Opinion | 5 things you should know before working retail

By Mackenzie Oster, Staff Columnist

A recent study from Georgetown University revealed that more than 70% of college students have worked while attending school. With the number one most common job in America being a retail salesperson, it’s quite likely that you’ll find yourself in that position at some point or another. I can recall my first day on the job, when I eagerly dove into my new title as “sales associate” with no idea what would be in store for me down the line. So, before you find yourself in the midst of the retail world, here are five things that I wish I had known before working in the industry.

1. Clothes aren’t actually that fun to look at all day

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in retail, but you should be prepared for some pretty boring days of work. The usual day consists of folding and hanging clothes, along with cleaning and checking people out at the register. But in terms of the clothes, it’s likely that you’ll witness customers walk through and destroy all of the hanging and folding that you just did, only so that you can do it again. The cycle can be quite frustrating, until you learn to take a step back and accept the job for what it is, which is that you’re basically just a maid for the store. The majority of the job is just cleaning up after rowdy customers and recovering the store floor to look semi-put together at all times.

2. The sizes people need are almost always out of stock 

Customers are going to assume that every size they need is just waiting for retrieval in the stock room of the store, and then they’re going to be shocked when you break the news that the store is all out of their size. Then, you will have to offer to order it online for free shipping of course, and they’re going to nod their head with a disappointed look on their face and most likely leave the store.

More often than not, the stockroom was basically useless for retrieving other sizes of items that are sold out on the store floor. The stockroom in most larger retail companies is used for shipping out items that have been ordered online far more than it is used for backstocking extra sizes. Retailers typically try to keep all items and sizes out on the sales floor so the customer can easily find what they’re looking for and make a purchase without the hassle of asking an employee to check the back for another size or color. And if a customer does ask you to check the back, always say yes. It will let them know that you’ve at least tried, and it’s a good opportunity for you to take a break from the sales floor, even if it’s just for a minute.

3. Retail discounts are dangerous

It’s all fun and games until you realize that your whole paycheck was basically just returned to the company. Seriously, the employee discount is a treacherous gift. So before you let your discounts and excitement get the best of you, limit yourself to a certain amount of items that you can purchase per month and follow it. I promise that your future broke self will thank you.

4. Shoplifting occurs way more often than you’d think

I think that I still have the beeping noise of the store’s sensor alarm permanently embedded in the back of my eardrums. Shoplifters lurk in the corners of retail stores more often than I would have ever guessed before. And let me just warn you, they’re definitely not professionals. The majority of the shoplifters that populated the store I worked at were high schoolers and middle schoolers. The store sensors went off so often, yet people rarely actually got caught because of the no-chase policy that many retail stores implement.

The no-chase policy is implemented in certain states and makes it illegal to follow a person out of the store, even if the sensor goes off. This makes it very difficult to actually catch shoplifters because all they have to do is step out of the store and by the time mall security is called they’ll most likely be long gone. So always be on high alert for sketchy activity, and take note of their faces when you suspect possible shoplifting incidents. If they haven’t been caught yet, then it’s likely they’ll return at some point or another down the road, and if you can recognize certain features of the individual it’s going to make it a lot easier to catch them when they come back in.

5. When all else fails, just smile and nod

The customer service industry can be a real challenge and people can be quite irrational when it comes to material gain, so sometimes it’s definitely best to just bite your tongue and kill ’em with kindness. When a customer is unhappy and there’s absolutely nothing in your power to change that, just apologize and smile and nod. Take my word for it, it will be much more effective than repeating yourself a million times.