10 Holiday Shopping Secrets From a Mall Insider

Home & Garden 31

holidy shopping tipsJournalist 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)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.



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Ember... Emberbaby

Good article! I think it's really important to be courteous to the staff. Although, it is easier to be polite to employees who are polite back and not seem genuinely annoyed at the sheer presence of a customer.

On a side note: That is what I really like about Target, the staff is always so helpful and actually help locate the items you are looking for. Walmart on the other hand seems to over work their employees they always rude and less than eager to help. Before I am done asking I am interrupted by the " all we have, is what's out there!"

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

Number three is nonsense. First and most importantly, you should not be eating or drinking in a store. That is disgusting and I think we need to go back a few years to when retailers had the balls to put up signs and kick people out for walking around eating while fondling the merchandise. Secondly, an associate should not have to take your wrapping or *barf* used gum from you. That is absolutely foul and I don't know what sort of entitled ass would even try that. If you have something that you need to dispose of then ask an associate where you might find a trash can. They may offer to take the item but most of the time they will just direct you to a trash can.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

As for store credit cards, a polite "no thank you" should suffice but sometimes it doesn't. I know there's a quota but there are some cashiers out there that get seriously rude while pushing those things. I once had a cashier who started off asking nicely then stood there for ages asking me if I was quite sure in a myriad of different ways amd telling me I could save $3 and change by signing up. I started off polite then escalated to a firm "I've already said I don't want a store card several times.". Eventually I just asked her if she intended to complete the transaction or if we needed to get a manager over to do her job for her. She got pretty snippy after that and I wound up writing a complaint letter to the company about their policies and her behavior specifically. I don't mind being asked, I don't even mind the "are you sure, you could save $X?" but when they are standing there bullying me while refusing to hit the button that would allow me to complete payment I won't stand for it.

LilyW... LilyWillowMom

I AGREE I AGREE I AGREE!!!  I wish EVERYONE could follow these 12 easy easy easy steps.  Working retail during the holiday season is so much worse than being a shopper during the holiday season.  I've been on both sides.  NOT working retail allows me to actually delve into the holiday spirit!
The 12 steps are not difficult by any stretch of the imagination.  I can't tell you how many times I've been yelled at, blamed, ridiculed and cussed at because we didn't have this or that item that this or that child NEEDED TO HAVE OR THEY WOULD DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH ON CHRISTMAS MORNING OMFG!!!!!!  It's awful.
So please, shoppers, be nice to the employees of these shops.  I know the employees should be nice to you, too, but cut them a little slack.  One year I worked from 10pm to around 11am the next day.  Black Friday.

LikeA... LikeAVirgin

I don't go out on black Friday at all. People act fu*kin crazy....for what? A stupid item your kids aren't even going to remember next Christmas. And to be honest, none of the "deals" are that great.

LikeA... LikeAVirgin

This was a great article though, and I think shoppers should follow these steps. Holiday shopping would be much more pleasant for everyone.

Argentina Iraheta

Nice article. I agree on most but I will not be glad to take garbage from anyone. I will, however, tell you exactly where a trash can is. I've had people just hand me their garbage without saying more than "throw this away". I always find soda cups and half-eaten food throughout the store. Once I found a chuck of chocolate between two piles of sweaters (one pile of which were white). I'm not a personal servant, please don't treat me as such.

@RhondaVeggie: There's one cashier at my store who is notorious for pushing credit cards in that way, but your complaint probably fell on deaf ears. Some associates are better at selling credit cards than others, but none of us would be pushing you if the company wasn't pushing us. When I check in with the manager on my shift only three things matter: the sales goal, the CES (customer survey) score, and how many credit cards we want to get that day. During the holidays, we even have daily quotas we're expected to meet even if we are not at the register. When people get snippy when I ask more than once, I'm honest. I say that I hate to bother them but it's my job and I have to ask. However, I will never do what some associates do and omit the fact that it's a credit and not a rewards card they're signing up for. So, word of caution, always ask what you're signing up for if you're not sure what it is.

Opal_... Opal_skye86

I've worked retail for the past 5 and a half years. This is my 6th holiday to work. Good article, but I can add a few more to that list. Many of us work more than one job, so if we don't seem excited all the time, don't be too hard on us. Kids are bad, and keeping an eye on them should really be priority all the time. Wall bars are not jungle gyms, and some of the racks aren't very sturdy.. they can and will fall on your child. Also, PLEASE adult for help if you want something from the bottom of a stack and can't get it without knocking over the whole pile. It takes an inordinate amount of time to keep the store clean for other shoppers as it is. Let the games begin!!

Caitlin Kelly

Thanks for your feedback.

Ember, I agree that employees ideally should be peppy -- but it's hard (unless you've done that job in the holidays) to understand how totally worn out you can get. Some days it takes all your stamina and professionalism just to get the job done, let alone be friendly on top of that.

Rhonda, I agree that people should eat outside the stores, but they leave their garbage everywhere. I've scraped gum off the floor and had to remove soda-splashed clothing from the racks and picked up half-eaten pretzels off the floor -- and that was in a costly and "upscale" mall.

nonmember avatar NavyWife

Is it possible to print this out and stuff into every mailbox in America before Black Friday? I've worked 3 of them in the mall, and it's insane. People get flat-out crazy over the silliest things. If more people would honor this list, then shopping in general would be a more pleasant experience for everyone.

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