Friday, 5 August 2011

The Life and Lies of a Retail Shop Assistant

Having worked in retail both full time and part time for over five years I have come across such a vast array of customers that I am pretty sure I must have seen just about every kind of human being that walks the planet.

The customers that enter the shop that I am employed by (that sells shower gels, body lotions, hair care, make-up, etc) begins at one end with the well-dressed, wealthy woman who strolls in in her clippy-cloppy heels with her designer bag thrown casually over one arm. She spends hours looking, applying and generally criticising the excessive amount of eyeshadow colours that we sell, before eventually telling me in a drawling accent that we do not have the exact shade of teal that will match her dress for some function or other. She says this despite us having, if you ask me, an unnecessarily large variety of different shades of greens, blues and all the colours in between (and if you didn't think there was many colours in between blue and green, trust me there is. I spend about an hour of every day cleaning them...yes my life is that thrilling).

At the other end of the spectrum however, we have the chavtastic teenage girls who come sauntering in in pink velour tracksuits and fake Burberry caps and wander around the shop, picking things up and putting them back in completely different places. They also tend to enjoy smelling different flavoured lotions and announcing 'eww' to the whole store before making a very inept comparison that a strawberry flavour shower gel 'smells like sick' or some other equally unpleasant bodily expulsion. These customers never buy anything (or if they do, it's a foundation that is far too orange for their skin tone and/or the soap that they were caught attempting to steal) and are, in my opinion, a lot worse than the rich snooty women.

However there are, of course, also all the customers in between.

These include the mothers that come in looking overly exhausted with six kids in toe, all under the age of ten. These women appear to completely ignore the fact that their 'little darlings' are running, screaming all over the shop, bashing into old ladies and knocking their handbags flying, throwing lip balms at eachother and having a fight with the hair brushes, brandishing them as swords. Usually after about twenty minutes of this chaos the mothers give up what they were looking for and march the kiddywinks home, hopefully to throttle. Unfortunately this is not the case for all customers. Some of these mothers act as if their children are not even there, asking me for advice on blusher or facial wash as if we've got all the time in the world when in fact the display of hand creams that took me an hour to put together this morning is being brutally dismantled as we speak. Others decide to have a screaming match with their children over whether or not she will buy one or all of them their own personal shower gel to the point where I am desperate to hand over all the shower gels in the shop just to get them to leave. These people, I am unashamed to say, make me want to cross my legs tightly and make a mental note never to procreate.

The final customer category that I feel should be mentioned is my favourite one. It is the men that come in looking sheepish, totally overwhelmed and downright confused when presented with and told about the seven different ranges of facial skin care, all suited to a specific skin type that can be ascertained after completion of a short skin consultation. This can be a little daunting for them when all the wife has told them that they are to buy is a face cream. I enjoy these customers in particular, as they can usually be persuaded to purchase a variety of different creams just to ensure that one of them will be the one that their spouse has requested. While some of these products are eventually returned or exchanged by the sighing wife who explains that she thought her hubby would know what skin type she was, these male customers help to add a little entertainment into my otherwise dull day-to-day experiences, especially when they come over to you and mumble incredulously, 'I'm sorry but what on earth is body butter? Is it edible?' After a long pause I begin to explain kindly that 'No, Sir, it's for your skin' before they look utterly perplexed and swiftly get out the list of products they have been sent into purchase. I have a message to their wives: Men DO NOT listen when you talk about how your combination skin is really improving as a result of using this new skin serum, no matter how much you rave about it and ask him if he sees a difference.

I have a few other messages for various different types of customer...

1) Despite being merely a lowly shop assistant, I do have a name, and a name badge on which my name is displayed. Therefore YOU, Mrs Customer, have no need to refer to me as 'Oi' or 'Help?!' as neither of those words is, in fact, the name that I was christened with. On the other hand, having my name displayed does not mean that you have to use it every two seconds...for example, 'Hello Zoe, please could you help me Zoe to find some body scrub please Zoe' makes me wonder if you've been secretly stalking me for the last twenty years and I begin to panic before I eventually remember that my name is attached to my chest. So please, use my name, but not excessively. I appreciate that it is a nice name and you may wish to say it frequently but please, Mr Customer, once is quite enough.

2) The shop sells various products for feet, and so when you come in and ask me for a foot cream, I can, of course, point you in the right direction and answer any questions you might have about their ingredients. However, I am by no means a doctor and as much as you obviously think I really want to...actually, what I do NOT need under any circumstances, is for you to remove your shoe and sock (that is usually wet with sweat and reeking a rather pungent odour) and show me your grotty, mould-encrusted foot and tell me that you've tried everything and what do I think?...If I could, trust me I would tell you what I think, and that is that you should remove that foot (if you can even call it that) from my vicinity, go home and wash it you filthy woman, before going to see a specialist and having it chopped off.

3) If we do not have a particular product in stock that you deem so important that you cannot live without, it is not, in fact, some personal vendetta that I have for you involving my decision to prevent you from wearing lipgloss or moisturising your arms. When I attempt to offer an alternative product, I am not, in fact, trying to give you a skin reaction or stop you looking attractive; I am actually, although obviously this is unclear to you, trying to help.

4) As I have worked for this company, in this exact store, for quite some years now, I do in fact know whether, in the last two years, we have sold ready-to-wax strips or green mascara. I am not lying to you when I tell you this, and despite your insistence that we did use to stock these products, it does not make it any more correct, as I promise you we never have done. And when I suggest that you are maybe thinking of a different chain of shops who perhaps sell the product in question, this is not a brutal insult to your memory, it is merely a suggestion, for which I apologise for even thinking.

5) The customer is, in my experience, most often wrong. However, as I am a good employee and as I have been told frequently, a good and helpful salesperson, I have perfected the art of lying to customers all in the good name of the customer always being right and 'helping them to enjoy their shopping experience'.
-->For example... I may say: ''Yes madame that bright red eyeshadow does really suit you, I can see why you've been wearing that same shade for twenty years...unfortunately we don't sell that colour'' ...but I mean ''You look like a drag queeen, let me show you the make-up remover.''
-->Another example of something I said today to a woman with a beard, ''Yes of course I can show you where the perfumes are kept'' but I wanted to say ''These are the waxing strips and razors...use them.''
-->And finally the most common one, ''Wow yes you do look young...50?! My goodness what's your secret?'' but oh how I wish I could say, ''Here's the anti-aging cream for your only-too-obvious crows feet.''

Anyway I think that's probably enough ranting for one day. All I ask is that next time you are in a shop and decide to whack out a disgusting ailment or shout 'oi' at a shop assistant, you will take a second and remember the wise words you have just read. Shop assistants are people too, and yes, sometimes, we may lie :)



  1. I think anyone that's ever worked in a service industry knows EXACTLY where you are coming from.

    I did a few stints waitressing when I was younger and some people were unbelievably rude and condesending.

    Well done you for biting your tongue day in day out. I struggled a little with that (hence I'm not a waitress any longer:).

  2. I know exactly what you're talking about! I worked in retail and customer service for a long time, and the customer is definitely NOT always right!
    I will always acknowledge a sales assistant and thank them for their help, but unfortunately, I also think that good customer service is, sadly, very hard to find.


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