My Experience Working Retail (Spilling the Tea About the Reality of Department Stores)

Hello, babes! Okay, so I’m a bit nervous for today’s post. For a couple reasons actually, but I felt a post like this was very necessary…especially for any of you considering going into retail. I worked at a retail store during my summers between college. I won’t disclose the name of the store I worked at in this post, for the simple fact that I still respect my previous place of employment and the managers I was under. With that being said, the following stories have nothing to do with management or higher-ups in the company, it is simply the things I experienced regarding customers and the retail experience in general. So without further ado, this is my honest experience and horror stories of my time in retail.

Feeling Invisible

Alright, let’s start off with something simple. As you all know, when you’re in a sales position, your job is to greet the customer and always have a smile on your face. Your ultimate goal is to build a relationship with that customer and make them want to come back in the future to shop with you. Seems simple enough, right? My coworkers and I formed a habit of immediately going up to customers to ask how they were, if they were looking for anything in particular, or just to simply say hello! It’s just part of the job. It might be important to mention the type of shopper I am personally. When I walk into store, I’m on a mission to find a few new pieces for my wardrobe and I mostly enjoy shopping alone and taking my time. Let’s just keep this in mind.

There were plenty of shoppers that came into our department who were in a similar state of mind. Sometimes there would be trouble though. In many situations I would approach a customer with a smile on my face simply to ask how they were doing or if they needed anything. On a daily basis, many people wouldn’t even take the courtesy to turn around and look me in the eye. Or better yet, not even acknowledge my presence or respond. I completely understand if a person would rather take a look around or shop by themselves because I am 100% that person too. However, I have never blatantly ignored someone if I am spoken to. I personally think attributes like age, economic status, religion, race, etc. (the list could go on) shouldn’t play a part in whether or not you respond to someone. If someone approaches you with happy vibes, you can at least say hi or, “Thank you, but I’d just like to look around.” And to the customers who did say that simple phrase, I thank you very much. It was situations like this that made me feel completely invisible and unimportant to these customers.

“You Didn’t Want to Help Me”

Man oh man! Have I had so many situations that made me want to run out of the store! I remember a very specific customer who became quite angry with me. I’d like to throw it in here that I always gave my full effort with each customer. At times when it would get busy, I’d do my best to remember specific details of each person I placed in a dressing room: what event they were going to, what size they were, what colors they liked and so on. It’s also important you know that there are many departments in this one retail store and customers can roam freely with different clothes from various departments. Which means I do not have a lot of knowledge regarding the pieces from another section.

In this specific instance, my customer had jeans from another department (my section didn’t sell casual clothes like jeans!) Of course, she asked me to get her another size in the jeans. To which I responded, “Those are from another department. Would you like me to walk over and grab them for you?” To which she then scoffed and angrily gave me a big ol’ NO! At that point, there’s not much more I can do. Long story short, this specific customer was getting angry at many things that were completely out of my control, to which my manager luckily stepped in to help out (she was a God send). Before I then run around the store attempting to find another sales person that apparently helped her as well she states, “…since you refused to help me.” Excuse me? I placed you in a nice dressing room, helped you find options, offered to find you something from another department, kept a good attitude and I “REFUSED TO HELP YOU”? Anyways, most retail workers come in contact with a customer very similar to this and I’ve learned to just shrug it off. It’s completely not worth getting upset over, especially when you’ve tried your best and still cannot please the person.

“You Purposefully Messed Up My Order!”

Now, this is an interesting one that I actually didn’t personally experience but is something I heard about time and time again from coworkers. We had the ability to look up any item of clothing in the entire company and send it to someone’s home. It was usually a fairly easy process, unless of course it was one of the last of its kind in the entire company! We were still able to attempt to send it, but sometimes it was not guaranteed that it would be fulfilled. It was protocol to mention this to our customers and it was always understood. However, some of the customers would return to the store after not receiving their low inventory item and get quite angry at the salespeople. Some customers have said, “Why did you purposefully not send me my order?” or “Why did you want to mess it up?” Let’s think about this for a second. Why would we not want you to receive your package? To keep it plain and simple: we work on commission. We want you to buy things. Not receiving the package equals no sale. No sabotaging will ever take place if there’s a possibility to earn commission, trust me.

Feeling Put Down by Customers

There was one thing that really got under my skin. Especially since I am a recent college graduate and actually feeling very good about my accomplishments lately. Earning a degree isn’t a walk in the park for ANY person, so I’m pretty stoked on life right now. Going into retail for a month after graduation though, had an interesting effect. I noticed a lot of customers would make small comments that felt a bit like jabs. For example, “Oh, you might be too young to answer this question or know this fact.” Granted, many people think I’m still in high school upon their first look at me. Regardless, you don’t know someone’s full story just by assuming their age or judging their current job position. This might not sound good, but I felt very looked down upon because I was in a retail position. I’d ask myself, “Did they say that because they think I’m unintelligent, or because I’m blonde, or because I look young?” That sounds ridiculous because it absolutely is. No one should feel less than just because they’re working a certain job to save some money or pay the bills. To wrap up this rant, everybody deserves respect and you should take the time to actually learn important things about a person before passing judgement.

The Customer Is Always Right…Right?

This was a major theme in my past employer’s mission statement. They are known for quality customer service and treating everyone with the highest values. Which is awesome! I definitely agree that customers should be treated to the best of your ability if you’re a sales person. They’re giving you their business and they deserve the happiest vibes while shopping. Unfortunately (as mentioned previously), sometimes you try your hardest and the customer still is not satisfied. At times they would become so nasty that they’d make you want to cry. Including myself and many coworkers in my past, this has actually happened. A customer will say such nasty things and make you feel so horrible about yourself that you drive home in tears. Is the customer still right? I’ve come to realize that in a business sense, the customer must always be correct. Morally though, is this okay? Is it acceptable that someone can be so cruel that they make a complete stranger cry? I just feel there is something so incredibly wrong with this, especially because it happens on the daily. Long story short, be kind to retail workers because they’re just doing their job and giving it their all.

I hope you all enjoyed this post and found it interesting. Even though I’ve had a handful of unfortunate experiences in retail, I wouldn’t erase them from my past. Jobs in retail are great if you’re in college or want to work in between semesters. In that sense, I think they’re really awesome. These are just some warning signs to look for! If any of these things happen to you, don’t ever take them to heart. If anyone shows you negativity, it is because of their own unhappiness, not because of you. I’ve had to build up a thick skin and realize these things while in a retail job and it’s definitely helped me develop people skills. The list doesn’t end here though, I’ve had so many other customer experiences I didn’t share in this post! Let me know down below if you’ve experienced anything like this or if you’d like a Part 2 to this post! Excited to read your responses!


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  1. August 8, 2018 / 8:56 am

    I’ve worked in retail and I hate being put down. A man said to me “are you sure you know how to use that thing?” referring to a credit card machine, in the most sexist way possible. I would love to read a part 2, all of these were really relatable

    • August 8, 2018 / 8:58 am

      wow that’s definitely frustrating. it’s funny how some people think that way. keep doing you girl, don’t let them get to you! xx

  2. August 8, 2018 / 1:31 pm

    I worked in a clothing concession in a department store for two years and encountered every single one of these points. I felt exactly the same as you did working in retail after uni, with people saying ‘oh are you the little Saturday girl?’ It was so frustrating! People would throw things at me, call me a liar and every name under the sun, made me cry and would even leave certain female items in the changing room! 😫 Retail definitely does make you grow a thick skin and learn how to stand up for yourself and the friends I made there were totally worth it. I would love to read a part 2!

    • August 11, 2018 / 5:05 pm

      omg this is one of the worst retail stories i ever read! i can’t believe they threw things at you! i’m so sorry girl! i hope you’re away from that job at this point because no human deserves that. thanks for your comment!

  3. August 8, 2018 / 1:53 pm

    I worked on cosmetic counters for a few years, in both highstreet department stores and luxury. Some of the customers were just horrendous. One women had a tantrum because I told her we had no more blusher left in her colour.
    I find it’s tough because I’ve met awful shop assistants and then even more awful customers. Some are nice and some aren’t. But customers who don’t acknowledge you are just awful. I think everyone in retail or who has worked in retail, has some bad stories. And I can’t stand how some people choose to judge. Great post!

    • August 11, 2018 / 5:03 pm

      wow i can imagine a makeup counter could be troublesome too! i’m sorry you had some bad experiences! but yes i would have loved to at least be acknowledged by those people!

  4. August 8, 2018 / 2:18 pm

    I think everyone should be required to work retail, at a restaurant, or do some sort of customer service. People are obnoxious. I’ve done it twice – an old store called natural wonders that is out of business and Barnes and Noble. Here is my honest take – really people should try it. It is good experience. Any job is what you make it and retail is good, honest, hard work.

    • August 11, 2018 / 5:00 pm

      it really is such hard work. being on your feet all day and taking negativity from so many people is exhausting! thanks for your comment!

  5. August 8, 2018 / 7:19 pm

    I’ve worked in retail for a long time and I can definitely relate to these. It’s still mind boggling to me when customers question whether I’m doing my job right or not…I feel like saying “Do you work here?” 😂 Thanks for sharing!!

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:59 pm

      haha RIGHT! it’s crazy sometimes honestly

  6. August 9, 2018 / 12:03 am

    I feel you!! I work in customer service, not retail, but in a café, and it’s the same. You tell people something and they don’t even listen, they are sometimes rude when all you’re trying to do is help them, or they get impatient acting as if they’re queen bee and ignoring the fact that you’re run off your feet busy and really trying to do your best to haha! But I must say at the same time you do get some really lovely customers who are polite, talk to you, want your help and really appreciate it. xo

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:58 pm

      i can imagine working in a cafe could be very similar! and omg yes i loved getting nice customers! they don’t even know how much it makes your day when they’re just kind to you!

      • August 13, 2018 / 1:15 am

        Totally!! A little kindness goes a loonng way <3

  7. August 9, 2018 / 6:23 am

    I only worked in retail for 3 months when I was 16 but I had a seemingly pleasant experience – probably because I come from a small town where word gets around quickly if you are rude and chances are, people you know know them. However, I have seen almost all of the above happen whilst being a customer and it is horrible. I think everyone should work in retail to get a taste of their own medicine and appreciate the role more. x

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:57 pm

      i totally agree! it seems so many people in the comments wants others to work some sort of time period in retail. which i totally agree with. it really softens your heart and gives you patience

  8. August 9, 2018 / 7:24 am

    PREACH GIRL, PREACH! I’ve worked in both retail and the food industry, and I learned by the time I was sixteen that working for the public is terrible and a lot of humans suck haha I’m the type of shopper who likes to roam the store alone and with my own thoughts, so I had that mindset when I worked in retail. I would say “hello” to customers to let them know I was there…a living, breathing person in case they needed anything. Common sense. However, I’ve had managers scold me for not attacking each customer that walked in with questions. Like whoa man, they’ve been inside the store a total of three seconds, let them adjust their eyeballs from being outside. I recently went inside Lush with a friend just to “look around” and I swear, I had about six employees approach me and talk about skin products for 5 minutes when I didn’t even ask or was planning to buy it. I’m now scared to go back inside haha.

    Also, I’m 27 and have a Master’s degree and I’ve still been treated like I’m in high school and I don’t know anything. I can’t necessarily say that part is going to get better for you haha we must band together as one.

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:56 pm

      it sounds like we had very similar experiences. i definitely asked more questions to customers this time around and i always felt like i was being that annoying sales person. but i didn’t have a choice. i’m very happy to be out of retail now and at my new job. honestly best decision of my life.
      and wow congrats on having your masters! it’s crazy people would still treat you like that🙄

  9. August 9, 2018 / 7:55 pm

    I wish all people were required to work in retail, customer service, and the food service industry at least three months. Americans are the most annoying consumers.

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:52 pm

      totally! i think that would really open up everyone’s eyes

  10. August 10, 2018 / 4:44 pm

    This was fascinating to read! I have never worked in retail, but dang it seems tough! This world would be so much easier if people were just kind, rational, communicative human beings haha!

    • August 11, 2018 / 4:51 pm

      i completely agree! a little kindness and understanding goes a long way

  11. August 12, 2018 / 5:05 pm

    These are sooooo relatable! I was also on commission and worked in a woman’s shoe department. When people hear that they shudder of fear haha. It had plenty of ups but as you said, you develop a thick skin after a bit. Literally all of these I’ve had very similar situations!

    • August 12, 2018 / 8:14 pm

      its so funny because I knew most people had similar experiences in retail but its so crazy to actually read them first hand! I’m so sorry you’ve experienced these things and its so sad to me that so many people can relate. thanks for your comment love!

  12. October 12, 2018 / 4:01 pm

    A few year ago I read a fitting article in a national newpaper (might have been the guardian- someone gave it to me as I work in retail)
    The headline read “maybe you always recieve bad customer service because you are a bad customer”. The whole article was based around the ruder and more aggressive customers are the ones who expect more from you. Like any retail worker will want to bend the rules/go out of their way to help you because your rude.
    Its was trying to point out any consumer is more likely to get a good result (service/refund/complaint settlement) if you are firm but kind – no shouting or bullyish tactics. I wish I could have framed it on the wall at work!

    • October 14, 2018 / 1:47 pm

      that’s very true. I always went out of my way for customers who were kind and treated me like a human being!

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