Enough is Enough: Escaping Retail

Something happened. Something that has stuck with me for 6 days now. It may seem small to some while massive to others, but my reasoning in sharing this is to spread awareness of the mistreatment retail employees experience on a daily basis.

I’ve worked in retail for all of my 20s, being at the same retail company for 7 years now. I’ve seen all sides to customers, both good and bad. I’ve met some customers that were some of the nicest, most respectful individuals, and I’ve met others that treat retail employees like they are lesser than. Sadly, this is not news or shocking. But something happened 6 days ago and I felt it was the only time that a customer made me feel filthy, disgusting, ashamed, and like my life did not matter. This customer made me feel this way in a 60 second transaction. I’ve put together a script of sorts to best recall this experience, and I do believe it is as accurate as I can possibly recall. No embellishments or exaggerations.

On Saturday, 8/24, I was working an 8am-6pm shift at my retail job. Around 2pm, I was paged by my cashier to offer some help up front since we were busy. I arrived shortly after I was paged and my first customer was this lady. I logged on to my register and stated that I’d take the next person in line. This customer looked at her watch, as to make a point that she was waiting for a long period of time and appeared angry and inconvenienced.

NOTE: I will be omitting any mention of the company I work for as we cannot speak about our company online. Most retail companies have policies such as this.

Me: “Hi ma’am, do you have a (membership) card with us?”

Customer: *Takes out membership card for me to scan, which I do, and she places it back in her wallet*

Me: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” *Scanning her items as I ask this, which was a greeting card and a gift card*

Customer: “I just want to pay.”

Me: “Ok, ma’am! On the credit card machine, there will be a donation question for you. If you’d like to bypass that donation screen, just press the ‘no’ button.”

Customer: “No, I don’t want to. Just let me pay.”

Me: “Ok, no problem. You have to bypass the donation question for the credit card machine to read your card as payment.”

Customer: “I am NOT doing this.”

Me: “I’m sorry; Just press the ‘no’ button and it’ll go away.”

Customer: “Well, YOU do it. I’m not.”

Me: “Ma’am, we cannot reach over and answer a donation question because it’s potential money being spent. If you push the ‘no’ button, it’ll go away.”

Customer: *Pushes the ‘no’ button* “WOW. You couldn’t have just done that?”

I didn’t respond to this comment because I didn’t see any safe/good response.

Me: “You’ll have one more prompt on the credit card machine for the gift card. It’s a fraud alert prompt and you just have to push the green button to acknowledge it and it goes away.”

Customer: “Are you KIDDING me? Just let me pay.”

Me: “It’s just an acknowledgement. The green button will take you to the screen to pay.”

Customer hits the red button which denied the sale.

Me: “Oh, you hit the red button. It has to be the green button or the register will decline the sale of the gift card.”

Customer: “Oh my God. You do it then.”

I scanned her items again, then reached over and pushed the acknowledgment to get her to the screen where she could pay.

Customer: “Oh, so you can reach over to answer that, but not the first one? HMM.”

I also didn’t respond to this because I was getting very anxious at this point and felt my heart pounding. I had a lump in my throat and I just didn’t know what to say without sounding rude. To briefly explain, employees cannot answer donation questions, but if customers aren’t able to read other prompts, we’ll typically summarize the prompt and hit the acknowledgement button for them.

As customer is paying, I had placed my fingers on her greeting card and gift card, waiting for her payment to go through. We have many gift card scams and have been told to keep our hands on gift cards until the transaction successfully goes through, so I was doing as we were trained.

Customer: “Can you not get the oils of your hand on my card? STOP touching my stuff.”

I quickly take my fingers off of her items, completely floored she had just said that to me. I froze and didn’t even know what to say. I just stood there, waiting for her payment to go through. When it does, I calmly slid her items across the counter to her because that seemed like the easiest way to minimize touching her items. She looks down at her items…

Customer: “UH, how about a bag??”

I quickly bag the items and hand her the bag, fighting back tears.

Me: “Have a good day.”

Customer then asks for my name to issue a complaint. I give her my name and she scoffs at me as she walks away. We had two full lines of customers and when she walked away, multiple people asked me if I was OK, what happened, what was her problem, etc.

I was crying by this point and didn’t really know what to do. I continued to ring up other customers as I cried. Later, I went into our break room and just broke down. I couldn’t figure out why I had been treated like that. I felt dirty. I felt like I was trash to her. Looking back now, I hate that I gave her that much power over my feelings, but the interaction happened so quickly that I didn’t even know how to feel in the moment. As I mentioned, this interaction lasted 60 seconds. I actually checked our security cameras to see how long this interaction was because it felt like it went on forever. 60 seconds. It took 60 seconds for someone to treat a retail employee that lowly. I’ve processed this interaction with a handful of people and the overall feedback I got was, “Why didn’t you do _______?” I hated this response. I needed to be picked up and encouraged and supported, but most critiqued how I handled the situation. The overall feedback suggested I refuse the transaction and kick her out, but my main takeaway from this interaction is… I shouldn’t have to think back and wish I handled things differently. NOBODY should treat others that way, period. NOBODY should act so entitled and above others. This experience really hurt me and I’m still hurting from it.

I’ve processed this interaction with my therapist to help me figure out why it was sticking with me so much. Following my session, I was able to put some things together:

1. I hate feeling inferior or lesser than, as most do. This bothered me so much because she made me feel small and I didn’t see any legitimate justification for how she treated me.

2. I was embarrassed. This interaction happened in front of about 15 customers and one of my coworkers. My social anxiety is difficult to handle in a retail job, but this just made it sky rocket.

3. Nobody stood up for me or helped. This was something that I didn’t realize I was holding onto, but after some self reflection in my session, I realized I was upset so many people watched this happen and didn’t speak up. I realize this isn’t fair to put on strangers, but it’s how I felt. I felt powerless and I just needed someone.

Last week, prior to this interaction, I had decided to take a demotion (I’m an assistant manager) and drop down to part time so that I can focus more on my therapist career. That decision was a long time coming, but I finally took the leap to get there. This interaction happened 4 days after I had talked with my boss about stepping down and the only positive aspect from this interaction is the fact that it solidified my decision to step down and slowly get away from retail. But why is this treatment deemed acceptable? I shouldn’t have to get away from retail to be treated like an human being. Nobody should. It’s been a heartbreaking, self-reflecting week.

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