The holiday season is upon us once again, and as I watch the commercials on TV, wade through the decorations at the Mall, and watch store owners prepping to open earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day, I think the same thing I do every year:
Thank God I'm not in retail anymore.
I spent entirely too many years after college (thanks to that ever-employable Theatre degree) doing time in retail. I worked in clothing, shoes, lingerie, books and jewelry. I worked as a part-timer, seasonal help, full-timer, assistant manager, manager, and did five years as a district manager over a dozen stores in three different states. Throughout all that varied retail experience, I found one thing that just about all retail workers have in common:
They hate this time of year.
They love it when the commission check comes in (if they qualify for commission, that is - a lot of them don't), but during this holiday season when the milk of human kindness should be flowing and the holiday cheer should abound, you'll find very few gentlemen resting merry in the mall and the Christmas spirit is more like a shrieking poltergeist in the form of an angry woman denied a discount for lack of a coupon.
When was the last time you smiled at a salesclerk after circling the mall for thirty minutes looking for parking, pushed your way through the crowds, and then stood in line for another twenty minutes, juggling a heavy coat and fifteen pounds worth of plastic bags with handles that cut off the circulation in your fingers?
If their management-ordered perky greeting and "customer service if it kills you" smile falters a bit, it probably hasn't even crossed your mind that they've been working seven hours without a break because the extra person they hired for Christmas didn't come in. Their feet are killing them, their back hurts, their hands are filthy (and I do mean filthy) from handling cash all day and if they're closing tonight, it may be midnight before they clean up the store and restock, especially if the mall has extended hours.
So in a show of solidarity with my former retail comrades, I'd like to offer a few tips that might make it easier on all of us.
- Know the store's return policy. I don't know a store in retail that doesn't have that information posted right at the register and available on their website. If you're still not seeing it anywhere, or you're not sure, and there's the slightest chance you might need to return an item, ask! Please believe me when I tell you that the last thing a salesperson wants to do is hide their return policy from you. I used to work in fine jewelry, which typically has a "no cash refund/store credit only" policy. We had our policy posted at every register and we were glad to explain it anytime someone needed clarification. I still had people screaming me down and accusing me of deliberately keeping them in the dark about it. Why would I do that? I don't want to be screamed at anymore than you want to be the one having to scream. Just ask. If you don't like a store's policy, then patronize a store with a more flexible return policy.
- If you do have to legitimately complain about something (yes, there are certainly rude salespeople and defective merchandise out there), try being polite and calm - it'll go a long way with the manager, believe me. The squeaky wheel might get the grease, but the person who treats you like a human being and states their case clearly and politely not only carries more influence, but is also more likely to get extra concessions from the manager as an apology for their inconvenience. The screamers usually get the bare minimum they're asking for, with an eyeroll behind their back as they leave the store.
- Yes, the store is open until the posted closing time, but please don't get too angry if the salespeople are vacuuming, emptying trash cans, sweeping and Windexing all around you (especially if you're shopping half an hour before the store closes). Each store has a list of things that must be done before anyone can leave, and these people just want to get home and get off their aching feet. As long as they're waiting on you when you need them to (and they most certainly should be), you're just going to have to put up with the closing routine if you choose to be an end-of-the-day shopper.
- Please, when it's closing time, get to the register and check out. Don't make the store staff wait because you can't figure out which color sweater your niece would really like. Mall security begins locking certain exits shortly after closing, and in larger malls, they gate off hallways. If the employees are parked on the other side of the mall (which can happen if you work a closing shift and come in with the afternoon crowds), then you could be making someone walk around the outside of the mall across a whole lot of dark parking lot very late at night. A lot of young women work retail. Would you be happy if that were your daughter? Especially if she could have walked safely through the mall if some thoughtless shopper had only made a decision instead of hemming and hawing?
- Please don't spend a lot of time trying to haggle the salesperson to go lower on a sale price. You might possibly find some bargaining room at a smaller retailer or Mom-and-Pop store, but if this is a major mall retailer, that salesperson is far more likely to get in trouble (like a disciplinary write-up) for offering you anything below that sales price than you are to ever get it lowered. All you're doing when you try to haggle is wasting your time and theirs, and inconveniencing everyone who's standing in line behind you. If the store has a price-match policy then by all means, bring in a competitive ad with a lower price. If they don't, then don't expect - or demand - to be accommodated.
- If you must call a retail store on the phone to ask a question, be brief, get right to the point, and be understanding if they ask you to hold for awhile. The customer at the counter with the money in their hand is always the priority. There are few things more likely to spike a salesperson's blood pressure than having someone give their life story over the phone while you're trying to work through a line full of people, or worse, having someone on the phone trying to get you to check the prices on a half dozen items while the counter fills up with customers.
The holiday season can be a whirling, chaotic madhouse for everyone, but let's remember we're all in this together. Retail salespeople want the same thing you do - for you to find what you want easily, get rung up accurately, and leave with a smile on your face.
Oh, and a foot rub. We can all use a foot rub.