Hell is for Retail Employees: Holiday Edition

So, this month marks the beginning of my eighteenth consecutive holiday season working in retail or close-enough-to-retail-that-it’s-pretty-much-retail. So it’s time for a guide to the holiday season, told from the perspective of the poor drones on the other side of the counter.

-Yes, the stores set up their holiday merchandise earlier and earlier every year. Yes, it’s appalling. Yes, it’s annoying. However, the employee you’re dealing with in the store has nothing to do with these decisions. Here’s what happens: an email or FedEx package comes from corporate, spelling out exactly what goes where and when. Schematics are given. Floor sets are scheduled. And the stores have to do it. They don’t have a choice. Even if every single employee in any given store decides that Christmas decorations shouldn’t go up until the day after Thanksgiving, they can’t do anything about it. So please, don’t bitch at the store-level employees about the decorations or the music or any of that. If you see a bunch of stodgy-looking people standing around in suits, looking intently at displays or cash register setups, holding official-looking papers and wearing shoes that are clearly not made for standing up for a nine-hour shift in, that’s most likely corporate. They love to invade stores during holiday. Bitch to them.

-If you shop between the day after Thanksgiving and December 24th, the stores will be crowded. You will have to wait in line. You may have trouble finding what you’re looking for. Just accept that and plan accordingly. Everything will take twice as long as you think it should. Things will be sold out. You will be inconvenienced in some way. Just deal with it like a goddamned grownup.

-There will not be enough registers open. Let’s talk about the too-few register problem for a minute. Those people in suits and improbable shoes I mentioned before? They’re looking to maximize profit. They do that by cutting costs where they can. And where they can is always payroll. So there are four employees doing the job of ten employees. And those four employees have to fight to take their legally-mandated breaks, and they get yelled at because the stores are understaffed, and they’re expected to make five zillion dollars in sales per hour with not enough cash registers and no one to spare to do floor recovery, which is retail-speak for cleaning up the unimaginable shitstorm that shoppers leave in their wake. Trust me, those four employees would love to have ten registers open. But the companies won’t pay for that, so they do the best they can.

-This one’s important, so please listen carefully. If you do all of your shopping on the morning of December 24th, you pretty much forfeit your right to bitch about anything. The stores will be cleaned out. The shelves will be bare. Nothing will be on sale anymore. The great deals are gone. What you see is what there is. Get a gift card and save everyone some aggravation. Some Christmas Eve shoppers are awesome. They’re laid back and funny and know they’re sneaking in at the last minute. If you’re going to be a Christmas Eve shopper, be one of that kind.

-Regarding holiday hours: the old saying, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” applies here. Places close early on holiday eves. They close on the holiday itself. Two years ago, I had to call the cops because a group, no, I’ll say a pack of suburban husbands attempted to break down the door of my job because we closed at 1:00 on Christmas Eve afternoon, and these men had not yet purchased gift certificates for their wives. So clearly the most logical answer was to pound on single pane glass, screaming, “We know you’re in there!” to two reasonably concerned women. I should mention that our posted hours said that we closed at noon. We stayed open until 1:00, then decided it really was time to close up, an hour after we were supposed to. If the gate is down, and the door is closed and locked, your “But I know what I need!” or “It’s only one little thing!” or “I’ll just be a second!” makes you an awful person. Call ahead. Find out the store’s hours. Be there before that. Because, and I speak from experience here, if we let one last minute shopper in for “just one thing,” the floodgates will never close. Plan better.

-Not being a total and complete dick is the nicest thing you can do for a retail employee during the holiday season that doesn’t involve bringing them chocolate. There are days that I would kill for one person just to be nice to me. For when I say, “Good morning!” to not be answered with, “Fifty dollar gift card.” Basic social niceties. Patience. “Please” and “Thank you.” Maybe even a smile. These things cost you nothing extra. It’s important to realize that retail employees are human beings, not really life-like cash register robots.

-For those of you who like to get your panties twisted because I say, “Happy holidays” and not “Merry Christmas,” seriously, you can fuck right the hell off. I say that because I don’t know what you celebrate, if you even celebrate anything. Most of the time, I say things like, “Good luck with the rest of your shopping,” or “Drive safely out there; the roads are getting bad,” or sometimes even just, “Have a good afternoon.” My not saying “Merry Christmas” is not a personal affront to you. It’s not a symptom of the war on Christmas. I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but I don’t angrily try to impose my religious beliefs on total strangers during a two-minute interaction. So take your hissed “Merry Christmas” in response to my “Happy holidays” and shove it up your self-righteous, xenophobic ass. But if you nicely, with good intentions, say, “Merry Christmas” to me, not knowing that I don’t celebrate it, I will always respond with a sincere, “Thanks! You too!” Because I’m not a total asshole, and you’re just being nice.

-This one will come up approximately a dozen times a day for the next six weeks or so. You cannot use someone else’s credit card. I don’t care if it’s your husband’s. I don’t care if it’s your mom’s. I don’t care if you have a note. None of those things are legal, and none of them are allowable under your cardholder agreement or our merchant agreement. I don’t know if your husband just left you and you stole his cards and are charging up a storm before he finds out, or your mom grounded you and you snuck her credit cards out of her wallet as payback. If it doesn’t have your name on it, you can’t use it. It is fraud. Your husband or mom or whoever can call their credit card company and get a card sent out with your name on it. For free. And you can then use that card. It’s really pretty simple. And while I’m at it, see on the back of your card where it says, “Not valid unless signed”? Yeah, sign your card. Leaving it blank is not a deterrent to theft, and does not automatically mean stores will ask for your ID (although, in an ideal world they would, even though they are allowed to refuse an unsigned card and be completely right in doing so). It means your card is NOT VALID and that if someone does steal it, they can just sign your name in their handwriting and no one will ever question them. And “See ID” is not a valid signature, but whatever, I check signatures LIKE I AM REQUIRED TO, and if your card says “See ID” and I ask for your ID, have it ready to show me. And don’t get shitty because I asked for it. You’re the one who made up your own little “See ID” rule, not me. Easiest way to avoid all of this? Sign your fucking credit cards.

-For those of you who are good-natured, patient, joyful shoppers: welcome to the holiday season. I hope you find all the bargains you’re looking for and that your season is filled with family and friends and good food and cheer. For those of you who are miserable assholes who take your aggravation with life out on retail employees: online shopping is awesome. You should try it. Alone. In your house. Don’t inflict your misery on the rest of us.

(A slightly more profane version of this post appeared at Nice Girls Don’t Swear.)

26 replies on “Hell is for Retail Employees: Holiday Edition”

This. Oh a thousand, million times this. This is my second time working Black Friday, although the first time working a proper retail job (a major discount fashion brand that is, is already ridiculous) and following that shift with my job at a chain coffee shop inside a chain bookstore. I’m already seeing the asshole factor of customers, including a 15 year old girl who bitched at me yesterday because I wouldn’t accept her (unsigned) credit card, due to her lack of ID. Ugh. I’m getting a migraine thinking about Friday.

All of this. Times eleventy billion. I went in today after having three days off and I’m terrififed of how things are going to go this weekend. All of my supplies I’ve been prepping for a month were used up! I was kind of excited about working overnight, but now it’s turning to dread. Ugh. Retail.

Oh, man. Last year was my second time working Black Friday (the first was in high school, when I worked a 10-hour shift on a register at JoAnn’s. Quilters are intense.) I think that, one year in college, I also worked a Black Friday there at the cutting counter. That may have just been one of our other big sales, though.

Last year? Last year I was managing three small retail locations (in the same mall). Fortunately, we weren’t one of the big draws, so things went pretty smoothly (I did wear a suit to help negate the “That can’t be your manager, she looks 12” in case any of that came up, which, fortunately, it didn’t.)

I did try to be nice and, for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, keep pretty much the same shifts the day before and the day after (i.e. if you worked Black Friday morning, you had at LEAST the evening of Thanksgiving Eve off).

We did hang some of the signs before Thanksgiving, but that was the night before, because I knew that they would take two people. The rest? I was in at 4 in the morning hanging the sale signs.

Overall, the day went pretty smoothly. I had put the whole schedule together on a spreadsheet that told everyone where they needed to be and when for maximum coverage, and even switched it up (i.e. so most people were not on a register for 8 hours, but would spend 4 on the register and then 4 on the sales floor). I brought in fixings for PB&J as well as a case of water, since I knew that there’d be no chance of anyone getting food from a place in the mall, and if someone didn’t bring something for lunch, I didn’t want them to starve.

Now, that all being said… I am so glad that I’m not doing it this year!

ALL OF THIS. I work at a large chain retail store once a month now, so of course this month it had to be Black Friday (which I understand). My past experiences working in retail on Black Friday, it really wasn’t bad – absurdly busy, but everyone was pretty happy because the sales were good and they all knew that they’d have to stand in line for a while and seemed to have come to terms with it. The day after Christmas, that was the real disaster – everybody just hated everything ever and took it out on the cashiers, and it was The Worst.

(And an extra ALL OF THIS to the bit about cards. I’ve been shouted at SO many times by people when I won’t let them sign their card in front of me, won’t let them use a card with a completely different name on it, won’t let them not show me ID for a card that says “see ID,” etc., and it’s complete shit.)


Another one – when it’s closing time, it’s closing time. It’s not browsing time. Pick something and pay for it, or leave. Especially when it’s 6pm on Christmas Eve and the buses stop running at 8pm and all the staff that are staring at you as you wander aimlessly around know they probably have at least two hours of January sales prep to do.

Wow, clearly I’m still not over that one. And this is why I do my shopping online.

Co-fucking-signed on the credit card nonsense. Someone once tried to tell me that, no, someone else couldn’t sign her blank card in their own handwriting and use it. People have no common sense, I swear.

Also, please, don’t stand in line for the stores to open on Black Friday. It just encourages the stores to open earlier every year, and it’s totally unfair to the people who have to miss out on enjoying Thanksgiving to work all night. And don’t try to say it’s voluntary, many if not most stores don’t give people a choice as to whether they have to work those shifts and even if it isn’t “required,” they damn sure pay attention to who does come in and who doesn’t. People are scared to lose their jobs and don’t want to risk annoying management.

We got a choice if we wanted to work the over-night shift or the allllll day shift. I took the overnight b/c I get a gift card. Plus, when you’re hopped up on Red Bull and adrenaline, the shift goes way faster. BUT, we have to work a shift that day at some point.  Availability for this weekend was something they screened for when hiring seasonal associates, too.

Just so it’s clear I’m not a total curmudgeon, sometimes regular customers bring us food and little gifts, and it’s really just the sweetest, most thoughtful thing ever. Even when it’s the fortieth cookie plate of the season and I’d shank a bitch for a cheese platter.

Oh man, I have never worked retail, I only worked briefly in customer service and I have never done either over the holidays.  I like to think that I am a generally pleasant holiday shopper. I mostly hate crowds so it’s not whoever that’s working the cash register who will get my wrath.

I am marking my mood as angry though, because it makes me mad that people are so awful/clueless/rude/entitled that this is something that even needs to be said.

oh you do, it actually makes me mad because if you don’t like serving customers, then go to the job store and get another job! You get PAID at least minimum wage and maybe even $10 an hour to take my shit so do it with a smile! Customer is always right! Something something capitalism!

Cosigned. So glad I’m finally not working retail this year. I would add one thing: keep in mind that the exhausted, overworked people working retail in front of you have had to put up with a lot of really unpleasant behavior, and are having to give up, regularly, all of the family-and-friend-oriented holiday experiences to be there to sell you stuff for YOUR family and friends, and so they will probably make an effort to be friendly, but probably don’t want (nor do they have the time) to visit with you for a lengthy piece of time. So, don’t flirt with, interrogate, or tell lengthy stories to your baristas, grocery clerks, salon receptionists, retail assistants, and so forth. They’re working, they’re more tired than usual, and they shouldn’t have to entertain you AND serve you at the same time.

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