Working in retail is the recent focus of the book Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly. Meant to be a tell-all about the atrocities of being forced to work in retail,(despite the fact that the author only worked part time for roughly two years) Caitlyn rails against low pay, disorganized back rooms, incompetent management, low pay, sore feet, childish customers…and did I mention low pay? To listen to Ms. Kelly, you nearly believe that retail employment is barely a step above indentured servitude. As the daughter of a carpenter who worked a physically demanding job outdoors in all weather for pay equal to what Ms Kelly received for folding shirts and running Visa cards, I have very little sympathy.
But it does beg for a post that addresses her issues by pointing out the five things she could have done to succeed in her job, and dare I say, maybe even enjoyed it:
Rule 1. Free Item #1 – a smile. A friendly smile is one thing e-commerce sites still cannot replicate. First of all, I like to hire people who naturally smile as the relaxed state of their face. Those people exist. People who smile with their mouth and their eyes. Look for them when hiring and remind your co-workers to smile. Smiling is contagious. Even if you have to, think of it this way: nothing is as sweet a revenge as a smile.
Rule 2. Free Item #2 – an authentic greeting. Find something you can honestly say in greeting to people entering your store or zone. Personalized comments are best for engaging customers, but always (as in, without fail) greet and acknowledge people in within your line of sight.
Rule 3. Prioritize People over Tasks. Your management may assign you non-sales tasks, but always prioritize people ahead of tasks. Assisting with sales and keeping customers happy will win you more points at performance reviews than completing tasks on time while ignoring prospective customers.
Ancillary Rule 3.5: This includes answering the phone before helping a customer at the cash register. A real living person with a transaction in front of you always take priority over a ringing device.
Rule 4. Cultivate Reliability. Be on time. Every day. For work and returning from breaks. Honestly running late? Let your manager know – ahead of time. Once you build a reputation for reliability, your worth will rise. Get caught in a lie over sick days or develop a pattern of tardiness and you will find your schedule and career halted.
Rule 5. Try it before complaining. Just like brussel sprouts. After listening to the latest training plan or sales technique from corporate, to legitimately complain -and be heard- you have to try it. Then, when you complain about it being ineffective or a waste of time, you can give specific examples of how you tried and how the process didn’t work for you. Give specifics and try to make suggestions. If you complain without trying, no one will listen. (like the kid who says they don’t like a vegetable without trying it.)
Retail is not hard. It’s not saving lives or making dangerous decisions. It is basic: friendliness, reliability, persistence. Success is in your hands.