Paying my way through college, I’ve worked for some of the most well known stores at your average mall, from big box retailers to boutiques.
During my time behind the counter, I‘ve seen and heard things that might shock you. Every person whose worked in a store or in customer service has stories to tell, and well, I’m here to tell you some of mine. They include the rude, the mean, and the disgusting. Read on, you might just recognize someone you know (never you, of course).
|The happiest sales girl you’ll meet
First, The Staff
Dealing with crappy people is a given in customer service, but there are also crappy employees. Many of my coworkers have included college students, teachers, and underwriters; people who have full time jobs but need extra cash or know employees at their favorite stores get the best discounts. Usually, this means that everyone wants the best results for the store.
When you’re dealing with difficult customers, long lines, and heavy traffic, your co-workers are your team. Everyone is supposed to pull in and work together, including the management staff. Making sure that the store operates properly is everyone’s responsibility, if for no other reason that at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home at a decent time.
There is no torture, however, like working with people who refuse to pull their weight or make your job harder. I’ve worked with people who swore they needed the work, but called out almost every other day, or refused to perform certain functions of their job. I’ve seen manages steal or hide merchandise until they’re marked down within an inch of their lives, something we are explicitly not allowed to do.
At my very first retail job, a coworker of mine was fired and arrested. He worked in the sports department selling high-priced treadmills and exercise machines. Problem was after making a sale, he would void the transaction in the system and keep the cash to himself. He was only caught because a customer came back to the store to return a treadmill, but in the system, it had already been returned.
At another department in the same store, an employee got into the habit of putting her old shoes in boxes and walking out with new pairs. Customers did it, she surmised, so it was okay for her to do it too.
There was one store manager I knew didn’t last very long on the job. We were all excited when she was hired. The store manager before her was curt and borderline abusive, and has to be escorted off the premises, so when the new manager was hired, we were psyched. She seemed energetic and fresh, and had really great hair.
But once she was on the payroll, everything went downhill. She called out three times a week on average. While she worked there, her grandmother died three times. When she did bother to show up for work, she used any excuse to hide in the back. She never lasted more than five minutes on the sales floor. Instead, she locked herself in office, claiming to be doing paperwork, except the prior manager kept everything up to date. She also kept dropping random pills in the bathroom.
It got to the point that when she continued to call out sick, saying she was in the hospital, the assistant managers called local hospitals to see if it was true. They never found her. She finally quit after everyone on the management team, including yours truly, filed complaints against her.
Coupons. Oh, The Fucking Coupons
If you come up to a register and ask, “Do you have any coupons?” The answer is no. The answer will always be no. People can get very annoying when they want an extra 15% off. What some people may not understand is that associates can get fired for giving out too many discounts.
Sometimes we can make judgment calls. At my first retail job, for example, where I gave zero fucks and did exactly what I wanted to do (and it just so happened that what I wanted to do lined up with my job description) I would often grab a copy of the paper and keep it at the register bay with me. If the store printed a coupon that week, I’d scan it for every customer I had that day.
That crap would get me blacklisted today. Not only have stores cracked down on that behavior, printing coupons that can only be used one time or only online, I was doing that because I felt like being nice. Not only can an associate get fired for this practice, but my job isn’t worth risking because you’re too lazy to clip coupons.
If you return an item and have the original receipts and tags, I will love you until the end of time. If you have no tags but a receipt, we’re cool. But if you return an item with no receipt, no tag, and expect me to pull a return out of my ass, we have a problem.
Returns are a pain in the ass because we need some sort of proof of purchase. Sometimes customers don’t understand this and expect us to accommodate them without providing us with the information we need. Others think that because some stores have more capabilities to find a transaction, we should too.
For example, some stores have systems that can find receipts by simply using a name or credit card, while others don’t, or don’t train their staff enough so that they know where to look. Other stores give refunds as long as you have your receipt, others have specific time frames, and others simply don’t give refunds at all. Smart shoppers are very good at paying attention to this, but others don’t, or simply don’t care.
For example, one store I worked at marked certain items at “Final Sale” after it was marked down to a certain price. Items would then be marked with a red FINAL SALE tag, and would also be marked accordingly on the receipt. However, once a week without fail, we had at least one customer who insisted on returning final sale items, saying they were not made aware that the sale was final.
Salespeople Are People Too
We’ve all heard the saying, “the customer is always right”, but what about the person behind the register?
Although you always have your bad seeds, sales people generally don’t like to antagonize customers, if for no other reason than to keep their jobs for another day. This is why a lot of retail workers hate the nature of the job: you have quotas to fill, managers to keep happy, and a store to keep clean, even when some people try make that nearly impossible. It’s not uncommon having to deal with a customer whose having a bad day and is looking any excuse to dump on you.
There are customers who go to stores “to feel better about themselves”, trying things on, asking for samples, and sometimes downright wasting sales staff time. It’s one thing to window shop, but when customers have a million question and try on a dozen things without any design on spending money, what they’re really doing is asking sales staff to work for free for the sake of your ego.
Other customers do it for the power trip. They know that we are obligated to help them, and they love to treat the sales staff like the maids they can’t afford. And we can’t complaint or show that it bothers us. One customer complaint is enough for a manager to report you, demote you, or simply cut your hours to the point that you are forced to quit. Certain types of customers love to exploit this.
One time, (out of many) I had to tell a customer that her credit card had been declined. She was applying makeup, and looked at me for the first time since she walked up to the desk, and told me that she had just paid her bill at another store. Then she told me to, “simply override it”. When I told her there was no way I could, she asked, “Isn’t that your job? Are you new?”
The words came out of her face with such venom that I’m surprised the skin didn’t melt off my face. Red faced and humiliated, I tried to calmly explain to her that although I understood she had just made a payment, payments usually take two or three days to clear, and there was no way I could override a declined transaction.
What I REALLY wanted to tell her was where she could shove that little makeup compact of hers, but I used all the energy I could to hold my tongue. She then mumbled a stream of profanities, snatched her credit card out of my hand and walked away. Exactly an hour later, my manager called me over to talk about a customer who had called to complain about “my incompetence”.
The conversation didn’t go anywhere, my manager at the time knew that our customers were super high maintenance, but it’s a scenario with a number of complications:
Some customers really believe that by getting angry they will always get what they want, even if it’s something completely unreasonable. One time, a manager of mine had an altercation with a customer over a pair of dress pants whose hem came undone after two years. After several phone conversations, the customer came in, pants in one hand and receipt in the other, and demanded a refund.
The manager tried to explain that while she understood her frustration, she could not refund the $129 the pants originally cost after two years of wear. The customer refused to budge, so my manager offered to pay to have the pants hemmed. The lady would not accept this, and insisted she was due a refund. After some arguing back and forth, the manager asked to see the pants. The customer then said, “You want to fucking see it? Here!” and threw the pants across the register. This knocked over one of our fixtures, and it split the manager’s lip open. That customer was escorted out of the store by security.
Dressing Rooms Are The Doorway To A Hell Dimension
People do crazy things in dressing rooms. They have sex, grab as many clothes as they can and wear them out of the store. Baby carriages are a theft problem. Some people love to use their children to steal, hiding stolen merchandise in carriages and baby bags. But that’s not the worst of it. Once, a co-worker of mine walked into a dressing room and stepped on a dirty tampon. Another found a very dirty, and very open diaper.
But this one takes the cake: One co-worker was cleaning out the dressing rooms when she found a small shopping bag, the type made small enough to fit makeup. She grabbed it not thinking twice about it, only to find out too late that a customer used the bag to urinate. It spilled all over her arm. It’s to a point that we’d prefer it if you just peed directly on the carpet, and I’ve seen that happen too.
The best I can do is offer some advice: Don’t take your shoes off inside the dressing room, hang up your clothes after you try them on, and smile at the person behind the register, even if they’re being less than nice. At best, you don’t know what kind of day they’ve been having, and at worst, just remember, you only have to deal with them for 20 minutes at most. They probably have to be there a lot longer.