Since I’m having all this time to reflect on my past jobs (well not really – I’ve been pretty busy with my portfolio tbf), how could I not share my experience of working in retail?
Not to give you a complete rundown of my resumé, but perhaps a little background story might be in order here:
I’ve had a student job in retail ever since I started uni. My first job was with a clothing brand. It wasn’t really my kind of style but the people I worked with were pretty chill so I worked there for a couple of years. Later on, I worked at an Iittala outlet store (you might have noticed from my pictures I’ve been a big fan ever since) but quit when I started my masters degree.
So when I graduated, I said goodbye to retail and got my first ever ~office job~ at an architecture firm. In most firms, you never get to actually meet the clients, the head of the firm usually handles all meetings with them – and the office I worked for was no exeption.
It wasn’t until my second job at a designer furniture store, I realized how much I valued customer relations. Jup, this girl went back to retail – sort of. It was with this jobs that ‘customers’ became clients. I worked autonomous, meaning I designed for my own clients and got to close deals myself. People rarely just popped into our store, picked what they liked and immediatly ordered a complete new interior. I would usually put in a lot of time incomposing a complete design: make sure the floorplan would make sense, suggest furniture that would fit their lifestyle needs (and budget) and pick the right fabrics and materials.
All in all, I worked in retail or service related jobs for about 6 years. So you pick up on a thing or two. I honestly think everyone should work in a retail job at least once in their life. Not as a ‘punishment’, but because you learn and gain so much from it. I would even go as far to say I’ve learned many life lessons from it, and it definitely shaped me as a person.
I was just about to turn 19 when I started my first retail gig, and I had barely any people skills. I mean, I was polite to other people (I least I
think hope I was) but had no clue how to keep a conversation going. Over the years, I’ve learned how to interact with people, know what questions to ask and how to keep a customer engaged.
To be brutally honest, I’m not always really interested in your whole life story – but I will listen to it anyway. Because the main goal is that you to feel good when you leave the store – so you feel good when you return. And if you’re a complete blabbermouth like me (and you’re comfortable with it), sharing something personal about yourself also bonds yourself to a returning customer. Building those longterm relationships with customers is what makes the job fun and fullfilling.
keep your cool
I used to be a very impatient person as a teen, and I still am sometimes to this day. But handling customers means you need to be patient with them and keep your composure at all times. Yes, even with that lady with the fur coat (gross!) who bosses you around and makes you feel like you’re a puppet in her servant-customer power game. Some of these people will even call the manager on you if they’re not made to feel important enough.
It’s this service mentality that can really piss me off. Just because you’re holding the money doesn’t make you right. Remind yourself that working in retail is not about being right, it’s about handling the situation, whatever that may be, correctly. Even if that means having a little cry in the car on your way home – or having a little rage about it to one of your co-workers. Vent, sleep, work, repeat.
People can be rude as fuck. Say you enter a store and you get greeted with ‘Hello, good afternoon’, topped with a friendly smile. Please don’t just ignore it. You don’t even have to say anything, just a polite knod or a smile back is plenty. Trust me, when it’s about to turn 6 in the afternoon and I’ve greeted and helped about 20+ people, I also just want to go home and massage my cheeks from fake smiling all day. But I say hello and smile anyway. Because it’s my job, and I have to. So it would be a *delight* if you would just at least acknowledge my presence instead of blankly ignoring me.
Oh, what’s that? Now you need me to go check in the back for your size? And you didn’t go ‘excuse me, can you please -‘, but decided to snap your fingers at me (true story)? You better believe I’m going to take my sweet ass time now, honey.
And while we’re at it, just a little side note for when you go clothes shopping (especially when a sale is on!): just because you like to live like a pig at home, doesn’t mean you get to throw around clothes in store.
Ok, that was all. You see, venting works. I feel better already.
Confidence is key. Almost all retail, sales and service jobs require you to be vocal, problem solving and constantly checking up on your customers. I really had to teach myself this and it was a hard lesson to learn. I remember on my first job I had to hand out flyers at the door and I absolutely hated it. I felt so stupid – just because I was too introverted and I didn’t even like to be around people in the first place and can I just go home please I don’t want to be here.
The thing is, once I started to act like I was confident, I became confident. Fake it ’til you make it. Ofcourse you’re going to feel insecure and a bit awkward at a new job, but once you’ve settled in and know what you’re talking about, it’s confidence and boldness that’s going to save the day (and your ass, in the long run).
This also helped me a great deal at uni too, since I was giving frequent presentations and felt very awkward with public speaking at first. By the time I did my masters I just didn’t really care anymore and just went for it.
“a hummingbird of some kind”
Being on the shop floor means you need to be multitasking all the time. You’re ringing up one customer at the till, while keeping an eye on the shady lookin’ one in the back. Does anyone look like they need help? Is the shop looking neat and tidy? Is everything we have in stock actually on the shop floor as well? You also learn to adapt yourself to fast changing situations. One minute you’re restocking, the next you’re needed at the register or getting something for a customer.
I thought I had time management figured out when I left high school, but lol how wrong was I. Try juggling your social life, completing your bachelor’s degree AND working full two day weekends. I couldn’t actually. After two months I was so worn out my doctor ordered me to stay home from work for a couple of weeks. So yeah, know your limits. I’ve really learned to put myself first in these situations, even if that means I have to pass on social events (sorry friends, you know it’s nothing personal).
Also, if you don’t know the quote I used as a title for this little section, you need to go and watch some Simpsons right now.
My past jobs learned me some hard lessons about myself, but also about humanity in general. Working in retail really shows you the best and the worst of people. It can be the most rewarding and the most soul crushing job, if you let it. Sure, there have been times when I wanted to throw customers (and colleagues) through the window and wanted to quit right then and there, but I’m happy I never did and stuck with it. Writing this post made me realize how valuable these job experiences were and how I still benefit from them every day. Oh and for those working in retail, I think you can all agree that
comfortable shoes are everything
and yes, employee discount is bliss.