I’ve been a little stressed about my career lately and I feel kinda stuck. I need to keep reminding myself that I am now much better off than I was two years ago, back when I was working retail.
I started working for The Crap during my senior year of college. I just wanted to work there for the discount, which was incredibly generous compared to other retailers. After I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to take a break before grad school so I focused on acquiring some internships. Unfortunately, though the internships I worked were amazing opportunities in public health policy work, they were unpaid. So, I kept my job at The Crap. And then one day, I was asked if I had ever considered being a supervisor.
Honestly, no, I hadn’t ever considered moving up in my Crap career. After all, the goal was grad school and a career in public health—not to become a retail lifer. But the lure of more money was too strong. Knowing that I needed to start saving money for a move across the country, I accepted the promotion. Unfortunately, my work ethic forces me to do as well as possible in everything that I do…including that which I am not so passionate about (The Crap management career). So my supervisor promotion was soon a promotion to manager which eventually was a promotion to Associate Store Manager, a position I held the longest because of my unwillingness to move on to the next step—Store Manager. The whole while, I never lost sight of the ultimate goal. I attended grad school while working at the Crap, which was convenient because of the pay and flexible scheduling. But The Crap was emotionally draining.
I took an emotional beating every day. I sustained verbal abuse from people I would otherwise consider my peers EVERY single day. After 6 years of dealing with it, I was very happy to get a public health job and never look back. Unfortunately, some instances stick out in my mind.
- Like that time I was arguing with a woman who wanted to return a pair of jeans she had so obviously worn. The sales associate refused to return them and sought my opinion at the request of the customer. I backed up my sales associate. This is just one of many liars I encountered as a Crap employee. At my refusal to accept the pair, the woman continued to cause a scene, insisting that she had never worn the jeans (“You sayin’ I’ma liar? Cuz I ain’t no liar! You betta know what you sayin’!). I stated my case by showing her the creases at the thighs and behind the knees that show up when one wears a pair of pants. I was one step away from smelling them (always my last resort), when I picked them up. As I shook them gently, a USED thong came out of the pant leg. I used the pant leg to pick them up and said, “I’m assuming this is YOUR thong that has obviously been worn.” She took the jeans and thong and walked away, clearly ashamed.
- Another time (same store as above), I was working a typical crazy Saturday evening. A woman had come in, done her shopping, and placed some items on hold. Later, another (Crazy)woman came in, snuck into the holds area, saw the woman’s items on hold and wanted them for herself. I refused to sell them to her. The woman was likely to come the following day to purchase them and she had the right to place them on hold. The Crazy Woman insisted they were hers. However, I had placed the items on hold for the first woman so I remembered what she looked like. I continued to refuse to sell them to her. In turn, she decided to make a scene. She stayed until after the store was closed, yelling at me in front of my staff. “You are a White bitch, you know that? You are the White devil! I curse you and your family! Do you hear that? I curse you! And I wish nothing but misfortune on your offspring and all future generations! You White devil!” I stood there stunned. I thought to myself, I’m not White. And I don’t think I’m the devil. Sure she made me uncomfortable, but it’s still not the worst I’ve heard.
- While ringing up customers on a busy day, I assisted a Latina woman and her companion at the register. Normally, I would make pleasant conversation with my customers. However, since the two women were engaged in a conversation, I didn’t say too much to them because I didn't want to interrupt. Still, I wasn’t rude. For whatever reason, the Latina woman called me a “gringa estupida.” I’m not sure why she said this, but they were obviously under the impression that I am not Mexican (who can speak and understand Spanish). So I replied with “Le gustaria aplicar para una tarjeta del Crap?” (“Would you like to apply for a Crap card?”). The Latina woman said no and was stunned into silence after that.
- The worst one was when I was at my second to last store. I refused to give cash to a Russian man who had paid for his purchase with a credit card. Our policy was to get back what you give (meaning your refund comes in the same form as your type of payment) so I couldn’t give him cash. This set him off. Both he and his fellow Russian companion berated me (yes, in front of my staff) for not giving him cash. He called me ‘stupid,’ ‘just a shop girl,’ and assured me that I ‘would never amount to anything.’ After a call to corporate, who surprisingly backed me up, the man left. But the impression he left on me remains. It was the first and only time a customer had made me cry. You can call me White. You can call me a bitch. But don’t you dare call me stupid.
I should mention that all of this abuse started when I moved here. No customer had ever insulted me when I had worked for The Crap in California. I can’t explain it, but for some reason, people here feel the need to treat retail employees like shit. In turn, the customers don’t get the best customer service. After getting put down day after day, it’s really hard for a retail employee to just forget it and put on a smiling face for the next customer to potentially put them down. Some retail employees just end up being glorified register operators—sure they can sell, but if someone is going to be rude to them, why be nice?
The common retort to that argument is that customer service is supposed to be the job. My rebuttal—yeah, but retail employees are human too.
Don’t use them as your punching bag just because they can’t fight back.