What It’s Really Like To Work In Retail

While there are many positives that come with retail gigs, it’s also not always a walk in an inventory-filled park for employees.
What It’s Really Like To Work In Retail

Ah, retail. Most of us have had a stint in it – however brief – at some period in life.

While there are many positives that come with retail gigs, including transferrable career tools and, of course, the employee discount, it’s also not always a walk in an inventory-filled park for employees.

And the more aware you are of their reality, the better you’ll (hopefully) treat them.

Of course, it’s impossible to generalize and everyone’s situation will be different. I know a girlfriend who kept a retail weekend job well into her full-time career because she enjoyed working there so much. Others will tell you some of their worst times as an employee were spent fake smiling their way through their retail job.

This is the raw reality of what’s it’s really like to work in retail.

retail job
Instagram/ @kenniml

The Discount Can Dent Your Wallet

Naturally, one of the biggest draws of the retail world are the employee discounts, which tend to range from about 15% off to 50% off. While this certainly helps your wardrobe cause, many people who have worked in retail will tell you that the discount inspired them to shop more than they typically would.

“I could barely pay my bills because all of my pay cheque was spent in-store trying to keep up appearances,” said Peter, who worked in a high-end men’s store.

You’ll Scrape By

While the inside intel on sales and the employee discount will ensure you always at least look like you have dollars to drop, the reality is that you can’t pay your rent with a fancy pair of jeans or shoes. Most retail employees don’t make more than the minimum wage, making it extremely difficult to afford Toronto’s brutal living costs, even if you’re lucky enough to get full-time hours. Of course, many live at home – an appreciated perk of being young enough to get away with it.

zara's success

It Can Get Catty

Retail employees are often young (and subsequently yet to fully mature) and working a part-time job that they may not take seriously. As a result, there is apparently a bit of drama in the retail world – especially if there is a commission at stake.

“There was always a bit of drama among employees over schedules and tasks,” said Robyn, who has worked at a number of retail stores. “In that respect, people could behave unprofessionally, simply because I don’t think they were emotionally mature.”

Your Feet will Hate You

If you’re used to lounging or working from a desk, a career in retail may come as a wake up call to your body, when you find yourself standing and walking (or borderline running) around the store for long periods on end. This is the type of situation that will offer a newfound appreciation for comfortable shoes. On the positive, you’ll burn off all the calories you’re consuming in the food court.

You’ll Deal with Scammers

Although we’d like to think that all customers are honest and considerate, that’s not always the case.

“I can’t tell you the amount of times that someone has come in to try to return something after they have clearly worn it out already or even had it in a laundry pile for months,” says Nicole, who used to work in a women’s boutique. And yes, it can get super awkward. On the other hand, Robyn says she’s still friends with loyal customers from her retail days.

It Can Get Hectic

Depending on where you work – for example, a busy mall during Boxing Day or Black Friday – working in retail can be more stressful and chaotic than many professional careers. You have to be quick, know how to multitask, and – most importantly – keep your patience with customers. For those who crave constant stimulation, this may not be a bad thing.

retail job
Instagram/ @tverskaya16


It Can Ruin the Holidays for You

For those who work in retail, unless they’re the type for overstimulation and an adrenaline rush, the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year for obvious reasons. Not only are the malls and shops busier than ever, odds are you’ll have to work up until close on Christmas Day and be back on Boxing Day before your Christmas dinner has had time to digest.  

You’ll Have to Pick Up After Others

You’ll quickly realize that there are two types of customers; the ones who hang their clothes back up in the change room, and others who leave discarded items strewn around the space like it’s a rebellious teenager’s bedroom. And it’s your job to pick it all up in a way their parents’ wouldn’t.  

It Can Involve Long Nights and Early Mornings

While many people may associate a career in retail with flexible hours (which is true), depending on your role, this can also mean late nights and early mornings. If you’re a merchandiser, for example, you’ll likely need to clock two to five hours before the store opens to set up displays or stay late in the evening after close.

While it takes someone who has experienced the good, bad, and ugly of the retail world to truly appreciate the experience of store employees, keep in mind this reality of the retail workers before you leave the change room a mess or snap at an employee for bringing the wrong size.

Featured image: Pexels

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