Tag Archives: Retail

Adventures in hiring: please, not the flip flops

Lately, one can find a number of thoughtful, helpful posts lately regarding the difficult job market, and how to navigate the maze that is finding gainful employment. This is not going to be one of those posts. You see, I’m one of those assholes known as a “hiring manager” (although that’s not my primary job), and folks, I have some stories for you.

For context, I’m responsible for staffing a retail/customer service-oriented workplace. The positions I’ve been hiring for are hourly, higher-than-minimum wage, and, while not particularly glamorous or prestigious, still fairly decent jobs when it comes to the retail industry. We had five open positions, and I had close to three hundred applicants total, over the course of about three weeks. I did a lot of resume scanning, a lot of interviewing, and a lot of shaking my head in disbelief.

Behold, my list of Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Tell Applicants, But Apparently I Really Should:

  • Don’t show up to fill out an application, let alone for an interview, wearing cutoff jean shorts, a low-cut ribbed cotton tank top, and flip flops. (Please, don’t get me started on the flip flops. Probably two thirds of all applicants I encountered were wearing flip flops. More than half wore them to a scheduled interview. Flip flops are now my sworn enemy, much to the dismay of my fifty zillion pairs of them THAT I WOULD NEVER WEAR WHILE I WAS TRYING TO GET A JOB OH MY GOD WITH THE FLIP FLOPS, PEOPLE.)
  • Don’t be rude to the person at the counter. In a retail environment, there’s a very good chance that person may be the manager. Make no mistake, no matter the industry, if you’re rude to the front line employees (receptionists, front desk staff, cashiers), your application will forever be branded with a Post-It note documenting your assholery.
  • “Why do you want to work for [company]?” “I need a job, and this seems pretty easy.” Wrong answer. At least try to lie to me?
  • Don’t tell me how overqualified you are. If I have your resume, I can tell. I make it a point to interview “overqualified” candidates if I think they’ll be a good fit, because I know how horrific the job market is right now. Telling me you’re too good to work here, but you’ll settle because you’re desperate, though, is just not a good idea.
  • Don’t apply to a company with which you have a history of being a bad customer. If you’ve berated, insulted, or abused the staff, why the heck would you want to work there? If your name is flagged as a frequent returner or a check bouncer, maybe you should move on to the next “Help Wanted” ad.
  • Don’t insult me. “Oh, I could never work in retail as, like, a career! God, that’s so depressing! Who would do that?” Me. That’s who.
  • Don’t spend the entire interview talking about your kids/dogs/spouse/herb garden/novel. If you can’t focus on the job for a twenty minute interview, I’m not confident you’ll be able to focus on it for an entire shift at a time.
  • Don’t send an email resume when the job posting says, “Apply in person only. Email and phone inquiries will not be considered.” I have to help customers during this whole process. I’m not in front of a computer, able to sift through ten zillion emailed resumes.
  • Don’t call and ask why you never got called for an interview after you emailed your resume.
  • Don’t: A) chew gum throughout the entire interview; and B) pop it intermittently to punctuate whatever you were saying.
  • FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY IN THE WORLD, FIND SOMETHING TO PUT ON YOUR FEET BESIDES FLIP FLOPS. I honestly would prefer someone walking in with live crocodiles strapped to their feet than flip flops. I’m not asking for $400 Ferragamo pumps. Payless loafers are fine. Ballet flats are fine. If it’s nine zillion degrees out, dressy sandals are fine. FLIP FLOPS ARE NEVER FINE. Ahem.

(This post also appeared at Persephone Magazine.)

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Hell is for retail employees: holiday edition

I’ve just realized that this month marks the beginning of my seventeenth consecutive holiday season working in retail or close-enough-to-retail-that-it’s-pretty-much-retail. So it’s time for a guide to the holiday season, told from the perspective of the poor drones on the other side of the counter.

-Yes, the stores set up their holiday merchandise earlier and earlier every year. Yes, it’s appalling. Yes, it’s annoying. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the employee you’re dealing with in the store has nothing to do with these decisions. Here’s what happens: an email or FedEx package comes from corporate, spelling out exactly what goes where and when. Schematics are given. Floor sets are scheduled. And the stores have to do it. They don’t have a choice. Even if every single employee in any given store decides that Christmas decorations shouldn’t go up until the day after Thanksgiving, they can’t do anything about it. So please, don’t bitch at the store-level employees about the decorations or the music or any of that. If you see a bunch of stodgy-looking people standing around in suits, looking intently at displays or cash register setups, holding official-looking papers and wearing shoes that are clearly not made for standing up for a nine-hour shift in, that’s most likely corporate. They love to invade stores during holiday. Bitch to them.

-If you shop between the day after Thanksgiving and December 24th, the stores will be crowded. You will have to wait in line. You may have trouble finding what you’re looking for. Just fucking accept that and plan accordingly. Everything will take twice as long as you think it should. Things will be sold out. You will  be inconvenienced in some way. Just fucking deal with it like a goddamned grownup.

-There will not be enough registers open. Let’s talk about the too-few register problem for a minute. Those people in suits and improbable shoes I mentioned before? They’re looking to maximize profit. They do that by cutting costs where they can. And where they can is always payroll. So there are four employees doing the job of ten employees. And those four employees have to fight to take their legally mandated breaks, and they get yelled at because the stores are understaffed, and they’re expected to make five zillion dollars in sales per hour with not enough cash registers and no one to spare to do floor recovery, which is retail-speak for cleaning up the unimaginable shitstorm that shoppers leave in their wake. Trust me, those four employees would love to have ten registers open. But the companies won’t pay for that, so they do the best they can.

-This one’s important, so please listen carefully. If you do all of your shopping on the morning of December 24th, you pretty much forfeit your right to bitch about anything. The stores will be cleaned out. The shelves will be bare. Nothing will be on sale anymore. The great deals are gone. What you see is what there is. Get a gift card and save everyone some aggravation. Some Christmas Eve shoppers are awesome. They’re laid back and funny and know they’re sneaking in at the last minute. If you’re going to be a Christmas Eve shopper, be one of that kind.

-Regarding holiday hours: the old saying, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” applies here. Places close early on holiday eves. They close on the holiday itself. Last year, I had to call the cops because a group, no, I’ll say a pack of men attempted to break down the door of my job because we closed at 1:00 on Christmas Eve afternoon, and these men had not yet purchased gift certificates for their wives. So clearly the most logical answer was to pound on single pane glass, screaming, “We know you’re in there!” to two reasonably concerned women. I should mention that our posted hours said that we closed at noon. We stayed open until 1:00, then decided it really was time to close up, an hour after we were supposed to. If the gate is down, and the door is closed and locked, your “But I know what I need” or “It’s only one little thing” or “I’ll just be a second” makes you an awful person. Call ahead. Find out the store’s hours. Be there before that. Because, and I speak from experience here, if we let one last minute shopper in for “just one thing,” the floodgates will never close. Plan better.

-Not being a total and complete dick is the nicest thing you can do for a retail employee during the holiday season that doesn’t involve bringing them chocolate. There are days that I would kill for one person just to be nice to me. For when I say, “Good morning!” to not be answered with, “Fifty dollar gift card.” Basic social niceties. Patience. “Please” and “thank you.” Maybe even a smile. These things cost you nothing extra.

-For those of you who like to get your panties twisted because I say, “Happy holidays” and not “Merry Christmas,” seriously, you can fuck right the hell off. I say that because I don’t know what you celebrate, if you even celebrate anything. Most of the time, I say things like, “Good luck with the rest of your shopping,” or “Drive safely out there; the roads are getting bad,” or sometimes even just “Have a good afternoon.” My not saying “Merry Christmas” is not a personal affront to you. It’s not a symptom of the war on Christmas. I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but I don’t angrily try to impose my religious beliefs on total strangers during a two-minute interaction. So take your hissed, “Merry Christmas” in response to my “Happy holidays” and shove it up your self-righteous, xenophobic ass. But if you nicely, with good intentions, say, “Merry Christmas” to me, not knowing that I don’t celebrate it, I will always respond with a sincere “Thanks! You too!” Because I’m not a total asshole, and you’re just being nice.

-This one will come up approximately a dozen times a day for the next six weeks or so. You cannot use someone else’s credit card. I don’t care if it’s your husband’s. I don’t care if it’s your mom’s. I don’t care if you have a note. None of those things are legal, and none of them are allowable under your cardholder agreement or our merchant agreement. I don’t know if your husband just left you and you stole his cards and are charging up a storm before he finds out. If it doesn’t have your name on it, you can’t use it. Your husband or mom or whoever can call their credit card company and get a card sent out with your name on it. For free. And you can then use that card. It’s really fucking simple. And while I’m at it, see on the back of your card where it says, “Not valid unless signed”? Yeah, fucking sign your card. Leaving it blank is not a deterrent to theft, and does not automatically mean stores will ask for your ID. It means your card is NOT VALID and that if someone does steal it, they can just sign your name in their handwriting and no one will ever question them. And “See ID” is not a valid signature, but whatever, I check signatures LIKE I AM REQUIRED TO, and if your card says “See ID” and I ask for your ID, fucking have it ready to show me. And don’t get shitty because I asked for it. You’re the one who made up your own little “See ID” rule, not me. Easiest way to avoid all of this? Sign your fucking credit cards.

-For those of you who are good-natured, patient, joyful shoppers: welcome to the holiday season. I hope you find all the bargains you’re looking for and that your season is filled with family and friends and good food and cheer. For those of you who are miserable assholes who take your aggravation with life out on retail employees: online shopping is awesome. You should try it. Alone. In your house. Don’t inflict your misery on the rest of us.

Why the grocery store is the fifth level of Hell

  • The aisles are barely wide enough for two carts to pass each other, often leading to an awkward dance of back up, pivot slightly, push forward, hit something, back up again, lather, rinse, repeat. I realize that narrower aisles mean more real estate for consumer goods, but the aisle situation is just annoying.
  • People who leave their shopping carts randomly strewn about the parking lot. The corral is RIGHT THERE, and I bet if it were your car getting battered by a runaway cart, you’d be pretty pissed. Lazy douchebags.
  • Those goddamned kiddie shopping carts that are shaped like cars and are twice as wide as regular shopping carts. There’s no possible way to share an aisle with one of those things without being assaulted by it in some way.
  • People who use shopping carts as weapons are fucking assholes. A polite “Excuse me” works just as well as ramming your cart into the back of someone’s legs.
  • OH MY GOD IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THE SELF-CHECKOUT, PLEASE GO TO A LANE WITH AN ACTUAL HUMAN CASHIER. The process of ringing up a basket of ten items or fewer should not take more than three minutes or so. If you can’t quite grasp what to do when the robot voice tells you to “move your red onion to the belt,” then please just realize that the self-checkout is not meant for you.
  • People who let their kids run wild. I hate it everywhere, but twice as much in the grocery store. Leash the kid to the cart if you have to. Hell, use one of those monstrous abomination kiddie carts. Just keep them out of my way and not throwing shit from the shelves onto the floor.
  • This may only apply to those of us who live in college towns: the gaggles of carbon-copy sororiwhores, decked out in their finest pajama pants and flip-flops, walking three wide, blocking the entire aisle, comparing the calorie counts on Diet Mega Pepsi Maxxx Zero and Coke Cancer.  Their carts always contain: a case of bottled water, lots of diet soda, and six thousand kinds of yogurt.
  • Just once, I would like to walk out of the grocery store without being pestered to donate to this or that, sign some petition, or buy some overpriced useless crap to send the local school club to whatever place they’re going this year. (And, frankly, parents? Pay for that shit yourself. Not my fucking problem.) The donation thing bothers me the most because I do donate to things. I have a budget for it and everything. I don’t do it with coins, though, and I don’t do it outside of the grocery store. Don’t try to make me feel like a bad person for walking by you. I generally only have my driver’s license and debit card on me to begin with, and you don’t have any clue what I gave to the animal shelter this month, so back off, please.
  • The combination of fluorescent lights, perplexing Muzak choices, too many people who are always too loud and too close, the inability to find the one item you were looking for without backtracking halfway through the store, and the constant assault on every sense in every way imaginable is just a panic attack waiting to happen.
  • Grocery delivery services just aren’t for me. The selection of items never quite includes what I’m looking for, I like to pick out my own produce, and I generally “meal plan” around whatever ingredient looks interesting as I’m wandering the aisles. I’m sure, given time, grocery delivery will be perfected, and I’ll use the hell out of it then, but until that day, I need to actually get my ass to the store itself.

I’m one of those people who is thrilled about the gradual shift to an all-automated grocery shopping experience. Yes, as someone who works in retail, I do worry for the jobs being replaced by deli kiosks, self-checkouts, and those magical scan-as-you-shop guns, but frankly, grocery stores even before these things were invented were always wildly understaffed, so I think that they aren’t so much replacing jobs as supplementing them. I love placing my deli order by touch screen, then coming back for it later. I love scanning each item before it goes in the cart so I can see a running tally of how much I’ve spent. I love breezing through the self-checkout with a swipe of the debit card and being on my merry way. It’s all so civilized. You know, except for the other people.

I hate your voicemail

You probably have no idea how annoying your outgoing voicemail greeting is. Or you do, and just don’t give a fuck. Either way, I can pretty much guarantee that, from the perspective of someone who makes often hundreds of phone calls a day, your voicemail is just awful. And here’s why:

  • You have a “ringback.” When someone calls your cell phone, an automated voice tells them to “Please enjoy the music while [their] party is being reached.” Then music of your choice is played in their ear. Here’s the thing: no matter what you’ve chosen, it sucks. It’s a shitty song, played on a shitty half-a-chorus loop, and it makes me want to blow my damn brains out.
  • Your outgoing message is forty minutes long. Listen, it’s voicemail. Everyone knows how it fucking works. “This is [name], please leave a message” is perfectly adequate. As opposed to this: “Hello,  you’ve reached the Jones family, and this is our answering machine! We’re too busy to take your call, or we don’t want to talk to you! {chuckles} If you’d like to leave a message for John, Joan, Jack, Jenny, or Spot, please leave your name, phone number, time you called, and message, and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible. If you are a telemarketer or are trying to sell us anything, please remove this number from your dialing list and never call again, or we will seek action under the Federal Do Not Call List. For everyone else, we’ll call you back! Have a nice day! Bye!” So. Fucking. Unnecessary. For fuck’s sake.
  • You let your barely verbal child leave the message. “Burble burble mehmeh ggllllggguh BAH BAH BAH BAH Jones fammy weev meffige BYYYYYYEEEE.” This is cute to no one but you. I promise you that.
  • Your voicemail doesn’t pick up until ten rings in. OH MY GOD DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG THAT IS WHEN I HAVE TO MAKE FOUR THOUSAND MILLION PHONE CALLS?
  • Each person in the family shouts their name into the phone, in succession. Too many voices. Too much volume. Let’s just keep the shouting to a minimum all around; can we do that, please?
  • This one is not your fault, but it’s still unbearably annoying. This one is entirely on the cell phone providers. The neverending menu of choices after your outgoing message has ended is just ridiculous. No one ever presses 5 to leave a callback number. No one ever sends a numeric page. No one ever needs to do anything except leave a message, so just cut the shit, cellphone companies, all right?

Now, I think it’s only fair that I tell you what a good voicemail greeting is. As far as I’m concerned, you have two choices, really:

  1. The aforementioned, “This is [name], please leave a message.” Short, straightforward, and to the point. Simplicity is key here.
  2. The robot voice. I love the robot voice. We’re close friends. The robot voice tells me your phone number, and tells me you’re unavailable, then lets me do my thing. The robot voice doesn’t think it’s funny or clever. The robot voice doesn’t try to impress me. It’s simple, direct, and easy to understand. It doesn’t waste my time. We should all aspire to be more like the robot voice.

Retail employees are not lesser life forms

In the course of a day, how many people do you interact with whose job it is to provide you with some kind of service? The checker at the supermarket, the front desk staff at your dentist’s office, the salesperson at the store where you buy your jeans, the waitstaff at the restaurant… the list goes on and on. That’s a lot of people. I’m one of them.

Over the many, many years that I’ve been in one form of customer service or another, I’ve put up with a lot. A lot of abuse, a lot of corporate nonsense, a lot of workplace drama, and a lot of bullshit. I’m offering up a small list of things to keep in mind when dealing with the people on the other side of the counter, and I’m going to try to keep the swearing and rage under control, because I think those things undermine my point in this case:

  1. We are people. We have feelings, and thoughts, and all sorts of stuff like that. It would be great if you could deal with us like we’re people, not really lifelike-looking cash registers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to be best friends, but social niceties are always appreciated.
  2. It is so rude to approach someone when you’re on your cell phone. This especially applies to interactions where participation is required by both the customer and the employee. Checking in for your appointment? Get off the phone. Placing your deli order? Get off the phone. I get a lot of customers who are on the phone with me and simultaneously placing their coffee order at the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s, like, multi-layered rudeness.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about our intelligence or education. Seriously. More than half of the people I’ve worked with in customer service jobs have college degrees. The job market sucks. You do what you have to.
  4. The customer is not always right. Sometimes, the customer wants something that is really unreasonable or flat-out impossible. If you’re trying to resolve a problem, make sure you’re being realistic about what the situation actually is, and what the possible outcome could be. Demanding the world generally only results in disappointment for you and frustration for us.
  5. Be polite. This shouldn’t have to be spelled out like this, but trust me, it does. This applies times ten million if you have a complaint. An employee will (or should) always do whatever they can to resolve your issue, but like I said in point #1, we’re people. We will be way more willing to do so much more for you if you are calm, reasonable, and polite. Confrontations aren’t necessary for a vast majority of customer service problems, but walking into the issue screaming and swearing and expecting the worst just starts the whole interaction badly. Assume good intentions on our part, and we’ll assume them on yours.
  6. Know what the person in front of you can and cannot control. For the most part, the person you’re dealing with has absolutely nothing to do with the prices, the product, or the policies. In fact, lots of times, those things frustrate employees as much as they do customers, because they cause unnecessary conflict at the personal level. If you have a complaint with one of those things, please address it to the corporate offices, general manager, or owner. Your complaint will be more effective that way, since the person hearing it can actually do something about it.
  7. Don’t throw or shove things at us. This applies to credit cards, money, empty food containers you want us to put in the trash, and, well, everything. Don’t throw things. You’re not four years old. It happens enough that I had to put it on the list. Enough said. Hand things to other people politely.
  8. If you’re happy with the service we’ve given you, tell us. Better yet, tell our bosses. We so often hear only the negative things that we start to doubt that there are any positives. It’s a little sad, but sometimes a kind word from a customer can totally turn the day around.
  9. If you go somewhere a lot, get to know the people who work there. Don’t do it with the expectation of getting something extra, although that’s certainly not outside of the realm of possibility, but do it because it’ll make both of us a little happier. Plus, if you get to know the people you regularly deal with, if a problem does happen to arise, the resolution will be so much smoother and easier. Not to mention, it’s just nice. I cut all my hair off last week, and tons of my regular customers noticed and told me they liked it. That just made for a bunch of awesome little moments in the middle of some tough days.
  10. Put yourselves in our place for a moment. If you’ve never had to work a customer service job, that’s great. But most people have, and they seem to forget pretty quickly how awful it can be sometimes. I always try to be a good customer, and you know what? I get great service.