5 Things I Learned from Working in Retail

When I was sixteen, I attended the midnight launch of the seventh Harry Potter book. Minutes before midnight, the manager of the bookshop offered me a job. I’ve been there ever since, working through the Leaving Certificate, four years of an Undergraduate degree, a year out of college, and now my Masters.

In that time, I’ve learned a few things about the world that are most annoyingly experienced from the opposite side of the till.

1. Technology will fail us when we need it most. This seems to happen most often when we have a lot of people in line at once. At Christmas. The credit card machines will act up. The Internet connection will go down completely. The ATM around the corner will stop working. Effectively, we lose all means of accepting payment from people. Sometimes, both tills crash at the same time, just to screw with us.

2. Sundays are not as precious as they used to be. When I was younger, my parents used to take us to a shopping centre in the morning on a Sunday. Not every week, but sometimes. We’d go early so we wouldn’t waste the entire day out in shops. We used to have dinner in the afternoon, and visit grandparents in the evening. These days, it seems like families just want to spend all their time out of the house, and in shops. Kids get restless, which conveniently leads us to…

3. People let their kids roam free when nobody’s watching. I’ve lost count of how many times parents would call their kids up on the mess they’ve made by virtue of the fact that I’m standing right beside them. Or, more accurately, I’m cleaning the mess right in front of them. Big pile of books your child abandoned on the table, balanced precariously just in case a baby wants to reach up and grab them? Don’t worry, I’ll get that! A book your child just put down, next to eight others they can’t (or shouldn’t) read yet? Mine now! And so on. I get slightly bitter about it, until the message gets through and the parents make their children clean up after themselves.

4. Humans are creatures of habit. I never expected to really know any of my customers names. I definitely didn’t expect to know which ones took a bag for their newspaper, or which ones went for a coffee while they were at the centre. Or what sorts of books different people read. I began to memorise the favourite authors of my regulars at the weekend without even meaning to, because they came in every week at the same time, buying the same sorts of books or enquiring after the same authors.

5. People don’t know their consumer rights. I’m not going to get into a discussion on consumer rights here. I mentioned a bit in the video above, but this post doesn’t have the space for everything you need to know. The problem I want to address is that barely anybody really knows what they’re entitled to. It’s fun when people claim they do in a matter-of-fact kind of way, but they’re actually wrong, because those are the people who grant you a little victory you don’t see often working in retail – when the customer is not right. (Incidentally, whoever came up with the expression “The customer is always right” clearly never worked in retail…)

So there you have it!

Funny story… I had to export and upload that video twice, because once again I made a mistake in the editing. I accidentally left a clip in there twice. Silly Paul!


About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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2 Responses to 5 Things I Learned from Working in Retail

  1. I loved my regular customers, getting to know them and being able to make them feel as important as they are and their day special by recognizing their wants and needs without them having to specify them. 🙂 Five very accurate and great facts!

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