It was over two years ago that I got my first job. It was just a temporary Christmas thing to get some money in my pocket for the first year of college and to gain some experience of the real world. The name of the company was something along lines of We ‘R’ Toys…my memory escapes me at times. Anyway, as I said, this was two years ago and I still remember nearly every hour of the three months I was there for, and would like to impart some knowledge and insight; whether for the passing reader or for someone about to start a job in retail.
1. Make notes and don’t lose them. Ever.
Big companies like We ‘R’ Toys often boast huge buildings with miles of shopping space and thousands of products to choose from. This is great for the customer, as they have seemingly endless choice of what to buy, but for a rookie employee like I was, these vast oceans of aisles become extremely daunting, mainly because you’re expected by customers who don’t know otherwise that you have an innate knowledge of where everything is placed. On top of this, retailers are usually led by experienced business men/women who know exactly how to achieve maximum profit, and so you are expected to know the basics of the shop within the first two weeks at most. Our brains can’t hold all of this information in for long so don’t be afraid to bring a notepad and pen to jot the important details down – it’ll make you look more motivated as well. I realised that openly admitting to the customers that it’s your first day or week is received much better than I expected with a lot of people – customers know that you’re only human, well most of them anyway. So whether it’s about insurance policies, extended warranties, or special offers, write it down, you never know when you’re going to be asked.
2. The best escape is the easiest one.
This relates to the previous point of not knowing where everything is when you first start off, but I still used it weeks into my time there; and that’s the fact that customers are looking to be in and out of the shop as soon as possible, and so will follow any help they are led towards. If you’re approached by someone asking you where the Gold-plated Iron Man Helmet is and your mind is drawing blanks, don’t panic. Just start looking around the shop as if you’re trying to the locate the item requested, but instead be on the lookout for a fellow employee, and once you spot them just point the unknowing customer into the grasp of the unknowing colleague and be on your merry way back to what you were doing. I worked around the games section, and so had to do this a lot for people asking me about baby products. It’s also extremely fun to direct every single customer to a colleague you don’t like or to a workmate who has just as much knowledge as you do. Like playing Pong with customers and employees.
I understand that the fuel of society is, and has been for hundreds of years, is money. We need money to buy things, to live, to indulge. And the one goal of businesses is to maximise the amount of money in the most efficient possible so that the big guys can buy more things, live better, and indulge more. But I honestly haven’t seen a more money hungry system than one practiced in retail stores. Each and every inch of the building is strategically placed for people to buy more. Things are placed at certain heights to catch your eye more, and you can’t walk two feet without crossing paths with something that was designed to make you give your pennies and pounds to them.
I know it’s not a crime to do this, and that it is in fact the best way to run a business, but once you’re made aware of it, the human side of the shopping experience is gone. You no longer see your friendly toy store as an establishment that exists purely to create and spread joy by selling your favourite toys, you see only how their ‘deals’ and ‘offers’ and ‘seasonal exclusives’ are simply another cog in the never ending gears of money making. Where goes the magic?
4. For the love of God, please put your trolleys away. Don’t just leave them.
The problem with the bigger supermarkets is that they often hold hundreds of trolleys. People leaving their trolleys by their car or anywhere that wasn’t the trolley holding bay was the bane of my life back then. One moment I was idly wandering around my beloved games aisle, making it all pretty and presentable for my loving customers, and the next I was sauntering out in the biting cold with a gargantuan high-visibility jacket whilst I struggled to direct three trolleys in front of me back to where they came from. I had to face narrowly avoiding nearby cars, both upcoming and parked, on top of dealing with the third of the defective trolleys which for some reason had a wonky wheel, prompting them to disobey any direction I pushed them in.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, the managers would always notice that I took far too long sorting those stupid metal creatures out because I was only ever strong enough to push three at a time. Any more than that, and I’d lose what little control I had over them. To this, they’d summon their Grade A employees to quicken the process by carrying DOZENS of trolleys back to the bays. To this day, I don’t know where one learns that sort of skill, but I imagine there to be some form of online class I could take if I was ever faced with that task again. Or you lovely customers could take two minutes out of your day to make the life of future Matthew easier. Just put them back.