Working in retail: observations and reflections

I remember a very unprofessional occasion when I applied for a part-time job at Chapters about twenty years ago. The store has been renamed to Indigo today, and can probably be compared to Barns&Noble. It is a giant book store with elevators and escalators, often with a Starbucks built into it (or slightly adjacent to the store).

At the time, I was in my 30s and had just left the aviation industry where I worked for ten years in various professional capacities. My previous, most recent job, which was eliminated after 9/11, had been in Marketing.

We had just bought a house and starting a family so I figured, a part-time job was a good way to re-immerse myself into the working world. The aviation industry was in shambles after the terrorist attacks, and frankly, I wasn’t convinced I even wanted to return to it – a recent management shuffle about a year prior had turned my place of employment into a salt-mine-like environment and left a bad taste in my mouth.

When I saw the ad for Chapters I figured, I like books, why not work there for a while until I figure out what I wanted to do next. So I applied.

A middle manager called me and offered me an interview, but suggested I would be more suitable for a department head position than a floor staff position given my decade-long experience in professional environments. I said okay and prepared accordingly.

The interview was scheduled for 10 am one morning, incidentally the same time the store opened. I showed up ten minutes early, waited for the doors to open and asked a staff member to let my interview person know I was here. I was told to sit in the adjacent Starbucks and wait.

I waited 20 minutes before I approached another staff member and asked where the interviewer was. All I was told was that head office was here and they were in emergency meetings.

Briefly debating whether I should just leave or wait it out, I decided to wait it out. I was more curious than desperate to see how they would handle this situation; I learned (the hard way) that you can learn a lot by watching how supervisors and managers treat their staff.

Still, waiting beyond a half hour for an interview didn’t exactly warm my heart.

The person who showed up after an hour was about 12 (not really), and not the same one who called me. Clearly she was a lower ranking supervisor or something, and possibly wasn’t supposed to conduct this interview at all. Maybe they dumped this in her lap, I don’t know.

I introduced myself, handed her my resume, told her what I was told on the phone and then waited.

She didn’t apologize for the hour-long wait, only said they had emergency meeting. (I didn’t give a flying fuck about their emergency meeting).

She commenced the interview which I now have no memory of in terms of details except for the fact that the position I was invited to interview for was department head and she crossed that out and said I’d be an entry level floor staff. Did she have authority to make this change? (I had worked in retail during my high school and University days so I was somewhat familiar with how things run in the retail sector.)

Anyway I’ll spare you the rest of the interview. I stayed because I decided I wanted to give the job a chance and figured once I was hired I could talk to someone else, maybe located the person who called me, or call HR myself. Whatever.

My interviewer told me she would hire me and told me to come back and start at x date and time, then left. I shook my head and debated not taking the job after all.

I hesitantly took the job and I lasted two months.

It’s almost laughable how I managed to even last two months now that I look back on this adventure. Here are a few highlights:

One day a couple of days after I started, a girl about half my age told me to clean up a clearance bin and then walked away. I did it by sorting the bin and displaying the books in such a way that a customer would be able to browse the titles, organized by topics and subjects.

This makes sense to me – logic makes sense to me. 😀

It was a huge bin but I’m a practical, organized and efficient worker, so when I told her I was done 20 minutes later, she rejected my statement. “It took me two hours last week,” she said knowingly and elaborated how challenging it was to sort and display the books last week.

She then inspected my bin without a word.

She was speechless. Ha.

Whatever.

Next she praised me like one would praise a 6 year old child (remember, she was much younger than I was) and told me to fix a nearby shelf and stay busy. Then she walked away.

I rolled my eyes (not really) and busied myself with another shelf.

Another situation involved a customer who couldn’t find a highly advertised political book. We searched high and low, even went to the adjacent aisles, but he ultimately left in a huff without his book. He insulted me for not knowing where to find a book which was advertised just that week in every flyer and on every website connected to the store.

He was right. The book should have been in the designated spot in the political section. I had only been there about a week and was not responsible for the shelving that book, but suspected someone shelved it incorrectly.

After the customer left, I approached a manager and asked why we didn’t have the book, and she checked the computer which listed 1000 copies. She said something dumb and took me to the political aisle and pointed to the shelf, giving me a lecture that their system was highly organized and I should familiarize myself with it.

Need I mention she couldn’t find the book either?

We finally discovered it was shelved in a section which had nothing to do with politics, in music or sports or something.

Sigh.

Another time, I was with a customer helping him find a book on one of those internet stations. He couldn’t remember the title so I asked him to give me some key words so I could help him find it on the screen. While this was going on a high school student was shelving some books nearby. The phone started ringing, which was attached to a post in between her and me.

I was busy and talking with the customer while typing in keywords into my screen. She was alone reshuffling books on a shelf.

She came up to me, interrupted the customer in mid-sentence and said “you need to answer the phone”.

I responded I was with my customer and would have had to walk away from him and my computer screen, and suggested she take the call instead.

She didn’t. She walked past the post twice and then went to complain to a supervisor that I was ignoring the phone.

I can only laugh at the idiocy of it all now, but at the time, I was irked, and so was my customer.

I quit less than two months later.

All this does not mean I berate the retail industry. I understand the need for staff to run these places. I also encourage my own kids to consider these types of jobs because it will give them so much experience. There is much to learn in these environments: how conglomerates treat their staff, how the general public behaves in a shopping environment, how staff have to adjust their belief systems in order to follow rules and expectation that may not make any sense.

Today, I recognize that I may at one point be required to apply for a job in the retail sector again. It all depends on how my future unfolds. But I am working on other things now that have, so far, provided me with opportunities outside of the retail (or food) industry, which is the path I continue to navigate going forward.

Meanwhile, if you work in the retail sector with the upcoming shopping season, I wish you all the best. I know how stressful November and December can be during Christmas. For the rest of us shoppers: please be kind with the staff. 🙂

***

Note: I have been publishing my romantic/erotic story Music Lovers in daily chapters and will continue this throughout November. There is sexual and graphic content which I locked under Premium Content. If you subscribe for $3 per locked content, you will have access to the erotic side of Samantha and Adam’s relationship. Most of the story is published for free, and posted for a limited time – I plan on turning this story into a book some time in 2022. Thank you for your interest in my story.

17 thoughts on “Working in retail: observations and reflections

  1. I have experienced some of this with my new job and being “trained” by a girl who looks like she is 14. She is very concerned that I do things right and I appreciate her efforts, but it also is irritating because I could do the job with my eyes closed. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Retail!… In my country the phrase is: The customer is always right…
    For the trade clerk it is too hard to endure impertinent buyers.
    I imagine working in a library, I had idealized it until I read your article. Thank you for taking away my fantasy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Working in retail sounds hellish.

    Regarding the premium content, I wonder if “subscribe” is the best word for one-off payments for single pieces of premium content. To me, subscribe suggests something along the lines of paying upfront for a year subscription to a magazine as opposed to buying single issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, another person has mentioned this. I am using the lingo provided by WP and wonder how to get around it… When I select the Premium Content block the wording is provided. I’ll see if I can change it manually from my end.

      Like

    2. Yes, another person has mentioned this. I am using the lingo provided by WP and wonder how to get around it… When I select the Premium Content block the wording is provided. I’ll see if I can change it manually from my end.

      I just changed it. Can you go back to Chapter 5 and click the new button and tell me what you see, please?

      Like

      1. Oh, okay, that makes sense. Clicking on the button, it says “Pay US $3.00 once & create a WordPress.com account.” I think it might help if you tweak your descriptions.

        “The erotic/sexually graphic portion of this story is locked up and accessible for $3.00 if you subscribe. Subscribing to this chapter gives you one-time access to this part only, not to all the locked content in this story.”

        Instead, maybe try something along the lines of: “Full chapters containing erotic/sexually graphic material are available as premium content for $3 each.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much Ashley. It’s confusing how they set it up… and it’s confusing not just the readers, but the writer here too… 🙂

        I appreciate the feedback. I’ll go back and play with the description. Yours sounds much better than mine. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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