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What I've Learned From Working Retail

I started working retail for the first time in December of 2014 during my winter break after sophomore year of college. I'm going to be honest, I really didn't want to, but I had blown through a majority of my savings from the summer and I needed some extra money to see me through spring semester so I could, you know, pay for things like gas and groceries and basic life necessities. So, somewhat reluctantly, I took a temporary holiday job at a luggage store (shoutout to Samsonite, you proved me wrong) that lasted for about a month. I ended up being hired back again when I was home over the summer between sophomore and junior year of college. I worked that job the same time I babysat and let me tell you, that schedule was horrendous. I'd babysit all day, some days eight in the morning to five in the evening and then I'd practically speed my tail off so I could get to work by 5:30 for my shift at the mall. I'd be there until 9:30ish, depending on how long closing took. There was zero time for dinner, no time for anything, really, because by the time I'd get home I'd be exhausted and would just want to sleep.

At around the same time, I started talking to one of my current bosses about potentially working for her as well. I ended up getting hired on in February of 2015, only a few months after I first got my retail job. And now, at least for the next week and a half, I have my third retail job, which I got in the September of 2015. I don't have the most retail experience in the entire world, but I'd like to think that my time in the customer service game has taught me more than I ever thought that it would.

First thing, I've learned how to work weird hours. I mean, I'm lucky that my current job has normal business hours, from 10AM to 6PM. But when you work at a mall, you could be working 2PM to 8PM, or my weird shift where I was part of the closing shift and went in before dinner time and got out close to ten. Imagine working at stores that need to change their layouts, which happens during off hours. I used to chat with the Forever21 employees across the way at the mall and they would talk about how they had to be there overnight to change the floor sets and all of that jazz. There's a lot of behind the scenes action on a retail job, one that customers don't see and might not understand unless they live it first hand.

Retail also taught me patience. Extreme, but necessary, patience. There are going to be people who just don't listen. A majority of the time, even if you explain it, people are going to get confused or just tune you out. The whole "can I speak to your manager" thing isn't just a funny internet meme. That sh!t happens and it's hands down one of the most frustrating things in the entire world. The answer is going to be the same, but nobody trusts you. I've found this especially frustrating given my age as well. Nobody wants to trust the 21-year-old worker who's going to give you the same answer that my manager or the boss is going to give.

You learn to take it with a grain of salt, eventually. It's really important not to let your work nuisances come home with you from work. I come home and complain about particularly rude people from time to time, but I tend to internalize those feelings because I don't want them to affect me and let them win, y'know? Instead, I just have really intense confrontations with them in my head in which I totally verbally school them. That's a satisfying feeling, let me tell you.

When you work retail, you see people from every walk of life. You're constantly surrounded by different personality types, even if your store has a stereotypical demographic. You meet doctors, lawyers, other retail workers, stay at home parents, students, every kind of person you could imagine. You meet introverts, extroverts, people who are shy, people who are honest and brash. You learn how to gauge people's moods, knowing when to come on strong (but not too strong) or when to give them their space but offer your help. You learn how to handle people who have strong opinions and how to nudge people in the right direction.

I feel like the most important bit I've learned from retail though is how grateful people are when you treat them with kindness. I'm not boasting that I'm the best retail worker in the entire world. Far from it, really. But it's really amazing how much customers appreciate when you know their names, the type of clothing or brands that they like, how their vacation went, whatever it may be. I don't think there's anything wrong with a personal connection with customers. Establishing a professional relationship with regular customers in the store is one of my favorite parts of the job! And let me tell you, it's really, really nice when it's reciprocated. I have a customer who, on a few occasions, asks the countdown to my departure from Cleveland. I have customers who ask about my weekends home when I mention them or about classes (when I was still in school). Little personal touches like that added to the conversation that goes both ways just makes for a happy work place.

I don't know if I'm going to work retail again after my last day on the 13th of this month, but you can never say never. Even if I don't, I know that every life aspect is going to have some aspect of customer service attached to it, whether it's communicating with people, working with a team of people, whatever it may be.


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