Slightly off topic I know, but this is a subject close to my heart. I’ve done my time working retail both as an entry level worker, and a manager. Neither of those jobs are pretty, and at certain times of year, they get U G L Y.
People think that retail workers are akin to doormats, that they can be awful to them, demanding, rude, and even threaten and/or assault them. I speak from experience. I have been threatened with physical violence, the most horrendous was the threat of rape because I wasn’t able to give someone what they wanted. Being terrorised at work by a group of young men who felt they were allowed to come back into the shop and harass me because the police couldn’t do anything, was genuinely one of the most terrifying times of my life. I’ve also been assaulted by a boss, and subjected to workplace sexual harassment, all during my time working retail.
We get it, you don’t want to be crammed into shopping centres and the like, most likely full of equally irate and sweaty people because someone turned the heat up too high to make everyone miserable. You don’t want to have to queue for hours, or arrive later than usual and miss the item you desperately wanted because it sold out so fast, but you know not getting it will result in the biggest tantrum you have ever witnessed from your eight year old. You promised them. You stupidly promised them because you thought you’d be able to find wherever it is you’re looking for, except that this was the last one, it’s sold out online and it’s too close to Christmas to find more stock. Folks who for their early are selling on eBay at grossly inflated prices because people are horrible shitbags and do that sort of thing now.
You will probably go home and bid on it, hating yourself the whole time whilst sobbing into a glass of your evil MIL’s mulled wine, but not before doing one last thing to let off steam because you will be damned if someone doesn’t feel your wrath.
The poor entry level retail worker just trying to do their low paid and thankless job the best they can, at the busiest time of year; they’re frazzled, tired, probably hungry because nobody had time for a break today, and are full of their own worries from that of a low income and an expensive time of year. You zone in on them, and demand that they check in the back shop to see if there are any left hidden away. They calmly explain that there aren’t, because they have checked for the millionth time today, but you hiss at them to do it anyway. You huff as they walk off to do exactly that and grow ever more impatient as they don’t appear again within thirty seconds. When they come back empty handed, your R A G E peaks and you start screaming at them about how you promised your child, how you’ve been trapped at work all day, how you couldn’t find it online, how you will now have to battle others online via eBay, and you do this at a piercing shriek of volume that could break even bullet proof glass.
You aim this, full throttle at the poor entry level, low paid, exhausted and frankly entirely done worker. They need the job. They can’t afford to just walk away. They have been so polite and helpful all day, and every single day since they worked there, but today you broke them.
Since they cannot magically produce the item you want, you jab viciously at them in other ways. Tell them how fucking useless they are, how their shop is shit and their stock is low quality and useless. You pick apart their appearance. You tell them they look like shit. You keep up this attack until you see their face crumple into tears. You don’t stop, you can’t stop because your own pressure valve is well and truly open, and you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to. You demand to speak to a manager as if that’s going to make a shit of difference. The person you reduced to tears goes off to get them, if they aren’t already there from the godawful commotion you just created. That manager is just as stressed and beaten down, and will either be one of two people, a bastard that takes that out on his employees, or one that recognises customers can be fucking arseholes and don’t deserve a drop of kindness. To be real, most managers fall into the first category, sad but true. The kind ones are the type that walk up and throw a customer out immediately.
The entry level worker is sent away to wipe their face and get on with the other aspects of their job, except that this happens repeatedly over the holidays, because people are horrible and think taking their frustrations out on them is fair. They will go home every day or night, a little more broken than the last, until they can’t cope with it anymore but have to carry on regardless. When they’re not being berated by unhappy customers, they’re being shit on by bosses who have been shit on by THEIR bosses, and the same customers that wanted to scream at them too.
They aren’t paid enough for this level of abuse, nobody is.
It’s worse for women. People are vicious when they don’t get what they want. They say the nastiest things, and the nastiest things you can say to a woman are things like you hope they get raped, or how you’ll be waiting for them after work because you couldn’t get what you wanted. I lost count of how many times I heard stuff like that during my time in retail. I don’t know how, but one of them got my personal details and called me at home with rape threats. It was fucking awful.
When I was assaulted, it was by another manager in the shop I was working in, I was the floor manager, and he was the general manager. He hit me in full view of the other staff because he was so angry. He also hit a customer and threw her out. This was rage because we weren’t there for his sexual harassment bullshit.
There will be countless horror stories from retail workers over the holidays, and they will not all be about customers, some of them will be about their managers or supervisors.
When you walk into a shop, please remember that the person there to help you is a human being. Remember that they are going to be as tired and frustrated as you are, and that if they could, they would probably give you what you wanted because it would mean you’d be happy, and they might actually have someone be nice to them for a change. Please be kind. They have to go home and do their own Christmas, and organise things for their own families if they have them, and they have to grit their teeth and take a deep breath to start again the next day, working the most antisocial and antifamily hours whilst you drink a gallon of mulled wine after your scene in the shop earlier, and the fact that you didn’t win the eBay auction for the toy you promised your child.
People working customer facing jobs deserve to do so in a non threatening environment, they don’t deserve the wrath of shitty customers, and they don’t deserve shitty bosses, but we all know the truth is that they will have to endure.
If you’re working retail, whether in a chain store, a one off store, a fast food establishment, a coffee shop, or indeed anywhere that has to serve customers face to face, I wish you all the strength in the world. I wish you all the patience, fortitude, and ability to brush these monstrous fucktoads off your back, and if you are the victim of physical threats, sexual or otherwise, I wish you the strength to be able to involve the relevant authorities, although we all know that’s another painful and exhausting fight on its own. You are wonderful, patient, and stellar people who deserve everything you need and want.
If you are indeed one of those customers or managers that makes retail workers lives hell because you’re basically a piece of reconstituted BATWANK, I hope you one day wake up and realise that you need to change your actions and stop being shit human beings, but until that day comes, may all your seasonal fare, gifts, and frivolities turn to ash.