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As the air grows crisp and the candy aisle colors change from orange and black to red and green, I’m not reminded of memories of holidays past. Instead, I think of the approximately 80 million hours I’ve spent working as a part-time sales person at various retail stores, many times as seasonal, holiday help.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve been the woman everyone loves to hate, folding blouses, tapping at cash registers and guarding the fitting room at what feels like nearly every chain store: Banana Republic to Target, The Children’s Place to Ann Taylor, Nine West to Gap. Working in cities from Texas to New York, I’ve dealt with every type of customer, a bazillion times.
What has emerged, besides the ability to effortlessly quarter-fold sweaters, is a keen sense of what actually constitutes good manners while shopping. You probably don't have them. You think you do. Everyone thinks that they do. They don't and you don't. You're rude and annoying and you probably don’t even know it.
While brat-like behavior is the norm on any day of the year, something about the months of November and December turn ordinary shopping centers into Calcutta-like bazaars. Price haggling, merchandise throwing and temper tantrums abound, all of which are extraordinarily annoying to sales associates (i.e. those harassed young people behind the cash register).
And while the great majority of you probably don’t care about their feelings, that expired coupon that you'd like to slide through or that return you'd like to make without a receipt probably care a great deal about not pissing these people off. Believe it or not, rules are made to be bent for customers we like, and roguishly inflexible for customers we don’t.
Do these do's and avoid these don'ts to make sure you don't become the dickish Black Friday customer every sales associate avoids.
Do realize that we’re all in this together. Yes, the store is a mess. Yes, the line is long. But yelling out, "This is a nightmare!" or "Where's the manager?!" isn't really going to help. You know how you decided to pop into Banana Republic after work today? So did hundreds of other people!
During the holiday season, or during peak times in general—hello, it’s Black Friday—anticipate long lines and be patient. Lots of people made sure that the store was in pristine condition this morning; it was you and your ilk that messed it up in the first place. And if there really is a problem (a rude sales person is a problem; a long line is not), then wait your turn and ask if you can speak to the manager once you get to the register.
Do believe that reading is fundamental. Coupons, promotional emails, sale signs. Please read all of these. Read them carefully. Read the fine print. Read the name of the store that sent them to you, for god’s sake. (You wouldn’t believe how many people confidently pull out coupons and try to redeem them… except it’s the wrong store.) If the sales sign says, “50 PERCENT OFF select pants,” believe that it’s only on select -- read: few -- pairs of pants, not on jackets or jewelry or socks.
Read your coupons. Can they be combined with other coupons? Is it only on full-price merchandise? When does it expire? To make Black Friday jolly, read all of this before you try to redeem a bad coupon or argue about what’s on sale.
Do realize there are roles to this. I want to explain why you’ll see some people doing things other than ringing up your purchase. I’ve come to realize that customers expect every worker in the store to be at the cash register the moment that they decide they are ready to purchase. Of course, there should be (and normally is) always someone there, but there are other roles in the store that are just as important.
Remember when you walked in and some nice lady was folding clothes at a table and told you hello and asked if you knew about our sales today? She’s a greeter and it’s important for her to stay there. And, remember when you were looking through the racks and most things were in the right place and sized in ascending order? Someone is moving through the store doing what we call “recovering,” or making sure that you can find what you want, and the right sizes, if we have them.
Also, remember when you spent an hour in the fitting room, calling out for different sizes and throwing clothes around? That person who brought you items needs to stay in the fitting room, for all of the other customers who need her.
Busy times like Black Friday, it’s even more important that only a certain number of folks are at the register and that everyone else is meandering around the store, so, just because you decided, at this particular moment, that you were done and needed to purchase something, don’t throw dagger eyes at the women in the store doing other roles. (BTW, you were happy they weren’t at the register and available to help you 10 minutes ago.)
Don’t be a dick to the fitting room people. Just, don’t. Like, don’t. They are, pants-down, the most important people to you in the store. If they’re on their job, they’re making sure that clothes that people try on don’t linger in the fitting rooms or on the racks, but actually make it back to the floor so that you can find them.
They are making sure that people aren’t stealing, which on the grand scale, helps keep the price of clothes down. They’re getting different sizes for you and suggesting other things that you might like. They can tell you if something very, very similar to what you’re trying on can be found on the sale rack for a fraction of the price. They know the pant fits inside and out and are the world’s best hope to the perpetual “What jeans will actually look good on my insert-proportions-here body??” question. If you’re smart, you’ll be nice to them.
Do bring your fucking clothes out of the fitting room and hang them on the rack like a civilized human being. Speaking of being nice to fitting room people, can I please ask all of you what rationale you have for leaving a junky fitting room when there is a very nice silver rack where you can place all of your stuff when you’re done? Like, what goes through your mind when you bring in 40 items and leave them all in a heap on the floor?
My mama taught me to leave a place how I found it, but I get that not everyone cares about manners or politeness. Still, it just feels like taking a crap on our faces, seriously.
Don’t try any funny business at the register. Ahhh, the register, where it all goes down. Price overrides, coupons, credit applications, gift receipts and more. It’s Black Friday and you’re trying to get in and out like a bandit, right?
First of all, wrong, it’s Black Friday. Relax and stay awhile, because the line will be long. Second of all, do yourself a favor and have your ducks in a row. Realize that reading is fundamental (see above). Take the hangers off of the clothes. Figure out what you want and don’t want before it’s your turn. Whip out your iPhone and calculate the price after sale, don’t wait until you get to the register and try to price-check everything before deciding you don’t want most of it because it wasn’t the price you thought it would be.
(Pro tip: Multiply the regular price by the percentage that you will have to pay to get the sale price before taxes. Like, if a $49.99 shirt is 30 percent off, you’ll be paying 70 percent, so do 49.99 X .7 and you get $34.99.)
Don’t see us as the enemy. Last, but not least, we really do like helping (most of) you. I hate the perception of retail people as lazy chatty Cathys who are more concerned with talking to their friends than doing their job. I’ve certainly encountered those types, but the overwhelming majority of retail women that I’ve worked with and been a customer of were nice, smart, hard-working and took pride in their jobs.
Be a good customer and generally, you'll get a good experience.