(This is the first part in an on going series dedicated to the many years, going on 8 now, that I have spent as a retail whore.) 

 It’s red. How ironic.

It’s been said that the customer is the most important part of retail, the bread and butter of the industry. Everything is done in an attempt to lure new customers, and then hook them into returning. That’s why the phrase “the customer is always right” exists. So it’s only fitting that I launch this series with the customers.

Let me start with the things that really get on my nerves.

One of the main duties of my job is running a cash register. Several times a day a customer will come through the line and spend our entire time together on their cell phone. Quite possibly one of the rudest acts anyone has done to me. I understand that we live in a world where multi tasking reigns supreme, but does that mean we have to forfeit common decency?

There are couple options that seem obvious, but apparently some people need spelled out to them. Option A: keep wondering around the store while you continue the conversation. Or option B: hang up and call the person back when you are done in the store. If it’s just a shoot the shit conversation then it won’t matter if you break it off for five minutes. If it’s a dire emergency, then maybe you shouldn’t be shopping during the conversation.

But the customer is always right.

I would like to take a moment to thank the customers who press the ignore button when their phone rings while we are conducting business. So, thank you.

Most of the time phones don’t get reception inside the building.

Phone or not, some people just have to talk, and they choose me to talk to. Which I would be ok with if these people didn’t find the most inopportune time to carry on long conversations, like when I have a line, or am carrying something heavy.

Most of the time theses chatters appear when I’m working the return desk. I ask them if there is anything wrong with whatever is being returned. They see that question as an opening to share with me more about their lives than I could have ever hope for. This is typical of how that sounds:

 Me: Hello. Is there anything wrong with this shirt that you are returning?

Customer: Well I bought it for my husband, and he just recently had surgery on his jaw and he had an allergic reaction to the medication. It contained trace amounts of penicillin; he’s allergic to penicillin. The doctor didn’t think that there was enough in the medication to cause any problems, but apparently even the tiniest amount affects him. So this penicillin made his throat swell, and the shirt does not fit.

Me: Ok. Sorry to hear that. Would like this back to your MasterCharge card or in store credit?

Customer: You better make it and in store credit. I just paid off my MasterCharge and that was a hassle. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with them.

Me: Oh no.

Customer: Yeah, it’s not something I look forward to doing again. There was a charge I didn’t recognize. When I called them to find out what it was I got transferred several times. Finally I got someone who was able to look it up. It was for a restaurant. I didn’t remember going to this restaurant and that set off an argument.

Me: Sorry to hear that. Here’s the store credit. Have a nice afternoon.

Customer: Oh. Why thank you. You do the same.

All that and all I needed to know was if the shirt was resalable or not. If I didn’t cut her off I’d know exactly what she had to eat at the restaurant. Most of the customers who rattle on and on are older folks, and I think they’re just lonely so I humor them as long as I can stand it.

But there are times when I get way too much information. Once a lady told me she was returning tights because the waist was too tight, and it didn’t work well with her irritable bowel syndrome. First of all, under no circumstances ever, do I need to know that a customer has IBS. Secondly, let’s call it IBS and never by it’s full name, there is less imagery involved when it’s called IBS. Thirdly, gross.

It would be so helpful if people followed the idea of less is more.

But the customer is always right.

Fuck my life

Service with a smile

It would also be helpful if common sense was used before asking questions. The most frequently asked question is the location of the restroom. What bothers me is the way in which the question is asked. The three most common ways are: “Do you have a restroom?” “Where is the restroom?” and “Do you know where the restroom is?”

Let’s examine each way. “Do you have a restroom?” This is a large company. Large companies tend to follow certain codes in order to stay in business. Before they can even open the doors, they have to meet all the building codes, and an important one is having a restroom. So in keeping up with building codes, yes we do have a restroom.

“Where is the restroom?” The restroom is at the end of this aisle by the Customer Service desk. Thank you for asking properly.

“Do you know where the restroom is?” I do not. They have entrusted me to work the cash register and handle large amounts of money, but they don’t trust me with the location of restrooms.

Those are the kinds of answers one would find in Mad Magazine’s Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions, but if the shoe fits…

And the customer is always right.

Not all of the customers bother me.

I do get some that are friendly, jokey, and are actually in a good mood. I realize that there are times when shopping is a necessity, but more often than not I believe people shop for fun. So I am confused when people are angry when they shop. But when they are having fun it makes me happy to help them. I enjoy it immensely when the customers have a sense of humor and will joke along with me. Just don’t use the same joke of declaring an item is free if it doesn’t have a tag.

Now my very favorite thing about the customers is that we have a very cute clientele. Now I am aware at just how shallow I come off here, but these people are in my life for a maximum of five minutes, hardly enough time to get to know them. Whether it’s a girl, boy, or artwork, we all just want to see something attractive.

Without hesitation when one these fun loving, attractive girls comes through my line I take the opportunity to do a little flirting. Whether the flirting leads to something more or not, its still fun, and it makes the day seem less awful. Nothing like a wink and a smile to improve any day.

I wish all the customers could be like the latter ones, but if they were then it would probably mean that I was 17 and working in the mall at The Limited. Oh well, one needs the bad to make the good, right?

Yeah I’ll keep telling myself that.

And I’ll tell myself that the customer is always right.

The most important thing about the customers is that when there is a lot of them the time goes by quickly, but it drags when they’re not around. So I’m not so sure that Randal is accurate when he says, “This job would be great if it weren’t for the customers.”

That’s the Catch-22 I deal with on a daily basis.

The customer is always right.

I hate whoever came up with that phrase.

Keep an eye out for the continuation of My Life in Retail. I still have co-workers, products, corporate, and other miscellaneous nuances to touch on. Expect great things.

Lee.s.hart@crujonessociety.com