Thursday, January 03, 2008

Why I Hated Working Retail

With the Christmas [shopping] season behind us, I will have very little need to set foot in a store for a while.In truth, I finish my Christmas shopping early - I'm always "wrapped" by early December. But, well, 'tis still  the season to think about retail workers.

Years ago, I was a seasonal retail worker - one year at Filene's, one year at Jordan Marsh - two Boston department stores that are, alas, no longer with us.

Perhaps because I was typecast as "brainy", perhaps because they didn't think I had enough style to sell clothing, in both Filene's and Jordan's, I worked at the pen and stationery counters.

There was little that I liked about working retail. Specifically, I hated:

  • The pay. It may have been a hair's breath over minimum wage, but whatever it was, it was appalling. I was not really "living" on what I made, but some people were. How, I'll never know.
  • The discount. Yes, I know, given the crappy pay, I should have loved the 20% discount. Unfortunately, the discount tempted me to buy stuff I didn't want or need. There went the crappy pay.
  • The boredom. Even though I worked the Christmas rush, there was plenty of downtime. You can only straighten up those boxes of notepaper so many times. And as the only person working my counter most of the time, there was no one to talk to. It was, of course, forbidden to pull out a book and start reading, but I did keep little scraps of paper around on which to write myself notes, come up with all the four letter words I could parse out of "Jordan Marsh and Company", and extract the square root of my Social Security Number.
  • The aching feet. I was young, but flatfooted. After standing around eight hours a day, my legs and feet just killed.
  • The shoplifters who got the best of me. One in particular asked to see an expensive fountain pen from the cabinet. When I turned to retrieve it, he made off with the expensive fountain pen I'd left in front of him. I called Security, and they were very impressed with how upset I was. They interpreted my upset as loyalty to Jordan's when, in fact, it was really my being pissed off that someone had pulled one over on me.
  • Tracking down supervisors. One place it was "White Flowers", the other it was "Blue Pens," but for every piddly little odd transaction - someone paying by check, a merchandise return, a cash register mis-ring - you had to find one of these supervisors to okay it.
  • Looking up bad credit card numbers. In those long-ago, pre-computer intensive days, there was no automatic way to find out if a credit card was stolen or just plain bad. The credit card companies issued weekly books that contained, in teensie-tiny print, the list of bad numbers. Every time there was a credit card transaction, you had to check the number out in a book. What a drag!

Did I like anything about my retail experience?

Yes, indeed.

I liked figuring out who the undercover security personnel were. After a day or so, it was pretty obvious, but it was still fun to watch them in action.

I liked when I caught someone in a change scam. No, you didn't give me a $20 and I'm not giving you back another $10. Go someplace else and try it.

Helping someone pick out a pen or stationery for his - it was usually a him - mother/wife/sister/teacher. My favorite customer, however, was one who didn't want any help. A couple of days before Christmas, a fellow came in and picked up a shopworn box of stationery. The pattern and color were nice, but the box itself was crushed and dirty.

"This is a bit shopworn," I told the fellow, "Would you like me to help you find something else?"

"Nah," he told me, "This is fine. It's just for my wife."

And a Jolly, Holly Christmas to you, too, mister!

The only other thing I liked was that one time I saw Jackie Onassis in Filene's. What she was doing shopping there was beyond me, as she was a bit above our demographic, but there she was, making a beeline out of the store - pursued by a bunch of shoppers calling "Jackie, Jackie, Jackie."

She was far more beautiful in person than I ever thought she was in pictures. I still remember what she had on: a camel hair pantsuit with a long jacket. She looked like a million bucks. And why not?

Jackie aside, I don't have a lot of fond memories of retail.

Everyone should work in a store at some point or other in their lives, but here's hoping that those days are behind me now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good gawd woman, i love you! so, so true, o sage o' retail! i have worked retail for more than 15 years, and just recently was fired from a job i held for nearly ten years--my fault, chronic tardiness. i'm now 45 and need a new career. it's never too late to start anew, and thankfully, i'm finding a lot of options here at monster. i want to read your book!