Nobody who reads Artist Cafe Utica would ever forget any of these things, and if you supplement your art career by working in retail, you know it all too well. I thought I’d write it out and post it anyway, just to let you know someone else understands….and to give you something to leave open on the computer screen, or print out and leave lying around, for those relatives who give retail workers a hard time.
As a former retail worker, here are a few things I think we would like shoppers to remember.
That cashier or floor associate has a life outside of the store you’re shopping in.
A retail employee should reasonably be expected to be aware of the layout and contents of their area, as long as things were not changed around before they got there today. For a cashier or greeter, that would be the front of the store. When the person is not on shift, they may have spouses or partners, kids, grand kids, hobbies, other jobs, a career, pets, relatives they care for…..and any number of other things that every other human being has in their lives outside of work. Just because someone is a cashier at your favorite discount store, that does not mean they remember those spatulas that cost $4.99 back in 2015. Something else just might have been going on in their lives at the time.
Most retail workers have very little power over the functioning of the store.
Customers often think floor associates can walk back into the stockroom and drag out any item they could possibly want. Cashiers are expected to be able to honor coupons, change prices, or reduce order totals with the wave of a hand. In reality, the cashier may be able to give up to a five dollar discount, depending on the policy of the store. They can’t adjust prices, coupon policy, or stock. The floor associates also must follow policy and procedure for what is placed on the shelves.
That retail worker might be smarter, better educated, or more accomplished that you are.
Some of the most dreaded customers are the ones who seem intent on putting retail workers in their place. I remember a woman pointedly telling her daughter that she was not going to work at Walmart, she was going to college. Other people would talk to me in near baby talk. One woman stood there while I rang up her purchase and gave me “advice” on how to bag groceries in a voice normally reserved for talking to small dogs.
During my time as a Walmart cashier and greeter, I held a B.A. in Theater and an M.A. in Creative Writing and Literature. I had worked for nine years as a freelance feature writer for radio and print. Another one of the greeters had retired after a decades long career in the gold mining industry. One of the cashiers was there on her summer job. In the fall, she would go back to teaching and earning her Ph.D.
I’m not sure if the other greeter needed the money or if he was just not suited for staying home all day. The teacher needed the money. So did I.
The person above them is probably going to take your complaint out on them.
You may think you’re telling off a major corporation when you go up to the customer service desk and demand the television you saw in an ad two weeks ago, or complain that the checkout line was slow, or the cashier put your bread on top of your cans of tomatoes when everybody knows bread should rest on top of the cans of fruit. You’re not. All you’re doing is getting someone who makes minimum wage in a thankless job yelled at one more time.
In most big box stores, they will get fired if they accept a gift or a tip.
This is one readers of Artist Cafe Utica might do. Retail workers are on their feet just as much as servers. They work for low pay. We get it that other customers and the people above them get away with treating them like dirt. A lot of us have been there ourselves. They deserve a tip, especially if they go out of their way for us. But most corporations have a strict policy against tipping and gifts, and all of their employees are being monitored. They may deserve that five or ten dollar bill you’re trying to give them, but they don’t deserve to lose their job when they’re seen taking it. If you really want to help, put in a good word with their supervisor, or get their name and post a compliment on the company’s Facebook page. Supervisors are sometimes a little nicer to those who bring the store good publicity. (If you are shopping at a privately owned store, ask about the tipping policy first.)