When we go shopping for an outfit, an appliance, or just a vanilla latte, we don't think much about the fact that we're just one of a long stream of customers that the sales associates, cashiers, and baristas encounter every day. And the way we shop has become so ingrained that we don't realize that we might be doing things that annoy retail workers who deal with people like us for a living.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.8 million people in the US work full- or part-time as retail salespersons, earning a median annual salary of $23,370. That's not much to show for a job that entails long hours of standing, lifting, and cleaning up other people's messes.
Not to mention that sales associates have to maintain a pleasant and professional attitude at all times, even as they field customers' questions, complaints, and lame jokes like "This doesn't have a price tag — that means it's free, right?"
We owe it to the retail workers we encounter every day to make their jobs as stress-free as possible. It's not that hard, really; just a little common sense and common courtesy can make all the difference.
1. Asking, "Do You Work Here?"
They're not wearing the vest and the name tag because it's the newest fashion trend. This unnecessary question was the #1 biggest retail-worker annoyance, according to Tickld.
2. Abusing The Name Tag
Speaking of name tags, retail associates don't mind being called by their name if you're being casually friendly (as in, "Thanks, Alexis; have a nice day"). A friend of mine who asked to remain anonymous has a job history that includes more than 10 years as an associate in major department stores. He says, "Attitude is everything. I hate it when people use my name in a sarcastic way, or as part of a threat: 'I'm going to talk to your manager, Liam.'"
3. Dumping Your Unwanted Clothes In The Fitting Room
Retail employees don't expect you to love everything you try on, but they also don't expect to be your maid, picking up heaps of discarded shirts and jeans off the floor. There are almost always rods outside the dressing rooms for shoppers to hang the items they don't want; it doesn't take that much more effort to bring your rejects out and hang them up.
However, according to my retail-vet friend, there are worse things that go on in the fitting room: "More than once, I had customers who changed their babies in there and left the dirty diaper on the floor." Um, ew. We fellow shoppers don't want to see that either, thanks.
4. Coming In Five Minutes Before Closing
Sales associates generally don't mind last-minute shoppers who just dash in to get their gift card, tube of toothpaste, or whatever, and get the sale done with no hassle. But waltzing into a store at 8:55 to browse the makeup stations or try on five pairs of jeans? Not cool, according to Can You Actually.
5. Putting Your Money On The Counter
Your cashier will be smiling through gritted teeth if they have to pick up the pile of bills and coins you left on the counter instead of putting it in their hand, according to College Times and the retail workers I spoke to.
6. Expecting Them To Be Mind-Readers
I was once an assistant manager of a bookstore, and I lost count of the number of times customers would ask me, "I'm looking for that book that everyone's talking about; do you know the one I mean?" Or: "Do you have the new book by that mystery writer? I don't remember the name, but I think it had a blue cover. Or maybe the letters were blue." Retail workers are trained to be helpful, but if you don't know what you're looking for, they probably don't, either. I'm not alone in this; retail workers who wrote to Buzzfeed Community agreed that being asked to figure out customers' vague requests is not fun.
7. Refolding Clothes
This one falls into the "it depends" category. While the workers I spoke to agreed that it's a nice gesture to try refolding shirts and pants you took from the shelf, it's not going to be helpful if you don't know the proper technique. "I just ended up redoing it anyway," said the department-store vet.
8. Not Reading The Sale Signs
It's usually easy to tell which racks or shelves are the discounted ones and which aren't. According to Buzzfeed's survey of retail workers, however, plenty of people ask whether a full-price item is on sale. Take the time to read the tag or check the sign on the rack, and the staff will be eternally grateful.
9. Asking To "Check In The Back"
It's always disappointing when you can't find the right size of the outfit you adore. But chances are you won't get far asking an associate to check the storeroom to see if there are more on a shelf somewhere. "I'd say that we had extra sizes in the back only about 5 percent of the time, especially during the holidays when we were constantly replenishing stock," says my retail contact.
10. Splitting Purchases At Checkout
Don't expect to win the Customer of the Year award if you come to the register with a cartful of goods and divide it into two or three piles, asking to have each one rung up separately and with a different card. Working in Retail noted that Starbucks baristas really have to exercise their patience when someone asks to have an order rung separately after the entire order has been tallied. "Every time this happens, the line gets longer," they explained.
11. Using Your Kids As Placeholders
If you want to see a salesperson's eyes roll back in their head, just ask them how many times they've seen a customer in the checkout line leave their cart or basket in line to "hold their place" (often with a child to stand guard) while they go back for something they forgot. More often than not, it's already their turn to check out by the time they return, so the cashier is left waiting while the back of the line is piling up. This faux pas is one of the pet peeves cited by the Australian website Mamamia.
12. Dragging Them Into The So-Called "War On Christmas"
From late November to December 24, retail workers have to deal with stressed shoppers, whiny children, trashed store displays, and roughly 5 million playings of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." So cut them a break if they wish you "Happy Holidays," rather than accusing them of attacking your religion or caving to political correctness. Ditto if they wish you a merry Christmas if that's not your holiday. All they're trying to do is spread a little cheer and go on to the next person in line. "If someone is wishing you well, why make a huge deal of it?" sighs my retail-veteran friend. The easier you can make their job, the sooner everyone can get home and celebrate the holiday of their choice.