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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal Lutheran chapter.

If you have ever worked retail, then you know what it’s like. How fun it can be, but also how stressful and draining it can be. Every day is different and there is no way to prepare for what the shift is going to throw your way. But one thing can always be expected. There is going to be a Karen.

For those that are unaware, a Karen is a person that comes in thinking she knows best and then harasses those that are working and makes a scene because she isn’t getting her way. At least in the retail world, that is the basic understanding of what a Karen is. There are different understandings based on the environment. The term “Karen” was created both by millennials and by gen z, as a way to group together the worst of the worst in the customer pool.

I have worked retail for almost two years now and there are a lot of things that I have been forced to put up within those two years. From women throwing clothing at me, to calling me names because we didn’t have their size in stock, to one woman trying to hit me because I couldn’t honor the price match that she had very clearly (and poorly) photoshopped to try and scam us.

Working in the industry, I have learned a few tricks to make it easier to get through these toughest of interactions. I have also come up with my own tricks that I have passed onto others.  So, I’m going to let you all in on a few secrets, from the inside.

When an issue arises, it is always best to stay calm. For myself and my fellow coworkers, we are on high alert for our whole shift. Because of this, if someone starts screaming right off the bat, we tend to lose our patience quicker because we are scared of what is going to happen. When yelling happens right away, we call a manager over immediately to handle the situation, and they aren’t usually willing to give an aggressive customer what they want. When you approach the situation with a calm and composed manner, we can fix it quickly, easily, and without a manager. We are trained to fix these mistakes, but only when the situation is calm. Once it heightens, we are trained to call over a manager. Stay calm, and more than likely, the issue will be fixed in the way you want it to be. Or at least, a happy compromise can be found within the company’s policies.  

be kind
Photo by Vie Studio from Pexels
Speaking of policies, that is the next thing it is important to remember. The workers are not the company. We do not make the rules, we are simply told to learn them and to enforce them. There is absolutely nothing we can do about the policies, there is nothing we can do in the system when it is preset, and regarding alcohol sales, we have to follow California law. If you have a problem with the policies or laws of the state, you’re going to have to higher up, there is nothing the minimum wage worker can do. Also, if we break policy or laws, we can be fired, fined, or imprisoned, and I promise you, none of us are willing to risk any of that.

A secret I’ll let you all in on is a simple one. When you’re nice to an employee, we will go out of our way to go above and beyond to make the issue right. We will handle things personally, even if it’s for a department we know little to nothing about. We will take our time to find out exactly what the issue is so we can figure out the best solution to fix the mistake. We will issue gift cards for the inconvenience. We will take your items to your car. We will accept expired coupons. We will price match (reasonably). We will even get your name and number to follow up in a couple of days to make sure everything is still going smoothly. We want things to be fixed as much as you do. It makes our jobs a million times easier. But if you are rude, condescending, or attack us personally, we will pawn off the problem to the next person, fix the mistake as quickly as possible, with whatever solution works first, even if it isn’t perfect, and send you on your way with a simple “whoops, sorry.” We have no desire to go out of our ways to help someone that is mean.

And another secret. If you cuss us out on the phone, we are allowed, by company policy, to hang up. Once a single swear word leaves your mouth over the phone, we are no longer obligated to help you. Fixing issues over the phone is hard enough, we are literally doing everything we can to fix the problem without anything in front of us. If you can’t be patient, then that’s on you.

yellow smiley face stickers
Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash
All of this sounds super bad, so let me assure you, working in retail can also be so fun. I have made the most amazing friends. I can tell the funniest stories of the wackiest people or the weirdest experiences I have ever had. Everyone has stories of what they have had to deal with and honestly, part of the fun is trying to one-up each other with who has the best story.

And not all customers are bad. Some are the nicest people I have ever met. One day, I had a woman tell me that I have a beautiful smile. I was so confused because I was wearing a mask and she couldn’t see my smile. When I asked her what she meant since she couldn’t see it, she told me that the “joy and light she sees in my eyes” tells her that my smile is equally as beautiful. That was by far the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me and it made my entire day. Another time a young girl told me I was pretty enough to be a princess and I smiled the rest of the day.

I have had my fair share of horrible customer comments. But I’ve had an equal number of positive ones as well. And the difference is, when people are nice, it makes my job much easier, and I can help them get the best solution. When people aren’t nice, there is no solution that will make them happy, so no matter what my attitude is, no matter how hard I try, no matter how right I make the situation, they won’t be happy. And let me tell ya, I’m human too. If you aren’t nice to me, I won’t be nice to you, even if I’m an employee. I have feelings, and anxiety, and thoughts, and all of that, same as you.

People have it in them to be nice, it really isn’t that hard. So Karen, the next time you go to yell at employees, just be nice. It’ll get you a whole lot farther.

Alexia Lee

Cal Lutheran '21

Alexia Lee is the Social Media Director for Her Campus at Cal Lutheran. She is a senior majoring in English with a minor in Creative Writing. She absolutely loves reading and writing, which she finds herself doing a lot in her free time. If she isn’t doing either, she can be found waltzing around Universal Studio’s Harry Potter World in her Ravenclaw robe, at the beach working on her tan, or daydreaming about where her travels will take her next.
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