If you work in retail you will know that wherever you work, no matter what type of shop, wherever and whenever in the world you worked there, there are certain inalienable truths - which you might have been unaware of before you first stepped foot into the back offices of a shop.
But whether you had an ill-fated summer job, earned a few extra quid in a shop through school, or made a full blown career out of it, you are now part of an elite club with a little bit more knowledge than your average shopper on the other side of the counter.
Number One: Nobody ever goes ’out the back to check’
Customers like to ask store colleagues if they can ’check out the back’ for the missing ingredient for their sauce, or the correct sized dress. And often we agree, disappear just out of sight for a few minutes and then return, glum look and empty hands, to confirm that there is nothing in the warehouse that might fit the bill.
There is a simple reason - the warehouse is pretty much non-existent, and any stock is likely still in the boxes and totes it was delivered in. Stores do not want to hold excess stock, which simply ties up capital. Supermarkets have virtually no stockholding other than what is on the floor, and in fashion, anything other than essentials is bought in deliberately smaller quantities, to ensure as little as possible ends up on the sale rail. Unless you’re looking for 40 denier black tights, a multipack of school shirts, or something similarly ’essential’ - asking a sales assistant to look in the back only allows them a few precious minutes off the floor.
Number Two: Sometimes we agree. But reasoning with customers isn’t usually productive
What we say: "I am terribly sorry that that particular brand is no longer on offer - perhaps you might like to try this similar one instead?"
What we mean: "Why are you berating me? If I had control over the buying strategy for this billion pound business, do you seriously think I would be here filling a fridge with soup? Get a grip. Or make your own soup."
Prices go up. Promotions change. Layouts get moved about to baffle. We know. We feel the same. But complaining loudly and at length will not actually help the matter. Sometimes we even agree - even if we know the perfectly good business reason for the changes you’re upset about. But telling you the background doesn’t generally help matters, and so keeping quiet and vaguely nodding assent to your complaint usually seems the best option.
Number Three: We are not ’just checking the contents of the box matches the description’
A checkout colleague once explained to me that the reason she was decanting the multipack of boxed pants I was buying onto the counter was to check that the contents was the same as the description - ’you know, sometimes things get mixed up and the sets don’t match’. We all know that’s not true and it was being checked just in case I had smuggled a whole load of extra stock into the teeny tiny box and was attempting to steal it from right under her nose. Although given the pleasure colleagues sometimes seem to derive from emptying your underwear all over the counter - maybe I’m wrong about that.
Number Four: If you want to get to know an area before buying a house there, go to the local supermarkets
Asking a passing policeman about the area might give you one insight, but if you’re moving to a new area, you cannot beat checking the local supermarkets to get a feel for the demographics. If there is a ’small ads’ board, this will tell a tale - are the adverts for gardening services and nannies, or people flogging knock off DVDs and second hand furniture? And then the shop’s merchandise itself. Supermarkets target their stock to the local demographic extremely intensively, so look to see the balance between value ranges and top end, and what has been security tagged. Needless to say, there’s a somewhat different vibe between an area with a fridge full of champagne in the foyer, and one where the block cheese and packs of meat are in security cases to prevent theft.
Number Five: We might look like we’re super rich, based on the branded clothes we have to wear for work - but we’re not
In many fashion stores, you are required to wear the store’s products for work. You may even have limits on how old the stock can be, to make sure you are wearing the current trends and reflecting the store as well as possible. Which is why we sometimes look like we could afford to be out sipping cocktails, instead of behind a counter. We might get heavily discounted purchases as part of our benefits package, but the need to buy a continual stream of new clothes for work can be a drag after a while.
So, if you’re one of the many retail workers coming into the third or fourth consecutive week of Christmas tunes on loop, and with another six weeks to look forward to, at least you can comfort yourself a little that wherever you are, there are millions of other retail workers and we’re all in it together.