Monday, December 22, 2008

Store Employee's View of Christmas

I'm going to take you along with me as I revisit working for Waldenbooks Inc. during the years 1985-1996. You can be my shadow. This will perhaps give you some understanding of what sales clerks, cashiers, salespeople in general in retail stores are going through this time of year.

Ok, ready?

The Christmas books and huge increase in inventory starts in October, so let's get all that stock put somewhere and displayed nicely. Each box weighs about 50 lbs. Please stack 3-4 of those on a hand truck (total weight: 215 lbs if you count the weight of the hand truck) and take them out to the sales floor. To get them all put in the right places, you will need to pull some other stock, lug that back to the stockroom. Now put the new stuff onto shelves, do displays, and climb up ladders in order to stack the rest of it in the "overstocks," (the shelves way up high). Oooh, glad you aren't wearing a dress today!

So while we're all out of breath up on the ladder with a stack of Guinness Book of World Records 1994, we hear a chime ring. That chime means they need us up front to help ring up customers. Either quickly stash those books in the overstock, or bring them back down, but you can't leave them on the ladder, or someone will move the ladder and the books will come crashing down on someone's head.

Go to the checkout area. You cannot get to your register because 3 customers are standing near the register because they need help finding stuff. Of course there is no way you can not help them. So you glance apologetically at your co-workers to tell them "sorry, I'll be back!" and you go to help the customers find books. You help those 3 people plus 3-4 more who ask for your help on the sales floor. Thank goodness you've worked on memorizing book titles and authors, so you don't have to run back to the cash register area to look up anything. Someone asks you for a new book that has a helicopter on the cover, but they don't know the name of it or who wrote it. You remember it's Stephen Coontz's new book. Whew!

It's very aggravating to you that you know your store could sell a lot more books, if you only had the staff, but oh yeah, the company cut back each store's operating payroll hours. Remember when the manager of the store got us all in a huddle and said, "Look, the situation is this - either one person can leave employment, or we can each agree to cut back our hours so we can all stay." Of course, we decided we'd all cut back our hours to 28-32 hours a week. Sounds good, right? You'd think you'd get a 3-day weekend, huh? No, you will have 3 separate days off, because it works better for the schedule that way. We have to have coverage.

Ok, so get back up to that register. There are about 8 customers at least in each line, and in your peripheral vision, you can see a couple people breathing hard and being antsy at your side, wanting to ask you where something is, or to ask you to look up a book for them. Oh boy, you'd really like to help them, but you have customers in front of you, with their purchases ready and want to buy. They will stomp out in anger if you leave the register. You feel pretty helpless.

Oh, I forgot to say, while all this is going on, someone is invariably shoplifting. The phone is adding to the stress. It's ringing off the hook. A customer has come to pick up a special order, and you can't find it. People are anxious, short tempered, angry, and take everything out on you. Yet, you try to have a smile for everyone and follow all the company rules and regulations.

When Christmas Day comes around, and the store is closed, you are exhausted. You are sick of Christmas at this point. You may feel almost angry at Christmas. Christmas is what seems to cause this misery every year.

Bah humbug!

I haven't really exaggerated this. This is how it really was, very often on weekends, but definitely completely accurate for the Christmas season. Keep in mind too, that this was when the economy was GOOD. You know stores have cut back on payroll hours like crazy this year, due to the economy. So you may not have employees pick up the phone within 3 rings. You may not get the service you are accustomed to getting due to payroll cut backs.

Unless you have worked retail, you just don't have any idea what that employee is going through.

Please keep this in mind and please be patient and kind to people working in stores.


Dawn Johnson Warren said...

Great post. Reminded me of my years working at Wicks N Sticks in the mall during college and then 3 years managing Crown Bookstores in northern Virginia, all in the 1990s. Retail at Christmas always pains me and I know that I'm extra sensitive to their pain. You can always tell who's never worked retail in their lives, can't you?

Stephanie said...

Very true! I worked 6 years in a jewelry store, and Christmas was always a challenge. Too many customers for us to even manage our 15 minute breaks, never mind lunches. People would get so cranky about seeing employees in the back, never mind that they were on their legal break time.

Ticia said...

You said it sister! I have worked at restaurants ,hardware stores and gift shops. The Winco grocery where my sister works told her she would be written up if she didn't make it into work even though the hwy she takes to get there is closed.
Retail is hard! Give em a break and a smile.



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