All The Ways Working In Retail Can Break You

Working in retail changes a person. You’re faced with humanity at its rawest — especially during the holiday season. There are those customers who ask thousands of questions yet walk out with nothing. Then there are the eccentric ones who pull money from shoes and bras, mumbling to themselves the whole time. Every single time an item comes up without a bar code, someone says, “It must be free,” and you’re expected to laugh, and shelf-straightening goes from being a habit to a compulsion.

It changes a person. For all those retail flashback moments the holidays may trigger, here’s every dead giveaway that you once shilled shirts at a department store or tires at an auto shop:

Christmas music scrapes at your soul.

Christmas carols and other holiday songs are a huge part of the holiday season. In a way, they’re the grease in the gears that churn out holiday joy, but that’s only when you stumble upon them occasionally. If you work in a place where you are constantly driven to trembles and pre-tears by countless ear-stabbing renditions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and other covers of holiday standards, then you’re maybe a little less jolly.


You still long for your employee discount.

Even if you don’t shop there anymore (and you shouldn’t shop there anymore for fear of awkward bump-intos and scribbled notes from former co-workers begging you to take them with you), you still long for the joy that a solid price break would bring you.

Plus, getting the gear you spent every shift eying was always incredibly satisfying… until you realized that your entire paycheck was gone before you left the building.

You really like saying “No” and your (re)phrasing game is second to none.

Some stores will bend over backward for customers or price breaks and return policies. Others, however, lay down the law… or more accurately, they ask someone making $8.75 an hour to lay down the law and face the white-hot breath fire of a pissed off customer. Because of this, you have become the Jedi master of phrasing and rephrasing in an effort to find the kindest way to tell someone that they’re not getting what they want and that they should honestly just f*ck right off.

Unfortunately, sometimes people can’t take the hint and you just need to roll out a timeless standard: the word “No.” The response? Shock that the term, “The customer is always right” is not an actual law and snippy statements about how much you love to abuse your small amount of power by telling people that they can’t have something.

And the answer, dear reader, in that moment where you are rapidly ruining the day of someone who has been shouting at you for 10 minutes is? Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes! The word “no” is amazing and a small amount of power is still power… until the customer asks to speak to a manager and they respond with a shrug and give in.

Thankfully, even in those instances, you still get the win thanks to your Jedi master level skill at cursing people out under your breath when they walk away. Something that is, honestly, the most useful of all accumulated retail skills.

Hearing your own first name over a loudspeaker causes you to either run out of a store or search for a phone.

There are a lot of people named Eric, and if you’re in a Target and hear, “Eric please come to the courtesy desk” and that’s your name, it’s understandable that you might twitch a little or search for your radio. Hearing your name when you were in the midst of a dozen other things on the sales floor was like being found by a spotlight while escaping a penitentiary.

Your ears are never not going to listen a little more closely when you hear the PA come on.

Your clothing is folded and arranged meticulously and you know the value of comfy shoes.


Either you held onto the many lessons your years in retail taught you about the need for a crisp white shirt (that was going to be hidden by a drab and soul-sucking apron) or you’ve been messily rebelling since walking off the job and you look like tumbling is your preferred means of transportation. There is no middle ground — dressing like everyone in a 100,000 square foot cement tomb will break you in one way or the other.

Another thing that will break you? Pain. Long ago, you crossed the gulf and stopped caring if your shoes matched your outfit. After spending 10+ hours on your feet day in and day out, something deep within your soul (and sole) changes. Heels have been thrown out and all sense of fashion has been compromised for the sake of actually being comfortable in your kicks.

Bonus points if you’re still rocking Dr. Scholl’s inserts.

The entire winter season gives you anxiety.

Days of atrocious customers and the threat of being trampled, nights of inventorying, longing to see the sun, and wondering how long it takes for rickets to take hold: the holidays are something you should be hibernating through at this point to push out the flashbacks.

You are always suspicious of children.


Children are the hell-spawn that can double your five-plus hours of work on a window display in the span of five seconds. Every battery-operated toy — especially holiday decorations — serve as subtle reminders of all the ways the young’uns turn retail establishments into a house of horrors, pulling them (and everything else at their eye level) off of the shelf and leaving it in the middle of an aisle.

Plus, sometimes they hide in clothes racks and jump out, scaring the hell out of you. What’s worse, sometimes they leave things behind or within those same racks. Horrible things.

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