Working retail as a college student has its ups and downs, but if we’re being honest, it’s mostly downs. Retail workers, especially young workers who are usually the lowest on the totem pole as cashiers and sales associates, must handle a barrage of obstacles to earn each paycheck; stingy bosses and managers, following ridiculous rules set by the company, dealing with creepy coworkers, and worst of all, dealing with the customers. Customers are inarguably the worst part about working retail, because the vast majority are rude and unfriendly.
Coincidently, almost every customer can be grouped into one of the following fifteen categories;
1. The nice old couple – this couple usually leaves you wanting to adopt them as your own grandparents so they can bake you cookies and take you out for ice cream because they’re so pleasant and good natured. These are the most ideal customers because they’re not overly talkative, and usually make you feel like you’ve been the highlight of their days (just like they were the highlight of yours).
2. The bitter old couple – just like there’s always a nice elderly couple, there’s also always that bitter couple who watch you angrily through narrowed eyes as you assist them with whatever arbitrary question they have. And no matter how polite and helpful you are, they will still hate you and blame you for every inconvenience they’ve encountered in your store.
3. Someone you went to high school with – it’s inevitable if you work in or around the town you graduated high school from that you’ll encounter at least one of your former classmates. And it will be awkward, because even if you were friends in high school, you probably aren’t anymore and you’ll have to fake interest in their lives because you’re paid to be friendly to all the customers, even the ones you knew personally at one point. You’ll make awkward conversation about your life after college, and then they’ll leave and you’ll likely never see them again (unless you inexplicably run into them somewhere else).
4. Someone you used to be friends with – this person may be someone you used to go to school with, and were friends with at one point, but aren’t anymore because you’ve probably realized how terrible and/or immature they are. You’ll make fake promises to text each other and reconnect over the breadsticks at Olive Garden, even though you have no intention of reaching out to them (and they probably have no intention of reaching out to you either).
5. A neighbor – on with the awkward small talk about how college is going (and swallowing sarcastic comments with every breath you take) and what so-and-so’s children are up to. You may as well have a speech prepared to update everyone you will run into while you’re working, since the small talk is seemingly never ending.
6. The overly friendly middle-aged man – this customer will always start off by saying “you look bored” when he approaches you at the register. He may be a tatted biker, or he may look like the coach of a high school football team, but either way, he will call you “sweetie,” “darling,” and/or “hun” and make awkwardly long eye contact. Bonus: he may also compliment your makeup and ask when you get out of work (FYI, NEVER tell them).
7. The cutie – there will always be at least one person you encounter in a given week who is a perfect 10. Whether it’s the blonde bombshell sporting black heels and a red dress even though it’s only 2pm, or the adorably pierced boy who may or may not be in a punk band, they will find you. The best thing to do is smile, and pretend you aren’t hyperaware of everything you’re saying/doing and the sweat collecting on your lower back.
8. The barterer – there’s always one person who approaches you at the register who wants some kind of price reduction for any given item they may be carrying. It’s usually a sheet set that’s $45 that they believe should be $25. And you have to deliver the same spiel every time, that you can’t just take money off an item because they feel it costs too much (if only capitalism worked that way).
9. The complainer – this person (or people) always complains about everything when they get to the register; how you’re sold out of ‘product x’ and how expensive ‘product y’ is compared to other stores. The worst part is when they complain directly to you, and you have to pretend to sympathize with them, even when you could not care less about their mundane problems because there’s a huge line forming behind them and only one other person ringing. Whatever you do, swallow all sarcastic and insincere comments, as they will only lead to trouble.
10. The ATM – this person will always pay in cash, no matter what the total of the purchase is. For instance, I’ve encounter people who pay with a $20 bill for purchases costing $2.50, and people paying with a $100 bill for purchases costing $9.75. The worst one by far is when they have a $400+ total and they decide to pay with all $10’s and $20’s, which you have to count out to ensure you are not shortchanged. They usually carry their bills in large wads balled up in their pockets, with or without a money clip (people still use those?).
11. The former (or current) retail worker – sympathy. You will always get sympathy from these people, because they too know the horrors of customer service and the mental anguish it inflicts on its workers.
12. The exact amount of change – different from the ATM, this person will not hesitate to hold up a line just to give you exactly $0.67, or dig through their pockets and purses to find that one penny to give you since they have “so many already.” Sometimes they’ll even try to give you change after you start counting out the change you owe them, and it messes up your train of thought.
13. The socialite – no matter what they look like or how old they are, this person acts as though the whole world revolves around them because they are constantly texting or talking to someone on the phone as you attempt to assist them or ring them out at the register. And you can’t help but overhear them yell at Debbie for not picking up the groceries, or Todd for staying late after school to play basketball with his friends.
14. The Labrador – this person is very friendly and outgoing, which is both good and bad. While they’re sure to hold a genuine conversation with you, and thank you for wishing them a good day, it’s unlikely you’ll be rid of them in under five minutes. When a Labrador starts talking to you, they won’t stop until every possible conversation you could have with them is thoroughly exhausted. At least it’s not the bitter old couple glaring you down over the frames of their glasses, though, right?
15. The mute – this is possibly the worst customer you’ll have all day because they will not say anything to you. Your polite “Hi, how are you?” and “Did you find everything alright today?” will go without acknowledgement, and your final “Have a good day,” will be met with two seconds of eye contact, followed by either a sharp “Thanks,” or no response at all. The mute will diminish any happiness you feel as they dehumanize you to nothing more than the minimum wage cashier that you are.
Long story short, retail work is the worst work. So next time you go into Target to check out their housewares section for the second time that week, even though you won’t buy anything anyway, remember to be a little nicer to the workers. Smile a little more, be a little more friendly. And whatever you do, don’t be a mute.