frustrations that occur while working in retail except the stories of those who have done it themselves. Commiserating time!

1. The true meaning of “mess.”

The only thing messier than unsupervised children is said children’s parents in a room full of perfectly board-folded cashmere. The stacks of sweaters you spent all morning folding are tossed to the floor faster than your post-graduate dreams of a full time salaried job right out of college. And their fittings rooms! There are few sights and smells more disturbing than the ones found in a fitting room after an hour-long styling appointment.

2. Regulars turning you into their own personally employed BFF.

You are often confused for a therapist, a baby-sitter, a financial consultant, a maid and a clothing rack. You are pretty sure you know more about your clients then their respective husbands; after all they aren’t being paid to listen.

3. You live both on and for caffeine.

If you have a 15-minute break you better believe you’re waiting in the 14 minute long Starbucks line relinquishing any chance of food, fresh air or rest. There is nothing that can’t be improved by a triple shot of espresso or you know a Grande Mocha Frappuccino with extra whip.

4. Never being able to make plans.

You have an ever-changing schedule that makes it almost impossible to make plans further than a week in advance. You also perpetually have no idea what day of the week it is thanks to your non-existent weekends. TGIF has lost all its once sacred and joy-inducing powers.

5. Getting called in.

There is no stronger feeling of anger than the one that overcomes you on a Saturday morning when your phone starts ringing at 7 am. You have thrown your phone to the floor, against a wall, and across the room all with the hopes that it may break and you may not have to go into work again today. You often dream about how you would like to answer that phone call asking you to come in on your one day off.

6. December is ruined forever.

Holiday season no longer conjures memories of Christmas trees and carols rather you immediately feel a sense of anxiety as your mind runs rampant with images of the war zone that is your store starting Black Friday and raging all the way until January.  The long lines, the stressed out, angry customers, the piles of clothes thrown on the floor, the gift wrapping ribbon, the endless closing shifts, there is no room for dancing sugar plums only war.

7. You are convinced Black Friday’s name was inspired by Black Death.

The similarities are shocking!

8. There is only thing worse than Black Friday: inventory.

Inventory is the worse that your deepest, darkest fears. Whatever you are thinking of, doing inventory is worse than it.

9. All top 40 and Christmas music is ruined.

The mind-numbing loop in which these songs are played is enough to make anyone feel completely and utterly insane. When you catch yourself humming them on your walk home you know you have been completely and utterly brain washed; seek help as soon as possible.

10. Your store’s phone greeting is forever inscribed in your mind.

You often answer your personal phone with the same greeting by mistake to the amusement of your friends and family.  You imagine your last words will be “how can I help you?”

11. That awkward moment you tell a customer their desired item isn’t available.

They look at you as if you personally set out to ruin their day and deprive them of the best pink blouse in the whole entire world. Because of course we would rather lose the commission and spend the next twenty minutes finding them one at another store and having it couriered to their house.  Contrary to popular opinion the stock room is not a magical fairyland that consistently replenishes itself it’s more like a toddler’s closet or a hoarders garage.

12. You can no longer shop happily at other stores.

You mindlessly fix piles and finger space racks. A quick trip to a store finds you finishing go-backs for a half an hour before you can peacefully try something on.

13. “Look ma, no eyes!” is your motto when it comes to texting on the sly.

You can text flawless, grammatically correct texts from your pocket without a single glance at your screen.

14. You are extremely comfortable with rejection.

Most all of your attempted sales pitches and credit card offers are shut down immediately with a fast and hard “no.” People act as if you’re trying to rob them or sell them some sort of illegal substance, no attention is paid to the fact that you are simply doing the job you are paid to do.

15. Nightmare customers do not die from kindness.

The “kill them with kindness” routine only perpetuates the system of abuse. They are aware that the “customer is always right” and will work that notion until you’ve let them return every one of their two-year-old sweaters that have started to pill and given them every discount they can justify.

16. You’re aware of the strange effect being near a cash register has on people.

Something about parting with money renders people completely irrational. People will say the craziest things if they think it will help them save a few dollars. Women rummaging through Birkin bags–yes, BIRKIN bags–will argue over the tax until you return the items, re-buy them, and ship them to their mother’s brother’s cousin’s house because the sales tax is lower there.

17. No good deed ever goes unpunished, ever.

You think staying an extra half hour after the store closes to help your customer find her perfect interview outfit was a great idea…until she says she doesn’t even have her credit card with her. And then leaves another extra half hour of work all over the floor of the fitting room. Cool!

18. People have very little respect for your time or job in general.

People start fitting rooms long after the music has been turned off and the front doors have been locked. They ask you, “what do actually want to do?” and “when are you going to get a real job?” Their comments will only further encourage your dependency on wine.

19. Wine and whining are your two favorite activities.

There is nothing more rewarding than a post work drink with your coworkers where you can complain about everything that is wrong with retail and thus the world.

20. Not all humans are horrible.

You will be annoyed by 60% of the customers you help and unphased by the other 30% but the remaining 10% of customers will restore your faith in humanity and give you the strength to refold another shirt and hang up another dress. These people give you hope and you hold on tight to those interactions often referring to them in your darkest hours (say 5 a.m. on Black Friday).

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  • Samantha Escobar

    I feel like a total amateur because I only worked one Black Friday and one Christmas Eve but OH GOD THE HORROR.

  • Lindsey Conklin

    My sister once worked at Abercrombie…they nearly drown in that perfume that they have to spray every 20 minutes

  • Natalie

    I worked at a shoe store and a Chick-fil-A in high school. All our songs on the ONE HOUR loop at the shoe store were about shoes. All of them. If I hear a shoe related song now I cringe. Also, I still saying “my pleasure” when someone says “thank you” from Chick-fil-A (it’s company policy to say it). It has been 6-7 years since I worked at either place.

  • guest

    I believe, that through this entire article, you meant cUstOmers – as in, people who purchase items at stores. As opposed to cOstUmers, who make outfits for performers (ie. costumes)

  • Brooke

    When I worked in retail, my boyfriend at the time told me that I used to recite the phone greeting and sales pitches (spend 300 get 25%, spend 500 get 30% off etc) to him in my sleep. That’s how you know you’ve reached a new level of insanity.

  • ascholarsparrot

    +100 for the Jackie Chan gif

    And yes, ALL OF THESE. As well as the feelings of unholy rage caused by seeing a mother let her children run amok.

  • Chelsea DeLoney

    I used to work at a gift shop and a tea company that was next door (hustling for the dollars) I met some interesting people. We had some very expensive glass pieces in the shop and a young woman on heroine came in and had a nod-off session. I remember saying “Looks like you’re not feeling good, let me help you” and I led her to a mall bench that was 4 feet away from the store and listened to her talk about how she needed to get better. And then there was the time where this dude tried to touch my crotch… and another time where this guy took up almost an hour of my time, just to ask if we accepted food stamps (sadly, no) then ask me on a date and yell at my as I was walking to the bathroom. Retail is a world I do not miss.

  • Saturnina

    My policy for if I don’t want to go in to work on my days off has always been to just… not answer my phone. It might be because I live in Australia, thus I am WAY less exploited than min wage workers in certain other countries, but if my workplace expects me to sacrifice one of my days off, they can take their phone and shove it straight up their asses. I always feel a sick sense of glee when I ignore a work call, and I don’t even hate my job that much at all!
    The rest of this list basically still applies to me though, lol.

    • Eileen

      No, I think that’s a lot of people’s policy. Or at least you plan it that way. Then you start to think about how your boss works 80-hour weeks because she’s exempt and it’s cheaper for the store for her to cover all the insane hours…and how your coworker who is sick and needs coverage covered for you when you wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with your boyfriend…and then, all the while yelling at your phone, you text back, “Sure I can come in.”

      (I didn’t always come in, but there were a couple coworkers I would always cover for just because we had an unspoken agreement that unless we had real, unchangeable plans we’d cover each other)

  • brightsphere

    …. as I perused my dreams ….

    I trust you meant ” pursued ” ….
    Most people don’t “peruse” their dreams …

  • Mandie

    My best work stories are still from retail. Like the time me and my Hot Topic coworker were screamed and cursed at by a near senior citizen because we didn’t have a particular leather cuff we carried three years ago, and then two fifteen-year-old skater punks offered to fight him to defend their favorite shopgirls’ honor. And then backed down after coming around the cashwrap and realizing said old man was a paraplegic. Calling security was popular at my mall.

  • Alomepalo

    Shit ONLY people who work in Retail will understand!! So true! Number 4 especially! I share your pain brother
    http://collegetimes.com/2014/05/12/sht-only-people-working-in-retail-will-understand