Don't Leave Your Tampon in the Dressing Room! And 9 Other Confessions and Advice From a Former Retail Worker

From the good to the bad to the tacky, this former retail worker spills all.
Publish date:
July 1, 2015
working retail, retail, confessions, Retail Industry

Every industry has its quirks, but retail is arguably the quirkiest. If you have ever worked retail, you know that for every great customer, there are 10 more needy nightmares just waiting to test your patience.

Having worked in retail for eight years, I certainly have my fair share of horror stories and even a few fond memories. From break room gossip to needy customers and folding mayhem, these are the pet peeves and little victories that all retail workers can relate to; these are the confessions of a former retail worker.

Dressing Room or Trash Can…Or Bathroom.

For some inexplicable reason, customers tend to treat dressing rooms like their personal trashcan. You would be surprised at what customers will leave behind in the dressing room. I’ve found everything from used tissues to dirty diapers.

I know one salesperson that found used feminine products in a hole in the dressing room wall. Another salesperson discovered that a customer turned their fitting room into a restroom. I will leave it at that.

“I’m sorry ma’am, I’m just following the rules.”

Customers are constantly trying to bend the rules. Whether they are trying to return an item past the return-by date, take too many items in a fitting room, or ask to use the bathroom clearly marked “Employees Only,” everyone thinks they are the exception. I even had a customer once tell me, “Rules were made to be broken.”

Remember: When you ask a retail employee to break the rule, you are putting their job at risk. They have to answer to their bosses who are there to enforce the rules of the company. And as someone who has been asked to do this time and time again, we hate asking our bosses to break a rule. Here’s a rule: Follow the rules.

We Know When You Steal

Behind customer service, theft prevention is every salesperson’s top priority. We are trained to look out for thieves, and we know what to look out for. When chronic theft occurs, most corporate stores will have a picture on file and issue an alert to nearby stores. Trust me, retail does not take theft lightly. You may think you’re sneaky, but take it from someone who has caught several people stealing: We see you.

Creases and Corners

Retail workers are expert folders. I mean, those perfect piles of tank tops and jeans don’t just fold themselves. While working at a high end retailer, managers would call the closers from the night before to scold them if the tables weren’t perfectly folded. However, if you look in any of our drawers at home, you will find a jumbled mess of fabric. We only fold when we are paid to fold. Sorry, mom.

Constant Straightening

While we may not fold clothes at home, we absent-mindedly straighten other stores while we shop. It’s an unconscious habit that we just can’t escape. I can’t tell you how many times I have caught myself, or have been caught, straightening a pile of shirts while out shopping. There is just something about messy piles that makes us salespeople itch.

Dreaded Finger Spacing

Oh finger spacing, how I hate thee. For those who have not worked in the retail industry, finger spacing is the process of perfectly spacing hangers based on the width of your fingers.

At most stores, this is done at the end of every shift. If you are one of those customers that comes in 10 minutes before closing, we will passively aggressively follow you around the store fixing every rack you touch. Don’t mess with the finger spacing.

“Those Customers”

You show me a salesperson that loves every one of their customers and I will show you a liar. Every retail worker has that one customer that makes them cringe when they walk through the door. “What makes a customer cringe-worthy?” you ask?

Exhibit A: the chronic returner. This customer buys an obscene amount of merchandise only to return it all the next day. They often demand cash back when they paid on a credit card. This is against the rules, and a huge pain.

Exhibit B: the indecisive shopper. This customer tries on everything in the store. Twice. They purchase nothing and rarely, if ever, hang anything up.

And my personal favorite, Exhibit C: the oblivious parent. This customer allows their children to wreak havoc on the store, destroying piles, climbing on mannequins and destroying displays. Nothing is worse than an unruly pack of children in a store.

I Can’t Guess Your Size

If I had a dollar for every time a customer didn’t know their own size, I could retire comfortably in Costa Rica. And I am only exaggerating a little bit. Salespeople are happy to pull sizes for you and recommend styles based on your size. But if you don’t know your size, we can’t be of much help to you.

“Do You Giftwrap?”

Every single salesperson wants to say, “No,” with every fiber of their being. There is nothing more stressful and irritating than wrapping gifts as a line of people impatiently wait with their prospective purchases, especially around the holidays. A Christmas Eve shift will leave you running screaming from wrapping paper until Easter.

Unexpected Friendships

Every once in a while, you get that rare customer who transcends the customer-salesperson relationship and becomes a true friend. While working at a high-end retailer, I befriended a customer after styling her on several different occasions.

Unbeknownst to me, this customer was a prominent author and very well-connected in the New York City social scene. During one of her styling sessions, she invited me to an exclusive pop-up party in New York, and so began an incredible friendship. Customers can be incredibly trying, yes, but they can also turn out to be incredible mentors and friends.

I have spent most of my adult life working in retail, and while it has often tested and tried me, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Even on the worst days, working retail has taught me a great deal about life. It has forced me to learn patience and humility, honesty and integrity. My work ethic has been shaped by retail and it has had an immense impact on my communication skills.

Retail may have its quirks, but at the end of the day, it comes with a lot of perks as well.