Things Retail Employees Wished Customers Knew

  1. We are not stupid, ignorant, or uneducated. Not all of us, anyway. Mind you, there are CEOs who have less education than some cashiers, because people’s circumstances change.

How you can help:

Don’t talk down to your cashier or service specialist. If they make a mistake or they don’t understand what you say, give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them like a human and you’ll both end up less frustrated.

2. Employees are not punching bags. Just plain and simple. Just because we are paid to serve customers doesn’t mean we are paid to serve you. That’s an important distinction. And if you really need someone in your life to take all your BS, then you should seek help for your obvious sociopathy. Until androids take all the retail jobs, retail employees are human, and have this little thing called human rights.

How you can help:

First, ask yourself a question: Did the company do something that’s caused you to lose a lot of time or money? No? Go home and get over it. Yes, they did? Okay, was it the fault the employee talking to you currently? No? Go home and punch a pillow. Yes, it was? Okay, ask for a manager. Don’t lie to the manager; they know when you are lying. Tell your side. Don’t try to get the employee fired. Whatever your situation is, it’s probably not worth someone having their bills go into collection and their health fail, and potentially losing the roof over their head. Remember, human rights.

3. Your threats to dump us don’t land. We don’t care if you don’t get what you want and threaten to never come to the store again. Usually when a customer says this, they’ve already belittled, screamed at, or otherwise manipulated us. We’re happy to have them not come back. (Unless we are a super small store or company, in which case, try to talk to us.) Sometimes they add that they’re going to our competitor, and wait for this apparent insult to land.

First of all, it’s pathetic to try to make an employee cry because you’re unhappy. Second, we don’t care if you go to our competitor. Fact is, we all shop at different stores that are “competitors,” because of location, current sales, shopping companion, whatever. Employees either aren’t loyal to their company and don’t care where you go, or they are loyal and will feel sorry for you that you’re going to shop at what we know is a lesser company. Just so you know.

How you can help:

If you’re seriously upset with your experience, offer constructive feedback to the company.

4. You don’t know corporate or store policy. It is drilled into employees’ heads from day one. It does change from time to time, and then even more horrible training videos are displayed to us with Clockwork Orange clamps on our eyelids. So when you come in, want something that can’t be done, and then insist that you know the policy and it’s been that way forever: wrong and wrong! You just look belligerent and out of touch. If the policy bothers you that badly, go somewhere else. Also, see #2.

How you can help:

See #2 and 3.

5. Retail employees are supposed to defy the laws of physics and social interaction for you. This is best explained by an example: at a major pet store I used to work at, service specialists were asked to stand at a podium to await customers. However, customers complained that no one was coming to help them in the aisles. So we were asked to walk the aisles. Then, customers complained that no one was at the podium when they needed assistance. So we were told by management to stand at the podium for customers but to be sure to be in the aisles when customers needed us. In other words, we were supposed to read minds and be in two places at once.

If 100% of customers who got a survey on their receipt did not indicate that an employee had asked them if they needed help, our store would get low rankings, and would then have to let people go, So we all had to ask everyone who came into the store if they needed help, and often people would be offered help by multiple employees. We then got complaints that we didn’t leave customers alone.

How you can help:

If employees are offering help and don’t make commission, know that they are just trying to save their jobs. If you don’t see an employee right away, don’t panic, just hit the call button or bell (it’s there, trust me), or go to the customer service desk. If we could read your mind, we would.

6. Bending the rules for you is a Pandora’s box that can get us fired. If you look under 40, we have to ID you. If you don’t have your receipt, we can’t process your return. If you don’t have a prescription, we can’t sell it to you.

Here’s the thing: If you drive to a store to buy something you know requires age verification, just have your license with you. It’s common sense. Why are you driving without a license anyway? If you know that the purpose of a receipt is to provide proof of purchase so that you can return it, why would you throw away the receipt if you thought there was any indication you might return the thing? (Mistakes happen, but being nice will get you way farther than being a dick.) If you know the point of a prescription is to regulate the sale of medicine, why would you not bring the scrip with you to buy it?

These policies are in place for a reason. Here are examples: At the pet store I used to work at, sale of all fish was to be for pets or food for pets, not as carnival prizes or wedding decoration. This is because children (and frat boys…don’t ask) have choked to death on goldfish that were given as carnival prizes or bettas that were on tables at weddings and other formal events. Guess who gets sued?

Then, some terrible customer bends a manager’s arm until he breaks the rules, and then she tells all her friends where she bought the fish for the carnival, so they all come and say, “You did it for my friend…” and then the policy is broken every time and we have asphyxiated goldfish traumatizing a bunch of kids at a school fair or shocked bettas going belly up and ruining everyone’s appetite at the wedding reception. Just don’t do it.

At the same store, we had a rash of fraudulent returns. A customer would come in with a receipt they had found in the parking lot or in a trash can, pick up the item from the shelf, and bring it to the register as a return. Cashiers who had avoided checking ID or the credit card for returns because of the number of customers who turned hysterical at being asked for their “private information” processed these “returns,” and let the customer walk out with not only a product they had not paid for, but extra cash to go. So we cracked down on our return policy, and had a dozen more furious customers who bitched and moaned about having to show their driver’s license. It only takes one person to ruin it for everyone, folks.

How you can help:

Be reasonable in your expectations. A lot of employees actually do want to help, because it’s easier for us and we may get named “Employee of the Month.” If you really need an exception, ask for it rationally and calmly, and if there really is nothing the employee can do, accept it.

7. We’re probably not new and you’re probably not going to get us fired. Just because you’ve never seen us there before, or we fail to answer your question, doesn’t mean we’re “new.” New employees are usually shadowing other employees, or in some humiliating situations, are forced to wear tags that say “trainee.” And if you think an employee is no good and then you never see them at the store again, it doesn’t mean they were let go. Think about it: the average corporate store is open 80–90 hours a week. Most part-time employees work anywhere between 15 to 40 hours a week. You probably go to any given store no more than 20–40 minutes at a time, about once or twice a week, if that. That’s at most 1 hour and 20 minutes; if that time allotment doesn’t overlap with the employee’s schedule, you’re never going to see them again.

And if you get really upset at an employee and “convince” a manager to fire us, the manager will “fire” us in front of you to make you happy. April Fools! We’re still employed, because unless our offense was really terrible, it’s not worth letting go of a good employee to make one spiteful customer happy. That’s not good business, folks.

How you can help:

See #1 and #2.

8. Service specialists are there to share knowledge. Sure, some newbies might not know all about every product, and some seasoned employees might not know about every new product. But generally, we gather knowledge and train ourselves so that we can answer your questions. Some customers who are self-proclaimed experts in the field will come in and ask a bunch of questions designed to trip us up and validate their own knowledge.

How you can help:

Seriously, go spend time on Reddit.

9. Cashiers rely on computers to make checkout speedier. One of the top complaints of customers nationwide is waiting time. There are huge studies done simply to find ways to reduce this waiting time while encouraging you to buy while you wait. Seriously, there’s so much money spent on that. Moreover, studies have found that even when waiting time decreases, customers express dissatisfaction. The cashier’s top priority is to make your checkout as efficient as possible. That’s why they have the highly automated register that calculates the subtotal and tax, any coupon redutions, and the amount of change to give back. It’s not because they can’t do math or they are overly reliant on technology. Come on, do you think cashiers begged the company to buy those machines for thousands of dollars because they failed at elementary school math?

How you can help:

Here’s a partial list of DON’TS:

  • Don’t wait until after all items have been scanned and total read to you to offer coupons. Please, no. Especially if you already ran your card. PLEASE, no.
  • Don’t try to change your method of payment after the receipt prints. The cashier asks you how you’re going to pay; make a good choice, because you’re stuck with it.
  • Don’t hand the cashier a $20, and then suddenly start tossing pennies and nickels at them to “make it easier” for them to not have to count out all your change in coins. It’s not hard to count out coins: eventually I was able to count out up to 99 cents in any variety of coins within 5 seconds. It’s muscle memory and we actually are pretty proud of that skill. If you don’t want all those coins back in change, it’s your responsibility to think about the inevitable when you hand over a $20 if your total is $19.06.

10. We’ve heard all your jokes a thousand times. Believe it or not, you’re not the first one to joke that you just printed that $20 bill that morning, or to ask us for a new car when we ask you if you need anything else. Forgive us if we don’t laugh; it’s old news.

How you can help: Be original.

Hope this helps ;-)

Rachel Wayne was a dedicated, hardworking retail employee for more than three years — even Employee of the Month a couple times! — and has never forgotten her experience, both good and bad. She recommends a stint in the service industry to everyone to teach humility, patience, and that humans are fucking insane.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list:

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