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So You Want to Work in Retail - Part 1

Updated on April 8, 2013

An Introduction to Retail

This occupation can be both very enjoyable, and extremely frustrating. Sometimes both in the same day. Like most occupations, much of that can depend on the type of retail and the individual establishment where you work. But I believe this to be true even more with retail than with other occupations.

During my entire college career, I worked in a liquor/party store, or a grocery store, depending on who you ask. The owner did not like to think of himself as a party store owner, he preferred to call himself a grocer. I, on the other hand, classified the store based on what was necessary for it to stay in business. Over 90% of our sales were beer, liquor, wine, pop, chips, and deli. If we did not have bread, milk, canned food, produce, and pet food, we could stay in business. But if we ever lost the cooler, or liquor license, the place would go under in a matter of weeks. So really, we were a party store that sold some groceries. He owned another store that I would call a grocery store, but I only worked there about six times before he sold it. That was a grocery store the likes of which are very rare nowadays. It was located on a corner in the middle of a residential neighborhood. That was sold about a year after I started working for him. All of my time was spent working at the party store on the main road.

While the retail business you might wish to work in might be different than the one I was in, I believe many of these principles and situations are transferable to other forms of retail. These are some of the ups and downs you may be likely to encounter when working retail.


Retail normally is not a Monday through Friday, 8-5 job. Most of the time, your schedule will vary, and you most likely can count on working at least some weekends. Since I was in college when I worked retail, I worked every weekend, because those are the days most open for time. Expect to work at different times of the day. This sometimes means working an evening one night and then having to come back and work the next morning. So if you have plans to do something important for example the next Wednesday, it would be a wise idea to specifically request not to be scheduled for that day. Just because you were not scheduled to work this Wednesday, doesn't mean you won't be scheduled for the next one. In many retail businesses, schedules can vary widely for a number of reasons. For example, another employee might have requested the same day off that normally works Wednesdays, or your boss might want to pair you with a new employee for training purposes.


Some of them you will love, others you will loathe. Some you will admire, some you will have absolutely no personal respect for. But you will have to wait on them all. For me, this was probably the biggest variable of the feeling I described in the introduction about it being enjoyable and frustrating, sometimes in the same day. You will see the best and the worst of humanity. If you work in retail for several years like I did, you may even develop friendships with some of the customers. And...when you have a base of hundreds of regulars, it's possible that some you will lose, and miss - possibly to them moving away, or to them ceasing to use the products you provide, sometimes to death, and sometimes to an unfortunate falling out. You could also have the opposite feeling...while it's always bad to lose business in terms of money, you may find that if the regular in question is one you can't personally stand, them not coming in anymore can make your day more enjoyable from an emotional stress perspective.


This is another key in what kind of day you are going to have. In retail, if a worker doesn't pull their weight, it tends to have a more direct effect on the worker working after them. In a clothes store, if the person that worked the shift before you doesn't stock their share of the clothes, that leaves twice as much work for you. In a party store, if the person working before you fails to fill the cooler, or put away the empty bottles, you will encounter more than one difficulty. You will have to stock twice as much, and due to the time it takes for a six pack or twelve pack of beer or pop to chill, you will end up getting complained to by unhappy customers that the beer is warm.

On the other hand, if the person working before me did their job, and I liked the coworker that I was working the shift with, chances were better than average that at least most of the day was going to go well. Just as customer incidents can make or break your day, so can the coworkers.


I put this in a different category than customers, because it would be an insult to paying customers to have thieves included in the same category. However, unfortunately sometimes thieves are customers, sometimes ones you thought were honest. One of the biggest disappointments in retail is finding out that a paying customer, especially a regular, is also a thief. Catching them in the act and then having to tell them they are no longer welcome in the store is a big let down, especially if it is a person you respected. Just like in life, if you find out someone is not the person you thought they were, that can really ruin not only a day, but a week. No matter if you work in a large department store, or a small party store, whatever function you are serving that day - be it stock, register, greeter - you will most likely be expected to also look out for thieves. They are one of the biggest hazards to net profit. If a store makes a 5% net profit, and a thief steals something that the store paid $1 to get from wholesale or the vendor, that means you will have to sell $20 worth of merchandise to make up for that $1 item.


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