Inciting Incident Blog #6 – Black Friday PTSD

I spent a good portion of my life trying to get through this time of year as quickly as possible. Along the way, I’ve gained a bit of perspective on what it’s like beyond dealing with the madness of Black Friday from the salesperson point of view. Perhaps this can be of use to anyone who still enjoys shopping at a place, and also as to why a number of us are so tense and apathetic when everyone just thinks we’re Scrooges.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who shop at stores is the cashiers/salespeople being pushy or bothering them or asking them questions repeatedly. There are two different scenarios in which I’ve been forced to be that person, and allow me to explain it from both of those. YMMV. First, we have to keep asking you questions because if we don’t, we’ll be considered poor customer service reps and likely get complaints that “no one was there to help me.” Second, if we’re commission-based, I know you don’t give a shit, but sales-based jobs are super competitive. Imagine doing all the work to make a certain amount of money only for someone to sneak in at the cashier station and get credit for it. I know you’re saying, “who cares, it all evens out, right?” but a good sale can be the difference of paying all the bills or not when you rely on it.

Also, the cashiers have to ask you about their stupid card and magazine subscriptions and upsales and small additional items because if we don’t, we might get Secret Shopped and nailed for not bothering every single person for the six additional things we’re supposed to ask. Oh, and then, if we don’t push enough of all of those six things, we don’t have high enough “numbers” and may lose our jobs, especially this time of year. We also might lose our jobs anyway, because a lot of seasonal jobs don’t tell you you’re seasonal because if you think you might have a shot, you’ll sell more shit. Do you see any of that in your paycheck? No. But the RM gets a bonus, so it’s totes okay.

I worked commission for a while, and some people think that makes our motivations higher to sell you stuff you don’t need. It’s the exact opposite. Not only is it incentive to do your job well, but if you return something because you don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, it comes OUT of our paychecks. That’s why you might see some people glaring at you for returning something because you found it cheaper somewhere else. It’s two dollars to you, and it’s twenty to us, perhaps more. If you’ve never had an anxiety attack every time you see someone walking in the store with a bag already in tow, you’ve likely never taken return hits.

Finally, the whole system is based on making the lowest level people push all the bullshit and take all the heat from the angry customers who are impatient and want to buy their shit and go home because people several levels up get a bonus if you meet your goals. And by meet your goals, I mean do 5-percent better than last year’s number. And if you don’t, if you only match last year’s numbers, you get reamed out and have your jobs threatened. These things aren’t determined against profit or doing your job well, it has to be an increase over last year every year. You have to sell a certain number of their stupid cards every week or day. You have to get several magazine subscriptions every day. Most of the time, they don’t see a dime for them either. The only incentive is: Sell this shit you don’t believe in to people who don’t want it or you lose your job.

Then, there are people who look at you and say “click-and-order” not “brick-and-mortar” or talk about shopping in their pajamas. If you’re at a big company like Target or Walmart, you don’t really give a shit. But if you’re a specialist or someone who works on commission, selling things that take knowledge and skill, and someone instead brags about being “smart” and ordering it online, you may as well be saying “I could’ve helped you eat this week, but I didn’t.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you at all. I grocery shop at 2AM because I’d rather do anything than be in a store with people. But when I worked in a suit store, sometimes people would come in with thousand-dollar plus sales they clicked and ordered, then expect you to spend an hour tailoring them up, for which you got paid jack shit. So yeah, if you’ve ever done that and gotten glares and people grumbling and short with you, that may be why.

Oh yeah, and the music. I know so many of you love that Christmas music, but since our entire economy is based on Christmas shopping now, somehow it’s offensive if you don’t have Christmas music on 24/7. JBL forbid someone walk in a store and not hear “Jingle Bells” on November 1st every single place they go for two straight months. It’s nice when it accompanies your personal shopping trip I’m sure, but we have to hear likely a very short playlist on repeat for two straight months. Some people say just ignore it, but I was never someone who could. I haven’t worked in the last retail job I’ve had in over a year and I still get shit stuck in my head from that awful playlist. I made fun of it on “Jaded Hope” every single year.

I’m not telling you how to shop. I’m not even saying don’t go out on Black Friday. I don’t care, that’s not the point of this essay. But if you’re going to, don’t get mad at cashiers for having to ask you questions, because their jobs depend on it. Don’t get upset if you have a return and you get a look, because you might be taking money away from someone. Or, if you’re going to do it online, don’t say it to someone who works on commission. Or ask “are you open?” because we are and we hate the extended hours, guaranteed. Or be surprised when we’re open on a holiday, and say something like “I can’t believe they’re making you work today.” You’re not helping by being someone who comes in on that day. A lot of the people helping you are likely fighting to keep their jobs so that their bosses can get bonuses off their work, so give them a second before you yell at them about saying “Happy Holidays!” instead of whatever your holiday is specifically. We don’t care, we already hate you, we’ve been there for over ten hours, and we’ve heard that Taylor Swift song you’re saying 12 times today alone.

The best incentive I’ve ever had to graduate college was working retail. I’ll wear a Michigan jersey before I go back to that perpetual slow death of the soul.

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