There Are No Tears In Retail


Working in retail is not for the faint of heart. Seriously. One must brace oneself against heartbreak and disillusionment with society, and humanity at large. Thankfully, my coworkers are right there with me, ready to listen to the latest tales of incredulity. We all suffer abuse regularly, but we’re used to it. Tough, even. G’wan, do your worst. We’ll still smile, nod and even agree with you that yes, we might even be complete idiots…but not for the reasons you believe us to be.

How someone can suffer a complete mental breakdown because we only have three grey blackout curtains and not four, nor will we be getting any more in because they’re on clearance, is beyond me. Really? Is your world so small that the mere lack of one’s choice of curtains will derail your entire being?

The simple answer is, “yes.” Customers lose it for all sorts of reasons, but nothing will send them around the bend if Phipp’s is out of stock of a preferred item.

Just the other day, I received a proper dressing down from a woman who screamed at me because I refused to put her green plastic storage bins on hold “while she thought” about making a trip to Phipp’s to get them “by the late afternoon” (it was 8:30 am). Experience has taught the Phipp’s team that if she wanted those bins so bad, she’d come straight away, and while those bins sat in the way of everything, the woman wouldn’t show up.

Imagine a complete stranger, who knows nothing about you, or why you’re working at a particular store, or even anything about the merchandise he or she is planning to purchase, comes up to you, accuses you of the worst crimes of humanity, then swears to report you to the store manager and have your job taken from you. That sort of thing happens to me on a regular basis.

Here’s an example.

Last summer, a teenager, say around 13-14 years old, came up to me and asked me if we had any more “Jurassic Park” comforter sets in stock. She stammered with her words and it became apparent to me that she might’ve been developmentally disabled. Still, I didn’t treat her with any disrespect or condescendingly. That would be unprofessional and wrong. I replied that we only had a limited amount, and if there weren’t any, then we were out for good. Perhaps if she went on our website they might offer some there. She seemed satisfied and walked away.

Two seconds later, a very angry woman stormed over to me, shoulders erect, dark eyes narrowing their glance. “EXCUSE ME,” she spat (to which I thought, “I’ll certainly try”), BUT DO YOU HAVE ANY “‘JURASSIC PARK’ COMFORTER SETS IN STOCK?”

I knew instantly this was the woman’s mother, ready to defend her daughter and accuse me of something. Smiling and in my politest voice I answered, “I’m sorry, but it was a limited run, and if there’s none on the floor, we’re out. I don’t have any way of looking up if there are more in any of our other stores, but if you go up to customer service, they’ll look for you.”

Clearly, this wasn’t the answer the woman sought. Justice had to be served. My abilities as a sales floor associate were failing badly. “SO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU DON’T HAVE ANY? YOU AREN’T GOING TO LOOK IN THE BACK AND SEE?” Angry Woman demanded.

“We don’t have any. We’re out,” I said, calm and cool. By this time, other people were gazing at the scene unfolding there in the Domestics section. “But as I said, Customer Service would be glad to help you locate one at another store.”

Angry Woman wasn’t having it. Huffing and puffing, she declared, “WELL, I’LL JUST GO TO WAL-MART, THEN.” She said this with such vitriol, it was as if she hoped my soul would crumple into tiny bits and I’d lay whimpering on the floor, begging her, “Oh no, not WAL-MART! Not THEM! I’ll do anything – even sew a ‘Jurassic Park’ comforter with my own hands! Just don’t go to War-Mart…PLEEEZZZEEEE!!!”

But that wasn’t enough. Oh, no. Angry Woman’s victory wasn’t complete until she shouted to anyone who’d listen, “I’VE NEVER BEEN TREATED SO RUDELY BY ANYONE.” She continued on her way to complain to a manager, who politely listened, and offered the same advice I gave her: Customer Service would be happy to help her locate her desired comforter set at another store. We didn’t have any left.

Now, most sensible people would dismiss this woman as insanely overprotective. Or simply insane. Or I’d be so riled that I’d storm out of Phipp’s, quitting and never going back. Instead, I shrugged and continued to do my job, which on that day was stocking the shelves of themed comforters, everything from “Paw Patrol” to “Marvel Heroes.” Since I was restocking the shelves with the very items Angry Woman was hoping to buy, I was in a pretty good position to know what was in stock.

I can’t cry and get upset over people like her, or any customer that treats me so poorly. The truth is, I don’t care. If that’s what gives that particular customer satisfaction, so be it. They feel better for venting their spleen, ripping down a complete stranger in the hope that stranger will feel less about themselves. I don’t give them any satisfaction by showing any reaction whatsoever. Because the truth is, I’m at Phipp’s to do my job and go home. I do my job well, even if people like Angry Woman don’t think so. Everyone can’t be pleased, no matter how hard any sales associate tries.

But maybe Angry Woman should learn that not everything is available to her all the time and disappointment is inevitable on occasions, and, when it comes to her daughter, she’s not being disrespected. She’s being told the truth…a rare commodity these days.

And I’ll still be working at Phipp’s, doing my job with a smile, only caring about what I’m going to make for dinner at night and what’s going on during the weekend. After all, there’s no time for tears in retail. It’s not worth it.




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