10 Things You Need to Know about Working in Retail

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of three people in a shop, one of them standing behind a checkout desk and the other two standing next to each other - one of them is holding a shopping bag and the other person is holding his coat over his shoulder

Retail work may seem easy at first; you get to be around merchandise all day, assist customers and stand at checkout. That said, once you have worked in retail, you realise that there’s a lot more than what meets the eye. You will face daily challenges and hurdles that require patience to overcome.

So, if you work or are considering a job in retail, here are 10 things that you need to know.

1. The customer is not always right

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘the customer is always right, but that’s not always the case. There are plenty of times when they won’t take your word for an answer. The first instance is when you tell them something is out of stock; even though you are around the merchandise every day and know what is and isn’t available, they still won’t believe you unless they see you going into the stockroom to check first. 

If you don’t, they will track down another sales assistant to ask them the same question, even though you’ve already provided them with an answer. On top of that, they might be upset with you because the item is out of stock!

The second instance is when a customer wants to return an item that has been worn, is missing a tag or a receipt. Without the receipt and tag, you physically can’t process the refund, but the customer will refuse to accept this policy and then make a fuss about the fact that their item can’t be returned.

2. You will spend hours refolding clothes

If you’re an organised person, then this part will do your head in! After your morning inventory take, you will spend time reorganising the tables and rails to ensure it meets the visual merchandising standards of the stoor. 

Five minutes later, however, a customer will walk in, pull out four items of the same size top, shove them back on the table and, just like that, all your hard work will have gone to waste. You will then spend the next four hours of your shift refolding these items, placing them back in order until the next person comes along. Understandably, this will eventually start to grate on your nerves. 

On the plus side, you’ll become a pro at folding and organising clothes!

3. You will turn into a detective

When I worked in retail, I could spot a potential shoplifter from a mile away. Many of them entered the store with caps and shades, and some even had foil-lined bags (which stop the security doors from beeping if they walk out with tagged items). 

While you can’t accuse someone of stealing, there are ways to deter them from doing so. Following them around until they get bored is probably the best trick. This cat and mouse chase ends up becoming entertaining, and you’ll feel like you’re a part of a crime watch – waiting to solve the next theft case!

4. Retail work can take a toll on your body

Retail work is physically demanding. You spend hours on your feet (sometimes in uncomfortable footwear), and you only get short breaks. Besides standing for hours on end, you’ll also need to lug around heavy boxes, climb up ladders to get stock and will often go home with sore limbs and a backache. So, before you get a job in retail, you need to ensure that you have the physical stamina to complete your duties.

5. People will try to use your staff discount

Staff discount means that only you can get a discount on the items sold in the store, but friends and family will assume that this benefit extends to them as well. You might find yourself in awkward situations where you have to let them know that you can’t give them your store discount. 

One store I worked at only gave me a discount on clothes in my size to stop employees from abusing this policy, while others were more transparent. That said, if you’re buying stuff on a daily basis, they will soon catch on and realise that not everything is for you. This could lead to you losing your job since you could be breaching your contract.

6. You won’t have a steady work schedule

If you were seeking a 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday job, retail work is not for you! You will need to work a morning or evening shift (depending on the store’s opening hours) and be expected to work on weekends and holidays. 

You may also have to do overtime or cover other people’s shifts if they are ill or have a last-minute emergency. Therefore, you essentially need to be available at all hours of the day and be comfortable with an irregular work schedule.

7. You have to stay positive 

Even if you’re having a bad day, you still need to be friendly, approachable and helpful towards store customers. This applies to all front-facing job roles. 

To provide excellent customer service, you’ll need to find a way to maintain a positive attitude and carry out your responsibilities. 

8. There will be customers who will make it all worthwhile

While some customers will be the bane to your existence, others will brighten your day and make it all worthwhile by being extremely polite and grateful for your help.

When I worked in retail, a lady would come in and specifically ask for my help. She’d ask me to pair outfits together for her, and I would give her my honest opinion on whether something looked nice or not. She was grateful for my help, and we ended up forming a great bond. 

Even now, 10 years later, I still remember this customer and feel pleased that I could help her.

9. You should stir clear of gossiping 

Like any workplace, gossiping about your co-workers is a big no-no. There’s nothing worse than a customer walking into a store and hearing two employees badmouthing their employer or colleague – it sets a bad example and could deter people from shopping in the store. 

Not only that, but word travels fast, and your supervisors could soon find out what you’ve been saying, which will negatively affect your performance review next time it rolls around!

10. You must always be on time

And by being on time, I mean arriving 10 minutes early so you can be on the shop floor when your shift begins. If you’re late, your colleague will need to stick around until you turn up, which will make them dislike you. It could also negatively affect your manager’s impression of you, and you won’t get away with it for too long. 

So, if you’re someone who is always running late, you’ll need to perfect your time-management skills.

As you can see, working in retail requires a lot of stamina and dedication. That said, having a positive attitude and a good work ethic will help you make the most out of every shift!

Have you ever worked in retail? What other tips and advice would you give? Let us know by leaving a comment in the section below!