I'm an idiot, and other misconceptions about retail employees

crissangel.jpg
If only I was the Criss Angel of retail.
When I'm not interviewing drag queens, reviewing concerts and rating Santas for Westword, I'm working at Shirt Folding Store. For twenty hours a week, I fold shirts (and, more important, jeans) alongside other part-timers, who in their other jobs might be bank tellers, professional eBay auctioneers, art-history majors and spoken-word artists.

I have held my position at Shirt Folding Store off and on since 2006, and to a surprisingly great degree, have very much enjoyed telling customers how cute she (or he, if/when a man is forced into Shirt Folding Store by his wife/mother/girlfriend to try on clothes) looks in the jeans I have so painstakingly helped them pick out. For a non-commissioned salesperson, I go to great lengths to make sure my customers leave Shirt Folding Store in love (or at least in like) with a perfect pair of jeans. I love my job.

This is why I get so pissed off when I encounter an asshole.


Customers are not assholes by nature. They are kind, curious souls, generally just looking for something to buy. We are all customers at some point in our lives. Still, it is an awful truth that someday we may find ourselves in a situation where we are treated terribly by a salesperson. When all we're trying to do is buy something and the person in charge of facilitating this is a jerk, the simple transaction turns an otherwise normal consumer into an asshole.

This makes the whole buying-stuff thing suck for everyone. As a salesperson who likes to help people, I apologize on behalf of all rude salespeople.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and if you're brave enough to get out and buy stuff during these below-zero-degree days, I wish you only the best. After all, your insane shopping habits keep me employed. I not only like being employed, I usually like helping you buy stuff at Shirt Folding Store. However, for us to not only co-exist but work together to create the perfect buying-stuff experience, there are a few things you should know:

10. I'm a salesperson, not an idiot
While being well versed in things like shirt-folding -- I can square-fold without a folding board, and I regularly teach seminars at the "Learning Annex" (a fictional vocational school my co-worker created) on the versatile half-fold (which can go any number of ways, including the classic horizontal Hamburger half-fold and vertical Hot Dog half-fold) -- I also have a degree from a college that has nothing to do with folding.

So you don't have to talk slowly for me to understand. If you ask for a jacket and we don't have it in your size, restructuring the same question and asking me four more times will not render a different answer. I am comprehending the question -- I just, unfortunately, don't have the power to make jackets appear out of thin air. If I did, I wouldn't be working retail. I would be trying to take over the world, like Criss Angel must be waiting to do.

9. I'm not a babysitter
I'm here to help you, in any capacity I am capable, according to the job description mandated by Shirt Folding Store. However, my wage and position do not include child care, so leaving your three-year-old in the fitting room to hang out with me while you shop is not a good idea. I am a stranger to your child. You child doesn't know me. I might be a pedophile. You have no idea.

(I'm not a pedophile, really, but if you desire to browse racks of clothes for hours at a time, you might want to hire someone with at least an ounce of motherly ability to watch your kid. The only beings under two feet that I'm comfortable caring for are cats, and you probably can't afford my cat-sitting services. I'm serious. I'm like the high-priced hooker of cat-sitters, and toddlers are nowhere near cats in terms of evolution. Cats are perfect beings.)

8. I'm not your personal security guard
So you left your cell phone on a shelf somewhere in the store. Leaving your purse and wallet open with your credit card and/or cash out on the counter and me behind the register while you search through piles of cardigans to find your BlackBerry is not a good idea. Not because I can't be trusted to watch your stuff, but because I may, at any point while you're looking for your iPhone, wander from my designated cash-register area to gossip with my cute gay co-worker* about his super shwasted night at (insert clubby gay bar name here) where he may or may not have hooked up with our other "not gay" co-worker. This will, in turn, mean your purse will be unattended.

*Cute gay co-worker's possible closet tryst is of far bigger importance to me than playing watchman for your Birkin. Why? Because I might have to share the break room with cute gay co-worker and "not-gay" co-worker later on in my shift, and if I don't know every detail of this wild night, I will miss out on the tension everyone else eating Cheetos in there is picking up on. And that would make my already not-very-stressful work day suck.

7. When Shirt Folding Store is closed for the day, it is closed
Meaning, I want to go home. I would love to help you shop for your boss's wife's half-sister's birthday present, but during normal business hours. When the music in Shirt Folding Store is shut off and the lights go dim, that means the store is closed. If this doesn't work for you, let me know where you work and when your next shift is, so I can come in five minutes before you're supposed to go home for the day and hang out. It will be fun, I promise.

6. Waiting in line is part of shopping
Since the dawn of retail time, there have been lines. And since that time, customers have had to wait in them. I do so myself, every time I go to Starbucks to waste both money and time. I know how it feels to wander around Target for four hours lazily looking at booty shorts and reduced-price bins of hair dye, cookies and self-tanner, only to all of a sudden feel like I'm "in a hurry" once I get near a checkout stand.

But I quell my urge to huff and puff during that six-minute delay to pay for a basket full of crap I don't need, because I know I have to wait. Life involves waiting. Besides, what better time to check your Facebook for the 36th time in an hour than while you wait?

5. I don't talk to you while I'm on the phone, so get off of yours
In all of the ways modern technology has diminished public etiquette and general politeness, talking on your cell phone while expecting a cashier to help you with a transaction is the biggest dick move ever played, human-to-human. It should be punishable by appendage bludgeoning. Baristas have been saying it since the invention of the cellular phone, but I will say it again: Don't talk on your fucking phone while standing at a cash register. Ever again. For the rest of your life. Ever.

4. Asking for a manager doesn't mean you will become less aggravated
I want to give you every option possible if there is something at Shirt Folding Store that is making you unhappy. But when I have run out of options and you ask to speak to a manager, only know that things have the possibility of getting worse. I used to have a manager who looked like a sixteen-year-old on a good day and was the equivalent of talking to a twelve- year-old. Meaning he was a twenty-something college dude who really didn't care about anything unless it involved Star Wars or women, or both. So when a customer decided they didn't like my answer to a question and asked to see a manager, I was more than happy to call on my disinterested superior.

Why? Because he would, nine times out of ten, tell said customer the same thing I had just told them, but in a way more annoying, disinterested and offensive way. There you go: Problem unsolved.

3. I don't make the clothes, I don't make up the prices and I don't decide what gets sold. I'm just a plain old salesperson
I wish I did have control over all of that stuff. But I'm not CEO of Shirt Folding Store, so I don't know why we charge $49.95 for a cotton sweater. I don't know why we don't carry petite sizes. And I wasn't the one who decided Shirt Folding Store should stop making your favorite turtleneck.

If I had that kind of power, I would halt production of all turtlenecks as soon as possible. Because turtlenecks look dumb on everyone. No one wears turtlenecks except the secretary at your middle school alma mater. That is a factual statement.

2. Do not lie to me
By this I mean don't come into Shirt Folding Store with a shirt to return and tell me it has never been worn or washed. I can smell cheap detergent from a mile away. I can see dandruff on a collar and pit stains under arms. I'm like the mother-effing CSI of retail, and telling me a little fib about the item you have decided you don't like or want anymore isn't going to get you anywhere. Unless the item is defective, the point of any store taking an item back is so that the store can then place the merchandise into inventory and it can be resold.

What I'm saying is, if the elastic in the underwear you purchased from Shirt Folding Store stretched five sizes after one wash, just tell me that's what happened. I won't judge you for returning dirty underwear. But I will seal them in a biohazard bag and burn them in our daily trash-fire ceremony. Okay, only part of that is true.

1.The customer is not always right. In short, don't be an asshole
So you had a bad day. I am all about empathizing with you about the bad day. We are both human. But if you come in to Shirt Folding Store and we are out your favorite jeans in your size, don't lose your shit. Life will go on. And chances are, if you express your frustration in some way other than telling me I'm a bitch and a moron for not carrying more of what you drove all the way down here from the weird mountain town you have decided to make your residence to buy, I will help you. I will go to the ends of the earth's malls to find you what you want. Just level with me.

At the end of the day, you are just a person who wants to buy stuff, and I am just a salesperson at Shirt Folding Store who wants to sell it. I might also happen to be a salesperson who writes a column about you.

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11 comments
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Thomas Judd
Thomas Judd

I would like to meet you and give you the biggest and most epic high five you've ever received.

RetailVeteran
RetailVeteran

My personal favorite are the ones who come in only to ask where the bathroom is or where a different store is. My own horror story...Shopper: where's the closest restroom?Me: There's one on this floor in Department store that you can see from here and there's one downstairs in the food court.Shopper: Well which ones closer?Me: They're about the same.Shopper: *turns away to waiting husband where she thinks she is out of earshot*Shoppers Husband: Well?Shopper: She says there are two.Shoppers Husband: Well, which ones closer?And the crowning glory....Shopper: Well, I don't know she can't seem to figure that out!

Yeah, it really happened!

Sharethepain
Sharethepain

Nicely said.  Having worked in retail myself, it's simply amazing what people want or think their entitled to.  Therefore, when I go shopping, I'm always courteous to the salesperson because I know what they're going through.  Hang in there.  

Lily
Lily

And don't talk to me when I'm counting my drawer. Jeez!

Michael Trundle
Michael Trundle

Simply brilliant.  I always adored being treated like an idiot by spoiled wives with their hubby's credit card - literally, some would come in with a credit card in their husband's name and not understand why I couldn't use it as payment for their item - while I was finishing my Master's degree.  Some of these people couldn't string together 4 words without committing a grave grammatical error but assumed that because I was behind a cash register that I must be missing three-quarters of what must have been already a sub-par brain.  

But there were always those customers who made up for them, like the elderly gentlemen who used to come in to just browse and chat.  While in England, he found and bought me a first-printing of a book I had long been seeking.  That guy made up for at least 1000 idiots.

The Jennster
The Jennster

You are right: cats are perfect beings.

And a former mall alum myself, I would also like to point out that if you drop off your tweens/teens at the mall entrance at 9 a.m. with $100 (or more) and leave them at the mall all day long until you pick them up again at 5 p.m. then you have essentially and realistically absconded your right to blame the store clerks for what your child did/bought throughout the day. Most teens/tweens, when unsupervised, behave in the foulest of manners, and purchase things like pot leaf-shaped ashtrays.

This is not our faults. Store clerks are not usually paid enough for what they normally do, and certainly are not offered a differential for babysitting your rude, untamed little sperm-blossoms. Please understand this.

Abbe K
Abbe K

Thanks Bree. Also, just because you think your kid is adorable when they are tearing apart the store, that doesn't mean I do. 

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