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Reminder: Be Kind to Retail Workers This Holiday Season

I’ve been in retail on and off since I was 15. I’ve lived through Boxing Day sales and lost whole days to ringing an endless line through the till. I’ve been screamed at over the phone because the person wants faster shipping (which isn’t something we have control over), and I have scarred fingers from wrapping paper cuts. (This is maybe an exaggeration, but still!) Just the sound of “Jingle Bells” is enough to make me irritable and jumpy. 

This year, the holidays loom larger than ever. With COVID-19 cases quickly rising all over Canada, retail workers risk their health and the health of their households so that others can celebrate. Here are a few things to keep in mind while doing your holiday shopping this year. 

First of all, consider buying presents soon rather than later. The earlier you shop, the less busy it’s going to be. The less busy it is, the less risk there is of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to a huge group of people. You’re also less likely to wind up spending hours in line outside of a shop in the cold. 

If you’re planning on shipping presents anywhere or ordering online, buying early is especially important. Even Amazon (ick) is limited in its capacity to ship things when the postal system is oversaturated. A lot of us have to spend the holidays apart, so more packages than ever before are projected to be shipped. This isn’t the fault of postal system workers; they’re doing their best. 

Second, be kind to retail workers. Be patient with retail workers. Retail is an incredibly over-stimulating environment for everyone. It’s loud, crowded and bright. If you’re grumpy from standing in line for ten minutes, imagine how the person running your till feels. I understand that you’re impatient and stressed, so please, extend the same courtesy to me. 

Not to mention that a lot of retail workers are hired seasonally. Chances are that the person ringing you through was hired a week prior and is just trying to stay afloat. Don’t call them stupid or useless for not knowing the answer to your question. 

Similarly, if they accidentally ring you through wrong, remember that they’re probably over-caffeinated, anxious and in a stupor from repetitive motion. The numbers start to blur together after a while. 

Third, if you disagree with store policy, talk to a manager or keep it to yourself. Yelling at and bullying the employees may get you that return, but at what cost? The people making policy are almost definitely not the employees folding shirts or pulling books off the shelf. They’re in the back, doing managerial things. The higher-ups aren’t asking twenty-year-olds about their thoughts on return policies, trust me. 

Most retail workers are young. A lot of the people who work over the holidays are high school and university students. For some of them, this is their first job. You don’t want to be the person who makes a fifteen-year-old cry. 

Be kind. Be calm. It’s the holidays for everyone; act accordingly. 

For those of you reading this who are in retail this December, worker solidarity! For the rest of you, let this be an aggressive reminder to respect the people serving you. Happy holidays!

Eli Mushumanski is a queer Writing and English Honour undergrad in their fourth year at the University of Victoria. They specialize in fiction and poetry. Their work has been published by The Albatross, The Warren, and Flare: The Flagler Review, and they are a fiction editor at UVic's literary journal, This Side of West. When not caught up by schoolwork or reading, Eli plays Stardew Valley and chats with their mom on the phone.
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