What it’s REALLY like to work in retail…

There are many different reasons why people might be working in retail. Some are putting themselves through school, others have no choice; needing the money as a source of income to support themselves and families. 

People like to think, sometimes even say to your face, “whats so hard about working in retail, Its so easy, anybody could do that” etc. What they dont know is what working in retail is really like, the horror stories people could tell you and how workers can be treated.

The customer is always right

This is the most dreaded line to be heard by retail workers. While I personally have not heard it that often, it is the most used line in the retail industry. Usually used by customers who are not right but trying to bully their way into ether a free item, a refund not entitled to or other unreasonable requests. 

The worker is responsible for everything/anything

It seems to be the assumption that workers in retail can control everything around them, policies and prices are their doing, nothing to do with corporate decisions at all.So when something is not right in the customers eyes, it is all the workers fault. I can’t even count the number of times I have been screamed at over the stupidest things. Things  like something ringing up 5 or 10 cents more then what the customer thought it was or the customer not reading the sign properly and demanding that price even though it was a different product. But of course I must have done something to the computer to “wrong” the customer-because I control it all, right?

The jokes are not funny

Oh the jokes, first and foremost, the classic, “won’t scan, must be free, hahaha”- I  must have heard that one a thousand or more times. Other ones included ” working hard or hardly working?” “you look bored (when there was a line up that I had non stop for 2 hours)” and many more. Of course, being in customer service, you politely laugh or smile while, silently cursing them or gritting your teeth. 


The dark side of retail

Usually, when dealing with a upset customer, the worst you will get is the “I’m never shopping here again!” line or a bad review threat on Yelp. However, over the last few years, reports of customers turning violent (verbally or physically), is on the rise. Stories such as, a man drove his car into a gas station building, severely injuring two workers by pining them under the truck and then getting out of his vehicle and punching another female worker in the face. The reason for this? He had trouble using a pre pay machine and believed the gas station was trying to rob him. He has recently been sentenced to 6 years in prison. 

The retail stigma

As I mentioned before, there are many different reasons why people are working in retail. That doesn’t stop people from making judgments or assuming things about retail workers. Mainly that we are all high school drop outs, or are too stupid to be or do anything else. We get treated as if  we don’t matter, not real people. An example of this is  when they linger past closing time because of COURSE  we dont have anywhere else to be.

Now let me just clarify that I am not saying all customers are like this, I have encountered some great and friendly customers in the past. These are just some things that I have witnessed in my past and present working in retail. Of course I also know that not all workers are great either, I have been witness to that from the other side as well. 

Anyone else working in retail? What has your experience been like? Please comment below…


10 Things Working in Retail Teaches You About Life


Not Always Right




facebook-icon-previewFacebook promotional post: Want some insight on life in retail?



bujyaso9Twitter promotional post: What NOT to do as a customer #RetailLife #Fails



14 thoughts on “What it’s REALLY like to work in retail…

  1. Oh man, these hit the nail on the head! I used to work in customer service so not necessarily retail but all of these come in to play just the same. I remember when the coffee prices went up at my former job and people being completely nasty about it. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time working there part time so it just astounded me that these customers thought that at my age and lack of experience that they thought I had somehow single-handedly convinced Corporate to increase the prices just for fun.

    I truly believe that every person should work in customer service at some point. Not only does it teach you how to deal with unhappy clients/customers but it also makes you think before treating anyone else that way. Once you’ve been on the other side of the counter, it’s harder to then turn around and treat another retailer badly.

    • I totally agree with you in respect to how to act when you, are the customer. I try my best to treat all retail workers with kindness and respect when shopping. Even if there is a mistake made(one time the milk had gone bad with a tea at Tim Hortons), I will handle it in a calm manner and it will get fixed quickly and with no problems.

  2. I have so many stories to share, I really don’t know where to start. Maybe with the guy who was furious over the price of a container of hummus and berated our 16 year cashier to the point of tears until the customer behind him who had his young son with him, asked him to stop and was promptly choked by the angry hummus eater.

    Or perhaps the customer that complianed that the broccoli in the produce department didn’t look exactly like the broccoli on the front of the flyer and felt that we were deliberately misleading him with false advertising.

    We have a regular customer who comes in and refuses to use a female cashier to ring him through because he is convinced that all females are spies and we poison his pistachio ice cream.

    During the Jamie Oliver knife promotion, which a huge success/disaster for Sobeys, I had a customer threaten to stab me when he couldn’t get the paring knife to complete his set. He also had his young son with him at the time. I suggested he take the butcher knife instead since it is much better for stabbing. Well, maybe that wasn’t exactly how I worded it, but he eventualy accepted the other knife and left with no bloodshed.

    Retail gives you an opportinuity to experience every customer scenario you never imagined would ever happen and more. I’ll agree that there are wonderful friendships I’ve developed with customers over the years and had so many good experiences but just when you think you’ve met all manner of weirdness, you have a starving artist from New York claiming that a bulk bin fell on her head and now she needs compensation for her $800 designer glasses.

    • Oh wow, I thought I had some crazy stories but these are something else. speaking of compensation, just had a lady a couple days ago wanting reimbursement for a pedicure and gym fees because she tripped over something in the parking lot. She figured since she’s a customer the store should accommodate her… NOPE.

  3. I waited tables and tended bar for 15 years before I left the industry. I still believe that how you treat your server is a clear indication of who you are as a person. Great customers are generally great people. The same applies to the customer who complains for an hour without tipping and leaves their dirty tissues on the table for you to pick up. Thanks for the great read.

  4. So much yes! I worked in retail on and off for eleven years and boy did this post bring back memories! I found cashiers had it the worst at our store as they’re stuck in one spot and deal with nothing but customers. I was lucky enough to work on the floor so I had the freedom to go to the warehouse or a different area of the store to get a bit of a break. Also, if there was an angry customer, other floor staff could stand there with you so you’re not left hanging alone. The floor seemed to foster more of a community between the workers and that made all the difference. I definitely agree that most customers are kind but it’s the mean ones you really remember.

    As for the retail stigma, it’s really true. People look down on you because you probably make less money than they do and they somehow think their time is worth more than yours. They seem to think that net worth equals self worth. I think there’s also a generally accepted myth that people who make less money are somehow lazier than others. I found the exact opposite to be true. Most people in retail work really, really hard. It is a tough job and no one gives it the respect or credit it deserves – especially considering how often people use retail services. Overall, I enjoyed my time in retail and am glad for it – but you definitely nailed a lot of the problems people face in the industry!

  5. That is definitely true about the cashiers getting the brunt of it from customers, I was one myself at a previous job. It gets worse if you have to call a manager up as it tends to take a few minutes for them to arrive and then the customer is getting even more angry with you because they are waiting for that. And yes, retail is probably one of the hardest to work in. constantly on your feet, trying to get the lines through etc.

  6. Good morning Emily
    I can back you up on your comments on your blog. I wear a few different hats where I work from customer service, scheduling to appraisals of used items and antiques. There are 2 types of customers in my mind, the first being the customer you really want to come back and the second being you hope they never darken your door again. Looking at things though the customer eyes which at one time or another we do get companies that actually “suck’. We did a $30,000.00 kitchen reno and still cannot use our dishwasher, our kitchen sink does not drain along with they did not measure properly for the cabinets, KBC said that they would have their plumber do the new plumbing (one less thing we would have to worry about) we found out later he is not a certified plumber and he did a terrible job. It really makes me mad when companies do not provide a service that is up to standards or the written contract and expect to be paid. Companies that do not have high standards or good morals usually do not last long in a smaller community because of word of mouth spread quickly.

  7. That is what I think as well. There are a few customers who, as soon as I see them in line, am hoping that they dont end up at my cash as every time they are there cause issues. I also agree with the bad business as well, especially with the word of mouth thing. If a customer has a good experience they may tell 1 person but have a bad experience its alot more.

  8. I worked at Staples when i was in University – customer service desk. I’m nice and patient, but it didn’t do me any good. I once had a lady come to the desk requesting, very rudely, that I pay her the difference for what the shelf tag said and what the till rang her up as. No problem – shelf tags should be honoured. She expected me to apologize to her on behalf of the company for $0.20. Twenty cents. She stormed off after I simply stared back at her in disbelief. This was 20 years ago and it seems like people haven’t changed.

  9. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. Some people just have a entitlement complex and think everything revolves around them.

  10. Hi Emily,

    Your post brought back many memories of working in retail and customer service. I have many fond memories but there were of course incidents that relate to your blog. Customers can sometimes be very rude and demanding but you need to always handle them with a smile. When ever I shop I always fold the clothing and put in back neatly – I have had retail workers thank me.


  11. I do similar things when out shopping as well. If I see something that might help the workers, I will do so. I am still working in retail but I like to make myself a good customer because i know what the “bad” ones are like.

Leave a Reply to emilywhite83 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.