You’ve finally reached the front of the H&M queue after second guessing about 100 times whether or not you should leave and come back tomorrow. As you move towards the till, you’re greeted by a melancholy yet pleasant sales assistant who, with a forced smile, asks: “Have you found everything you wanted today?” And that’s it. That’s all it took. Your empathetic, soft side takes over and despite the fact that you’ve been stuck in the queue for damn-near half an hour, missed your scheduled bus, and have now missed the beginning of Hollyoaks, you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor thing and your now trying your best to conform to the conventions of the “ideal customer” so that you can somehow make up for all the shitty people you know she’s had to deal with all day.
If you can identify with this situation, or you’re one those people who always try to be on their absolute best behaviour when walking around a shop, you’re most likely apart of the population of poor souls that work within retail yourselves. You nearly always empathise with other sales assistants, especially if their working in another branch of the same store you work or have worked in, so you try your best to be one less stress-causer in their hectic day.
Now don’t get me wrong, working in retail can be great. You make countless friends from all walks of life who tend to have no airs and graces because they understand that you’re all in the same boat. You and your team don’t ever really take yourselves too seriously and probably slyly make fun of those that do (the usual regional managers and visual merchandisers who visit the store every once in a while and walk around the gaff trying to look important). You eventually become an ever-growing family who have the same pet-hates, shared colloquialisms, and can begin conversations with almost anybody with the question “So what shift you on?” (even though it makes absolutely no difference to you or your day)
But why exactly do we in retail develop some sort of innate shopping etiquette that normal shoppers just don’t have or comprehend?
According to Tahliah Kelly-Martin, 21, who works for Forever 21’s Liverpool branch, this sense of empathy comes from an understanding of what retail workers want from customers.
“I tend to be more mindful of the employees when shopping,” she said.
“I put things back in the right places, I’m always polite even if they don’t have what I want.
“I know what I expect from customers as a member of staff so I try to mirror that when I’m shopping elsewhere,” she added.
This sentiment is echoed by 21-year-old Hanan Tafasse from Leeds, who worked for the sports fashion retailer, JD Sports for 4 and a half years. She stated:
“My experience in working within retail has meant that I now try to be very considerate towards retail staff when I go shopping.
“I always try to be as polite and patient with them as possible, and also try not to mess up the layout when browsing as I myself know how long it takes to tidy and organise things.”
She also added, “I also try and make the staff’s lives easier by always remembering receipts when returning or exchanging items, and make sure that the items are in perfect condition for returning.”
From these opinions, it would seem that fellow retail employees are every shop worker’s dream. However, according to individuals such as Alexia Thompson, 22, who worked for fashion retailer River Island in numerous locations over the course of 4 years, there is no excuse for bad customer service and those who have worked in retail before are the ones most likely to pick up on it and to address it.
“Because of my experience, I’m more aware and critical of customer service,” she said.
“I expect the sales assistant to provide me with the same service that I provided to customers whilst working.
“For example, I’ll be critical of a messy shop floor, or I’ll complain about a sales assistant who has given bad customer service.
“I think I’m a bit harsher because I know what’s expected of someone who works in retail,” she added.
Havva Acar, 20, from Milton Keynes shares the same critical viewpoint of retail staff as Alexia, stating:
“I despise blunt, rude and/or exceedingly quiet or ignorant sales staff.”
All in all, it seems that working in retail can indeed impact the ways in which people behave as shoppers. Whether it makes you more understanding or, alternatively, it makes your judgement favour that of a store manager. Either way, it can be deemed that we in retail possess a rather superior, more informed understanding of the retail environment that saves us from being one of the many objects of ridicule in shop staff rooms.
Here are a few of the pet hates we discovered from both retail employees and customers.
. Rude and disrespectful customers
. Customers who try to return soiled goods
. Customers who generally take advantage of employee’s requirement of “being pleasant.”
. Messy customers who don’t purchase anything
. Customers who think that they’re the only people who need to be served in the store
. Customers who get angry when their desired item is not in stock
. Customers who don’t put items back on hangers in fitting rooms
. Customers who leave food/drinks/rubbish around the store
. Miserable, unfriendly staff
. Disorganised shops
. Tills with no members of staff in sight
Words by Tyeish Liburd