Scan, bag. Scan, bag. Scan, bag. Ring up. There’s a soundtrack to working retail.
Beeps of different pitches meld with murmured voices and wheels rolling across linoleum floors. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. I feel the warmth from the condensation forming on my face mask.
I’ve rung up at least 20 people in the last 30 minutes, but the line looks the same.
“There’s an opening at register 4,” my manager says.
I prepare myself for more. Scan, bag, scan, bag, scan, bag and ring up.
This was me, a year ago working Black Friday at Target in the midst of a pandemic before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available.
Explaining to someone that the item they are trying to return can’t be processed because it’s not in the system, only for them to argue with you before remembering that they did in fact purchase that item from somewhere else, takes a special kind of patience.
My dreams are still haunted by huge lines of people both in and outside the store as well as carside pickups. It’s a recipe for retail worker burn-out.
Looking back, there are some things I wish people shopping would have kept in mind while interacting with me and my co-workers. So, I went out and talked to employees and owners of local businesses about how folks can be kinder consumers this year.
Take a moment, take a breath
“Please just remember to be patient,” said Jordan Birdwell, an employee at Razz-Matazz, a body jewelry and knickknack store in the Highlands. “We’re all understaffed, especially during the holidays. A lot of us work very hard to keep things on shelves and keep customers happy, but it takes a lot of time.”
Birdwell said that while working at a small business has helped with consumer interactions, his past experience in retail is not without horror stories.
In previous positions with other retailers, he dealt with customers who would yell, curse and even spit at him.
All the people I spoke with said that patience is the biggest thing they wished people would bring to shopping interactions.
Customer service does not mean clairvoyant
“We don’t have all the answers,” Home Skate Shop general manager Drew Vincent said. “That’s my number one. People ask me a question, and I try my hardest, but at the same time, I don’t always have the answer. And if I don’t, I try to ask somebody else.”
Carmichael’s Bookstore co-owner, Kelly Estep said that her employees might not know why a book isn’t in stock.
“It could be one of six different answers,” Estep said. “It could be a shipping issue, it could be supply chain issues…, it could be there aren’t enough drivers to get the books to the place.”
Estep says some people can lose sight of the humanity of employees.
“The people who are working are not just random faceless people. They are people with families, they are people with bills, they are people with children, they are just like you,” Estep said.
Issues with the supply chain have been looming over businesses and their employees. She hopes the small business personal approach to customer service will help them navigate the situation better.
“We’re in a business where if someone walks in and says ‘Do you have this book’ and we say ‘no’ we can say ‘But what are you looking for? Who are you buying something for? Let’s find something else for that person’,” Estep said.
While there are some things that small businesses can’t do that big box stores can, she says their personal connection with customers allows for more flexibility and solutions.
When going shopping, whether on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, it’s important to remember that the people working do their best to make the consumer’s holiday season a pleasant experience.
So be kind, and happy shopping.