What They Don't Tell You About a Summer Job in Retail

Sing it with me,

IIIIII’M EVERY WOMAN, IT’S ALL IN MEEEEEE…

All the power to you but after hearing those same words repeated over and over again, while on my feet for seven hours straight, wearing the most uncomfortable pair of booties I own, I now need a warning whenever Chaka Khan wants to sing to me about femininity. Retail jobs... am I right?

Many college kiddos who don’t luck out on their first round of internship applications often find themselves in the challenging, eye-opening world of working retail. I was one of them. For the past two summers, I was a sales associate at two fabulous stores. The job is pretty much as expected...

“Hi, welcome in!”

“Would you like me to start a fitting room for you?”

“Let me check in the back to see if we have more sizes”

But every rose has its thorn, and what I didn’t know about was the challenge of finding something cute to wear every day... or that closing shifts may be longer than it says on my timesheet... or that, yes, customers can even be mean over the phone.

I wish I could say that my shin splints this summer were from working out.  But alas, little did I know that running from the dressing room to the floor to the stock room and back would be like agility training, except in platform sandals.  Oh, and ladies, how difficult can it be to find something cute to wear every day?  I can’t tell you how many outfits repeats I had. Blair Waldorf would be tremendously ashamed.  But the biggest realization of all was that one day I am going to have a full-time job that requires me to wake up every morning and look presentable. If part-time outfit choices really put me out, I cannot imagine the struggles waiting for me later on. I apologize in advance, future me.

Beyond the fashion challenges, retail is hard for a lot of reasons.  It’s hard to remember every product in your store, memorizing how to work a register made me feel like my Grandma figuring out FaceTime on her phone, and it’s discouraging when you don’t make a sale that you worked your butt off to get.  It takes effort, but many of the lessons I learned working retail helped me to become an adaptable human being and a quick learner.

I think the greatest lessons I learned were from interactions I had with the multicolored personalities that walked through the door every day.  Some came in just to buy a t-shirt but left instead with an unsatisfactory experience and enough rage to bust out the meanest review in Yelp history.

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“Why can’t I return these jeans?”

Unfortunately, they were purchased six years ago.

“Thank you for nothing, you’ve just lost a once-loyal customer."

*sigh*

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“You are so cute, I love how you haven’t lost any of the baby weight in your face!”

Do I say thank you?

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“It looks like you’re a good associate when you want to be!”

I actually did end up making the sale.

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But hey, not every customer experience was a difficult one.  You win some, you lose some. I am fortunate enough to remember the tough ones only because there were too many good encounters to count. The kinder ones reinforce a general appreciation for human beings, social interactions, and give you hope in the people around you.  The not-so-kind ones teach you how to handle things with grace.  And hey, the benefit of the doubt still exists.  Maybe they were just having a bad day.

As someone who feels educated in the fine art of customer service, I don’t take retail workers and excellent service for granted.  Anyone out there working in retail reading this right now, listen up!  Thank you for your help, I’m sorry if someone has insulted the baby weight in your face while you rang them up and if I ever step foot in your store, I promise to put my clothes back where I found them after I try them on.  Get a comfy pair of shoes and get that commission!