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How Working Retail Changed My Perspective on the World

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Like many teenagers, my first job entailed working in a retail store. Unlike many teenagers though, I spent more time at work than school during an average week. Due to this, much of my life and many of my lessons have been shaped by experiences that occurred in my workplace and with those I interacted with during my time there. After four years at the same retail store, I had departed the job viewing the world and society in a completely different way than I had when I first started off. Therefore, here are a few things I’ve discovered about society and its people that I never would have realized without working in retail.  

There are a lot of dramatic people in the world.

In my experience, simply as a shopper in stores, I could never recall a time I got so fed up with an employee and caused a fit. I have been overcharged, treated unfairly and possibly had bad shopping experiences in the past but never enough to cause any sort of conflict between me and an employee. I discovered that this is not the case with every individual. At least once a shift there was someone who had no problem telling you exactly how they felt, even on the smallest of matters. I’ve had people curse at me, tell me how idiotic I am as a human being and people report me for simply doing my job. At first, it shocked me how people can make judgements on me and my coworkers despite not knowing us personally. The judgements were just based on policies enforced by the store or basic knowledge they can’t seem to comprehend. It became even worse once government-enforced COVID policies came into effect, such as mandatory questioning at entrance doors, blocking-off specific shopping areas and mandating what people could and could not buy. Despite having a policy that was mandatory for us to enforce, we as employees took the abuse from unhappy citizens. It taught me a lot about how society needs to be a bit more understanding of retail workers. 

People are messy, extremely messy.

I’m not the most organized individual. I will admit that I forget to do my dishes and leave clothes laying on my bedroom floor from time to time. But when in another person’s space, I will always respect their territory and make sure I leave their space as I found it. Apparently, there are many individuals in the world who seem to think this rule doesn’t apply to retail spaces. I would understand the occasional unfolded shirt or empty hanger on a rack, but when people take their shoes off in the store to feel the softness of the carpets against their bare feet or leave piles of unwanted clothes scattered in the aisles, it becomes frustrating. It’s especially frustrating being the individual who must clean up their mess. Despite the knowledge that someone eventually must clean up the mess they created, these individuals continue to create carefree messes as if the store is their playground. Sometimes, working in retail felt more like being a kindergarten teacher cleaning up children’s messes than anything else. It allowed me to realize when out in public, the majority of society disregards their respect for clean spaces and feels that retail workers’ side hustles include maid and janitorial chores.  

The most unlikely of people can become your friends.

Prior to working in retail, my friends consisted of those who had common interests or were similar to me in some aspect. However, those I am closest to now, even after leaving my retail job, are those I met while working. The most humorous part of that is that they are nothing like me. Coworkers of various ages, backgrounds and stages in their lives with different hobbies and personalities all came together and somehow became people I most look forward to talking to. I had my best moments and talks in life with coworkers who were years younger than me as well as those closer to my parents’ ages. Working retail has taught me that just the aspect of sharing a single experience within a workplace can bring people together and make the most unlikely but best of friends.  

There are people in the world still trying to make it a better place.

Despite negative customer interactions, there have also been those I think about frequently that warm my heart. It made me realize there are still good, kind-hearted people in the world who are constantly trying to make it a better place. While working, I had been witness to individuals who spent hundreds of dollars towards a stranger’s purchase, people who have donated well beyond the amount asked for at the register and those who simply make me smile through interactions I’ve had with them. Even such small things like complimenting another individual can make another person’s day, and within the retail workplace, there were many regulars I enjoyed seeing on the daily because they always made me smile. It’s people like those that a good, well-functioning society requires in order to cancel out the arrogant and obnoxious ones.  

Those who have never worked retail may never see society with the same lens as those who have. Once settling into a retail job for long enough, views shift and realizations toward society and its people adjust in both positive and negative ways. After leaving my job of a consecutive four years, the world had become a much different place and I appreciate those in retail a lot more than I ever had before. All retail workers say it, but everyone should work retail at least once in their life to gain an appreciation for what those workers go through. And you always come out of shifts with great stories to tell.  

Kaileigh Klein

Wilfrid Laurier '25

Kaileigh is studying Communications at Wilfrid Laurier University. When she's not binge watching Gilmore Girls, she can be found reading romance novels in the park or wandering aimlessly around bookstores inevitably spending all her money on books.
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