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10 Things Working in Retail Teaches You About Life

Retail jobs are almost a rite-of-passage for most style-conscious folks. It almost makes sense—you love clothes, so wouldn’t you love selling them too? It’s like the nerd who dreams of getting paid to work at the comic shop! Except the grim reality of the business is that well—it kind of sucks.

It’s not all bad. You have the opportunity to make new friends, get a sweet discount, and get a first-hand look at the clothing business. It may not be pretty, but you do learn some valuable lessons. These are 10 Things Working in Retail Teaches You About Life.

10. The customer is often wrong

The first rule of retail: good customer service doesn’t always mean ensuring the customer gets his or her way. No, just because one item was hanging on the sale rack does not mean it’s on sale. No, if an item has no price tag it is not free (and please, as a customer, save yourself some dignity and never make that joke). What you learn here is how to choose your battles and how to use common sense. Someone trying to return a shirt covered in deodorant stains with the price tag in the pocket and claims it’s “never been worn?” That’s cause for alarm. If someone just wants to make an exchange or get store credit for something they lost the receipt to, whatever.

9. There is absolutely nothing “in the back”

On the other side of the grass, behind every retail store is a gigantic warehouse full of wormholes to China. All it takes to get an item in a different size is a quick reach into these magical clothing portals and voila—there it is! Except you’ll learn fast that the back room is full of nothing but misanthropes and a super-gross toilet. The “office” is a bunch of cobbled together furniture from Bed, Bath, & Beyond and the computer management uses to keep track of sales and make the schedule is still running on Windows ’98.

8. You’ll sometimes have to clean up other people’s messes

When you work in retail, people are always fucking your shit up. You will pick up some amazing folding skills, only to see your perfect stacks get reduced to a huge pile of shirts by some asshole looking for size “doesn’t exist.” This doesn’t change when you get older. Sometimes a co-worker will forget to carry a zero on a spreadsheet, sometimes your boss will skip town with the secretary and leave you to meet with a huge client and warn you not to fuck it up. Just keep your cool. These things happen sometimes, and what you’ll come out of it with is grace under pressure.

7. The holidays are NOT the most wonderful time of the year

Working retail on the holidays is enough to make you consider telling your family “hey, maybe we shouldn’t even get each other presents this year, because I’ve seen the stores, and fuck that.” Or maybe not, and you’ll just think that all the mall madness is a necessary evil that justify the iPad underneath the tree (or on the last night of Hannukkah, whatever) this year. But perhaps, you’ll come to an understanding that “it’s the thought that counts” isn’t complete bullshit, because anyone willing to subject themselves to the hell that is the holiday retail season just may be a saint.

6. How to sugarcoat things like a pro

The thing about working in clothing is that if someone asks “do these skinny jeans make me look fat?” you can’t say “well actually, yeah. It looks like you’re smuggling two midgets out of the fitting room in your thighs.” As much as you may want to tell someone that they should maybe spend that hundred bucks on a gym membership, you learn to say things like “oh, our jeans run a little small, you might want to size up.” It’s almost like that movieInception… except just blatant lying.

5. Your discount shows you who your real friends are

Your friends are cool and all, but now that you get 30% off sneakers, expect a buttload of texts about whether or not you can hook them up with a new release. Some people will actually be decent and offer to do shit for you, like buy you a coffee or food in exchange for copping a T-shirt for them. Others are the worst, they’ll come into the store with their new jump-off and act offended when you don’t want to buy shit for someone you don’t know (strike 1)—and they had the gall to ask you to do it in front of your manager (strike 2), and then they want to pay with a card rather than give you cash (strike 3).

4. A little humility never hurt anyone

For the small percentage of people who are self-important pricks, the first shift of a retail job is enough to make them go “I am too good for this shit.” And usually you will never see them again. Here’s the thing though: everyone is too good for this shit. The first thing you leave at the door when you clock into a retail job is your dignity. You are initially saying “yes, please hire me to provide a service to other people.” You think it’s bad having one boss? Imagine having hundreds. That’s what customer service is like. And for most of us, it’s a humbling experience that teaches us that a little kindness and patience goes a long way… because chances are someone who was totally nice to you made your job a little easier.

3. People in the service industry deserve respect

Servers and bartenders are your kindred spirits. The work you do may be a little different, but oh, the assholes are entirely the same. Revel in your worst customer stories and enjoy the camaraderie of working a shitty job. At best, it’s only temporary and you’ll all soon move on to other things, and when you do, you will understand what it’s like, and you will tip well. At worst, meet your new drinking buddies. Because you will probably be drinking a lot. But on the bright side—drinks will be very, very cheap.

2. The world is full of dickheads

Here’s the thing about “nice people:” no one is nice 100% of the time. The littlest thing can cause “good” people to turn into complete and utter assholes. Someone cuts them off on the street, their cat has a gallstone, or maybe they just really have a stick up their ass. Sometimes, these people buy things, and they take their shitty attitude with them. Don’t let these types of people ruin your day. You can’t control that, and it’s a reality of life. Your best bet is to get them out of your life as soon as possible, so provided they’re not being overly hostile and making completely unreasonable demands, just put on your best shit-eating grin for a few minutes, get them out of the store, and then move on with your life.

1. What it means to actually “work” for your money

Perhaps the most valuable thing you learn from a retail job is what “work” actually is. Getting paid a little more than minimum wage to deal with people, fold clothes, and go through the living hell known as “inventory” once a year actually does a lot to teach you the value of a dollar. You start thinking things like “if I buy these shoes… that’s roughly 12 hours of work.” And maybe, just maybe, you become a little wiser with your money because of it


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