Journalist Caitlin Kelly didn't intend to spend more than two years working behind the counter at The North Face. Yet that's exactly what happened when this veteran newspaper reporter faced an uncertain financial future and needed to make ends meet. What followed was Kelly's eye-opening account of life in customer service and sales in Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.
For anyone who has worked in retail, these humiliations and occasional triumphs will ring true. And for anyone who has been a difficult customer -- especially around the holidays -- this story will give you some insight as to how the other half lives. But you don't yell at minimum wage employees, do you?
Kelly is also positioned properly to give you some great holiday shopping tips before you head out next weekend. Here, the author of Malled gives you 10 tips (and two bonus tech tips!) on navigating the mall this holiday season.
1) Say "please" and "thank you" to associates and managers, no matter how tired or impatient you get. They're working really long hours with shorter breaks, rarely sit down or eat or drink, and most really are trying to give you their best.
2) If you can't find what you need, don't punish the staff or manager by yelling or being rude. They didn’t choose the store's inventory nor do they control the amount of goods available.
3) If you're eating and drinking as you shop, please do NOT leave your food, gum, and drinks on tables, shelves, or the floor -- where they will spill, make a mess, be dangerous, and ruin the merchandise. Ask an associate, nicely, to throw it away for you, which they will (or should) gladly do.
4) If an associate helps you, ask their name so you can be sure they are credited with that sale. Each one has a sales quota per shift; without those sales credits, their managers have less proof they're productive. In this rough economy, they want to keep their jobs -- you can help!
5) If you don't see what you want, ask if there's more in the stockroom -- but if the wait is a long one, don't wander off. During the holidays, the stock room can be pure chaos so even the hardest-working associate can't always help you as quickly as you (and they) would like.
6) When an associate asks you if you want a store credit card, don't bite their head off. Management insists they do so. It’s not because they want to!
7) Don't assume that an associate is on commission (most are not) and is trying to sell you something specifically (or extra stuff) to earn more. They do have a daily sales goal to meet, though.
8) If an associate tries to sell you more than one item -- even if you didn’t ask for it -- it’s also because they’re required to by company policy. Each associate is measured by this standard.
9) While you’re shopping, stay hydrated and fed. The more exhausted you -- and your kids -- are, the less pleasant shopping is for everyone. Take breaks! Sit down. Bring a bottle of cold water and some granola bars to keep your energy level up.
10) PLEASE keep a close eye on your children. Stores are not designed or meant to be a combination of a garbage can and a playground. They’re dirty and full of ways for a child to get hurt, from smashing into a metal pole to grabbing a fistful of dirt while playing peek-a-boo beneath a row of coats. Associates have neither the time nor the energy to play babysitter.
Two bonus tips, both related to technology:
11) Don’t assume the store or associates or managers have as much access to web-based information -- even about their own products -- as you do. Even though it’s logical to expect, many retailers are not investing in this.
12) When an associate or manager is helping you, on the sales floor or as they are completing your sale at the register, look them in the eye and listen. They need your full attention to make sure they are properly meeting your needs -- and the many demands they also face from senior management. If you’re talking on your phone or texting, you’re selfishly slowing business down for everyone else.
Caitlin Kelly is a 27-month veteran of working PT for The North Face in White Plains, New York, and author of Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail. Read an excerpt at malledthebook.com.