10 Valuable Lessons You Learn Working In Retail

by Erin Mayer

Like many recent grads, I wound up working in retail my first few months out of college. And I'm here to tell you: Being a sales associate is exactly as terrible as everyone says it is. Managers and customers are mean, you're on your feet all day, and chances are, selling clothes (or in my case, tea) is not your life's calling.

As it turns out, I have no business working in sales. I'm shy and aloof — and to top it off, I don't like talking to strangers. There were plenty of things I hated about the job: I hated following a deceptive sales model to pressure customers to spend more money; I hated standing outside sampling our product to strangers in the cold; I hated smiling all day when I was feeling anything but cheerful; I hated cleaning the employee bathroom. Was I delighted to turn in my apron (yes, we wore aprons and you can bet I hated those too) for good? Of course. But, ultimately, I'm actually glad that I worked in retail.

Because I will never forget these 10 invaluable lessons the job taught me:

Old men are shameless

On my first day at the sample cart, I innocently offered an elderly man a taste of our popular chai blend. He accepted, then spent about ten minutes telling me that his son was single and 40 years old, but "a really great guy." He gave me his son's address and said "I wouldn't do this for just anyone, but you're special." I never called.

...And so are little kids

Our most popular sample tea was a blueberry/pineapple blend that we served iced with copious amounts of sugar. Little kids would run inside, straight past the sales associates, and drink tiny sample cup after tiny sample cup. Spilling. It. All. Over. The. Floor. Once they'd had their sugar rush, they'd leave without so much as a thank you.

Sometimes, You Have to learn on the job

Especially when the training manual looks like this (and it will look like this):

Smiling through the pain is a necessary evil

The customer is always right. The manager is always right. You, it seems, are never right. Keep smiling!

...And Bad moods can be hidden

Sometimes you feel like this:

But it's usually best not to show it.

Oftentimes, you have to fake it till you make it at work. Retail is no exception. When you're in a bad mood, you still need to smile at the woman who wants to buy six pounds of oolong, but doesn't want to pay full price. I'm against hiding your emotions, but it can be a valuable skill to have in certain situations.

Salespeople deserve respect

No one likes to be hounded by salespeople the minute you walk into a store. But once you've worked in retail, you'll understand that they have no more interest in helping you than you have in being helped. Be nice to them. Another recession, and that could be you.

...But Salespeople also lie

Customer: "Is a cast iron teapot necessary? They're so expensive!"

Me: "Cast iron is so worth the price tag!"

You have to stand up for yourself

Customers would get angry about the price of the tea, the length of the line, the fact that we didn't sell plain rooibos, and about a million other things that were not my fault. When a customer was rude, I always — gently, of course — put them in their damn place.

Sometimes, the customer is just wrong

While "the customer is always right" is a nice adage, there will be moments when the customer is jsut plain wrong. Like when they try to shoplift six tea tumblers or attempt to purchase $500 worth of items with a stolen credit card.

Nothing lasts forever

Including your retail career (unless you want it to, that is). When the going gets tough, remember: this, too, shall pass.