Allow Me to Explain Why Your Retail Worker Looks so Dour This Month

It’s the holiday season at long last! Yes, sir! It’s that time of year that children all over the world have been looking forward to for the past 11 months. It’s time for parents to PAY UP! They’ve been good at school and in the grocery store with the promise of that new Lego set, or Barbie dream house, or whatever other Made in China trinket exhausted, fretful adults pledge in return for good grades or just ‘normal’ human behavior in public. Which I find ironic, considering we have adults that act like this:

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We thought Christmas was commercialized before? Pshaw! The last five years had seen Christmas fed a steady diet of capitalistic steroids. You can’t turn on the TV, the radio – your phone – without getting some sort of prompt to buy something… anything(!) to “celebrate” the season. And like any carnivorous, marauding occurrence that involves a multitude of any sort, there must exist a vector to host the carnage. There must exist vessels to facilitate and oversee the boorish behavior of the multitude; in this case, the shopping public. Of these two entities, I speak of the Big Box store (your Walmarts, your Targets, your etc), the ubiquitous Mall and your humble retail servant, of whom I find myself numbered.

I have worked in retail in some capacity since I was 15. My mom owned a small shop in La for a short time selling cement and a hodgepodge of building materials. A few weeks into the project, she left it for my sister and I to manage. After all, market women leave their koobi and tomato stands for their 6 year old children to manage. What would be the harm in leaving a “hardware store” under the command of two girls just barely into their teens? It was in that month that I learned a valuable lesson very early: the public SUCKS. To that point, I had been better treated by watchmen and kubolor boys who cat-called me on the way to and from school.

In just a few interactions,  I learned that because the responsibility of hauling and packing cement and taking payment for the items fell on me, I was seen as a non-entity. A person of NO importance, not even worthy of disdain. I was now part of the “trader class”. And if you are part of the shopping public who has never had the fortunate experience of working in retail (or any service industry) chances are you suck too. You just don’t know it.

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Here’s the thing that shoppers never want to admit. There is a certain prejudice that 99.9% of you hold against people that work in service. Yes! Even you faux charitable,  bleeding heart liberals. Many of you assume that because an individual works in a merchant environment (where associates are often lowest on the totem pole) we are not “qualified” to do anything else. Y’all think we either:

  • Flunked out of school (and therefore have no special skill sets).
  • Are still in school (and therefore have no special skill sets).
  • Never went to school (and therefore have no special sets).

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People work in retail for myriad reasons. Some do it because they enjoy interfacing with the public. Others do it for the meager benefits that come with retail work. Some are strictly seasonal worker. And yes, some do it because they don’t have any other skill set and therefore have been trapped in a cycle of working one retail job to the next. Nevertheless, retail workers are a vital cog in the wheel that keeps the Big Box shopping experience functioning and we are not worthy of the treatment meted out by what is often an ungrateful, condescending and inconsiderate public.

Can I be honest for a moment? Let me tell you why I hate my part time job. I just realized this last nigh. It’s because it makes me the worst version of myself, every time I step through those glass doors. I walk into my job and I have to become a LIAR. I have to smile when I don’t want to. I have to tell the customer who has asked my opinion and is gleefully prancing in those bedazzled blue pumps that she (or he) has made sound a fashion choice in what is obviously a hideous item. I’m not allowed to break any woman’s heart by admitting that she looks like a rabid Smurf who ran through a blueberry patch with them blue shoes and that blue dress on. Why? Because the customer is “always right” and we live in a day and time where there are so many shopping options that retailers are fighting for dollars. I’m a liar because we live in a time where easily offended people LIVE for an opportunity to report you to management in hopes of the ultimate revenge: seeing you out of a job. A job that may feed your family or keep a roof over their heads, or facilitate the purchase of trinkets for the holiday.

Because the shopping public sucks.

They are abusive and almost inhuman.

They are barely tolerable.

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Do you remember the campaign the airlines had to roll out a few years ago in defense of their flight attendants? Oh, it was huge! How could you miss it? There were posters of mournful little white kids staring into the camera with big, blue puppy dog eyes pleading with the public to treat flight attendants better.

“My mommy isn’t a punching bag.”

“A flight attendant is here to keep us all safe. She is not just an ‘air waitress’.”

“My mommy just flew 1500 hours between today and Sunday.”

“Please don’t be mean to my mommy!”

Now, why would the airlines have to embark on a nationwide campaign of this magnitude if folks weren’t acting like entitled jackasses? When I have the opportunity to fly and see a sourpuss flight attendant, I find myself identifying with her. I know she’s probably just come off of a long leg with that ‘one family/group/man/woman’ and has had to (try to) reset. Yet, I know she’s not a machine, and I give her some latitude if she doesn’t hand me my peanuts with gushing enthusiasm. Why? Because I have the capacity for basic human decency and no small measure of compassion. Everyone should! Too few of us do.

The frequent advice often shelled out by an unfeeling, unsympathetic shopping public for retail workers who are generally fed up with their antics is this: If you don’t like it, then quit! Why make MY shopping experience so miserable?

Oh, saa? Do YOU just quit your job because you had a bad day, or because your co-worker/manager pissed you off, of because you’ve got a sick kid you can’t attend to, or whatever life event might be the cause of the nonchalant attitude you’re experiencing that day? Are YOU always happy on your job? Not to worry! Hoards of folk have taken that very advice to heart and SHUNNED retail. Walk into any Big Box store in America and TRY to find some help. It’s like going on a quest for a cherry pit in a bushel of walnuts. Retail hardly ever anyone’s first career choice, making the positions even harder to fill. Now ask yourself: has not being able to find someone get your items from the top shelf or ring you out made you happier? Did that sage advice to “just quit” work better for your shopping experience?

As far as staffing is concerned, the turnover rate in retail is astronomical. ‘Now hiring’ signs are ever present. Why? Because no one wants to put up with the public’s crap! Even you don’t want to put up with your own crap. Look at how you walk into a store and just drop sh** everywhere. Who do you think works at that store? Your long suffering  grandmammy? And if you DO treat Nana’s house the way you treat an H&M or Walmart, you should be beaten, and mercilessly so.

Trust me: I’ve tried quitting my job on several occasions, only to see my manager plead with me to stay. It’s so hard to replace workers (with good sense) in retail. Finally, I cut my hours back to eight a month because that’s about all I could stomach with y’all. The average human being does not have as many interactions with other people – sometimes numbering in the hundreds – on a daily bases that a retail worker has in a typical 6-12 hour shift. That’s a lot of energy to be subjected to, and not all of it is positive.

Look atcha. There are days when people actually act like animals at the store.

So! If your friendly neighborhood retailer looks a little down in the mouth this month, there is probably a good reason why. Chances are, public misbehavior is it. But please bear in mind, we are doing our best with the resources we have. We don’t set the prices. We are not in charge of ordering merchandise. We do not get to decide what is displayed where. We’re just to get you what you need and get you out of the store with a smile on BOTH our faces wherever possible. 🙂

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