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How to be a Good Retail Customer

Updated on May 9, 2015
janikon profile image

I'm a thirty-something writer who lives in downtown Toronto. I've been an online writer for over seven years, focusing on health trends.


I have been working retail for the better part of my twenties; like most young people forced to work while completing their education, the flexible schedule and steady pay are the two most appealing parts of the job. The employee discount doesn't hurt either, especially if you have chosen to work in a clothing store. Unlike our television counterparts, who seem to flit around their work establishments without a care or responsibility in the world, we are actually forced to deal with customers, not just have meaningful conversations about the moments of our lives, while some sweet old woman browses in the periphery.

Retail work can be rewarding, there is some oddly fulfilling feeling associated with meeting a sales goal or designing a product display but, sadly, is an entirely thankless job. Though, with 31% of retail workers in the United States are under the age of 24, it has rapidly become the profession of choice for students looking for fast cash. It remains one of the few professions which does not require a high school diploma, presently. But, let me be the first tell you, nothing will prepare you for being brought to tears by an irate customer who has spent ten minutes screaming at you, over $2.25. The one major downfall of retail work? Rude and belittling customers who seem to get the jollies from tearing customer service reps down.

Retail workers are forced to endure hours of workshops aimed at improving your customer service skills or videos on understanding your customers better but, while we spend our time improving ourselves in order to serve the public, nowhere is their an instruction manual on how to be a better customer or how not to make the cashier cry.

Well, consider this a manual because, it is time to take some scissors and cut this douchery right out.

1. Cashier Etiquette

There is nothing worse than standing in a long line, whether you are doing it on a Saturday or you find yourself caught in one on a Wednesday. It is one of the major downfalls of shopping during peak periods, but if we are interested in shopping legally than we are required to suck-it-up and wait. There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated by the time you get to the cashier but you should never let loose your frustrations on them. Here is some basic cashier etiquette and common misconceptions:

  • The length of the line and the time you are forced to wait is not the fault of the cashier. Do not scream at him/her because you have been waiting over thirty minutes to buy a pair of jeans, they are not unaware of how long you waited; who do you think served the twenty-three people ahead of you? The length and time in a line is actually due to the speed of the customers infront of you, please, if you are looking for someone to scream at, look for the old woman who spent five minutes counting out two dollars and twenty-six cents in pennies, to lighten her change purse.
  • Do not cutoff the cashier mid-sentence; he/she is not speaking just to hear the sound of their own voice nor do they routinely begin spouting store promotions for fun, it is a requirement of their job. Let them give their thirty-nine second speech and kindly bite your tongue, sometimes there is even a promotion which could help you save money on the current transaction
  • Do not bring fourteen items to the cash desk only to forgo buying thirteen of those items, especially do not wait to make your decision after all items have been scanned through. If you are simply holding the items because you didn't want to leave them around the store, that is okay but do not be a indecisive customer.
  • Do not use the cashiers name to personalize an insult or degrading remark, that is not the purpose of their name tags. Please avoid statements similar to; "I think we have all waited in this line long enough, Amanda" or "Do you think you could go any faster, Paul? I'm not going to get a ticket because you are new" or "I don't care what you think you know, Lindsay" or "I could care less about your stupid store policy, Jack, where is your manager?!"

In my five years at Blockbuster - where every school night seemed to be a Blockbuster night - eight customers brought me to tears, usually just out of sheer frustration of having to stand there and defend a policy while I was being personally insulted. I held it together while dealing with the belligerent customer and then, when I finished taking the next eight or nine people, I would excuse myself and allow myself four minutes of good crying time, locked in the employee bathroom. I had one customer scream at an employee for fifteen minutes because we were unable to open an account because she had no photo ID on her and didn't want to drive home, it wasn't until she declared the cashier was a 'heartless bitch who should just die" did the twenty-year old girl breakdown crying.

The cashier doesn't want to fight with you, usually he/she just wants to complete their shift without incident and go home. If you are nice to a cashier they will usually try to bend the rules within reason to help solve your problem, but once you are rude to them they will do very little to help you.

Beautifully stocked store, please do not mess it up.
Beautifully stocked store, please do not mess it up. | Source

Are You Guilty of Throwing Merchandise Down Wherever?

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2. Breaking or Moving Merchandise Around

In high school, while shopping for a gift for my parents anniversary, I knocked a display of vases down with my backpack. It was one of the most embarrassing and horrifying moments of my life, three of the $120 vases smashed to the floor and I thought my life was over. I am pretty sure the colour drained from my face so fast the customer service representative was scared I may have been suffering from a stroke. She was very nice to me, and refused my twenty dollar bill, stating, "Accidents happen but don't make a habit of breaking merchandise you can't afford"

This is very good advice and one several customers should take note of, especially when shopping with strollers, children or any other cumbersome instrument.

  • If you break something in the store, please alert the customer service representative so they can (a) clean up the mess, (b) remove it from the shelf and adjust the inventory, and (c) ensure nobody is hurt because of it
  • Please do not simply re-shelve the broken item, depending on the size of the store and the severity of the break it could take a while before we see it.
  • Do not start blaming our the layout of our store when we come to help you, usually we are not there to blame you but instead, to clean up the mess. We do not need to be verbally attacked on the moment of arrival.
  • You do not need witnesses to prove that it was an accident, we really could care less and just want to get the mess cleaned up. Once you have told us and apologized, please continue on shopping.

I have an aunt who likes to move items around in other peoples homes, she likes to see how an ornament will look on another surface and usually forgets to put it back. This can be extremely annoying, especially because someone is coming into your home and touching your things without the decency to put them back where they found them. This same rule applies when you are shopping in a store.

  • If you do not remember where an item goes, please do not just fling it anywhere. It makes clean-up at the end of the night that much longer, simply bring it up to the cash desk or, if in a clothing store, hand it to one of the dressing room supervisors.
  • Avoid moving items around the sales floor, for example, carrying around a t-shirt for ten minutes before deciding against and hanging it with other t-shirts. Since the items look similar but not in the place they should, we may not be able to locate this item for another customer and it won't be found til the next inventory.
  • Do not fiddle with the tags or security features on the clothes or items you are holding or trying on. We know what the price is and you are only risking damaging the clothes, so just stop.

Look, customers!
Look, customers! | Source

3. Inventory Requests or Complaints

Requesting a product which the store does not routinely carry is okay, but do not verbally attack the customer service rep because it's not there. We have no control over what is carried in the store but if we can, we can see if it is (a) on order or (b) in one of our sister stores. If we know another store in the mall (or in the city) carries the product you want, so you can buy it that day, please do not comment on how we are sending you out of the store. For example:

Janikon: We don't have bathroom scales here, but I'm pretty sure Shoppers Drug Mart has them
Customer: You are sending me somewhere else? It must be so nice for you to usher people out of your store because you have such poor customer service. Maybe a more appropriate answer would be to offer to order for me.
Janikon: I would but we discontinued the style of bathroom scales we carried, and the owner [of the store] does not want to carry them again, they just did n---
Customer: No excuses necessary, I think I will just take my business to Shoppers Drug Mart. That's fine. I will not be shopping here anymore, especially considering the poor service I received today. You should shape up.

This was an actual conversation, like it actually happened. Sadly, she was the tamest of customers I have dealt with but she was in my store for five minutes before asking me a question and when I did not have the answer she wanted, she attacked. It would be fantastic if you did not do this, just take the help and go about your day.

He worked at Blockbuster and just handled the fortieth customer angry over their late fee, in the same hour
He worked at Blockbuster and just handled the fortieth customer angry over their late fee, in the same hour | Source

Happy Tears, We Swear!

Next time you are shopping and become frustrated, take a step back, breathe, and remember that the customer service person you are talking with is probably the same age as your daughter or son. I am sure you would not want someone screaming at them for something which is out of their control, so paste on a smile and try to work through it.

Whereas being yelled at by one customer is upsetting but not lasting, being yelled at by more than ten people can be pretty disheartening. You can be assured that one out of three customer service workers you have came in contact with last Saturday, while shopping at the GAP, have probably been reduced to tears at one point due to a angry customer.

Please, we beg you, do not make us cry. There is nothing we could do.


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    • Claudia Mathews profile image

      Claudia Mathews 

      4 years ago

      Working with the public is one of the most difficult jobs there is. I've been reduced to tears a couple times too and when it happens in front of the customer its even worse. But thankfully, for every horrible customer, there is usually one of those special people that come along... you know the ones... they notice the stress on your face, they can tell you are ready to crack, but instead of reacting negatively to you, they find a way to put a smile on your face. This is a great hub, thanks for writing it. I hope it makes some people think.

    • JPWeinzierl profile image

      Jeff W 

      5 years ago from Bergen County NJ

      The way people act towards retail workers can be terrible sometimes. This was not the worst of my retail experiences but there during one of my shifts when a woman had walked into my store, She was about halfway through, her head moving like one of those bobble head dolls, I was sure she must have been looking for a particular item, I was wrong. She literally screamed at me "OMG you are so annoying". Thankfully she was the only one in the store, also thankfully I was a the supervisor at the time so I excused myself to go get a soda from the food court. I returned just in time to hear the lady complaining about me to one of my employees as she was checking out.

    • Dartail profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a great article.

      Many times we focus on "cashier etiquette" and forget that customers are just as much at fault for silly situations.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very good article about this, I was a cashier years ago, and customers were so rude at time. I've learned to be kind to the cashiers when I go into the stores now.

    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Donna Lichtenfels 

      7 years ago from California, USA

      When I was young, and actually had some customer service skills, I experienced all of the things you describe. Fortunately, for the last 30 some years have not had to deal with crotchety customers, but everytime I hear someone berating a worker (unless it is me on one of those rare-off days), I tell them to knock it off.

      One thing for sure, there are customers from hell--waiting tables has to be the hardest! And to the customers from hell- go back to where you came from!

      Realized customer service was not my strong suit when at 16, was serving a bowl of soup to a 60 year old man who pinched me on the butt/ Need I tell you where his bowl of soup landed?

    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      I could not agree more. I have worked regular retail, food retail, waited tables, and had service-only jobs. I wish everyone would read your hub!

    • Shaddie profile image


      7 years ago from Washington state

      Great hub!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      7 years ago from Parts Unknown

      I appreciate you hub! In the past I use to work in a retail environment, and I'm glad to be out of it, because it made me really start to hate people. Now that I'm out I'm starting to like people again. Also because of my past background, I try hard not to be the customer that I hate.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      7 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      There you go!!!! Love yaz, lily

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 

      7 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      This is fantastic!! I've also worked in retail, in fact my first job was serving frozen yoghurt. Can you imagine how many people shout and scream and insult you over a cup of frozen yoghurt?! It's insane. Learning from though - I try and provide great customer service, and I expect awesome service from customer service agents at the same time. Thanks for eye opener, it's very true!! Voted up and sharing :)

    • hisandhers profile image


      7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      I don't know why this hasn't been written before! It wasn't until I started working in retail that I realized that there are many people in the world who have grown up with the false impression that the world revolves around them. Being mean to a sales rep doesn't get you anywhere! The old adage is true: you always catch more flies with honey.

      Great hub! Possibly your best hub ever! Voted up, up, up!

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      7 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is great information! I've worked in customer service for many years, including an unfortunate detour in my working life as a manager at a clothing store. Working at stores can be so horrible! I agree with you on all of these points. So many customers are just outright nasty for no reason. People tend to take their anger out on the wrong people for the wrong reason. If it makes you feel any better, I do cry less now than before. I realize anything the customer is saying to me is their issue and not my own. It still gets me here and there, but mostly I get mad now... or I find a way to get even! Hehe. Good luck and great hub!


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