Blood, Sweat and Shit: What It’s Really Like To Be A High Street Shop Assistant

Or what she's really thinking when you go into the changing room with 16 items rather than 6


by Anonymous |
Published on

It's 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and I still haven't eaten since breakfast (a Yorkie from the vending machine, if you must know). I've been standing at the front of the fitting rooms for three hours, and two girls have just run off without buying any one of the 12 items they've been taking selfies in.

A lady hands me back a white T-shirt with a slog of orange foundation around the neckline, as another customer suggests she purchase it at a discounted price. Still, it could have emerged with a much worse stain on it. So much worse. I am talking about shit. Yes, shit. But more on that later. Fancy a job in retail?

I've worked at a flagship women's high-street retailer for two years now and still, every day, the general public find refreshing new ways to leave me without words. I'm certain none of my friends are the 'general public'. Because I know none of them are the kind of people who don't know to stand on the right hand side of the escalator. Or who'd ask me where the bikinis are while standing in the swimwear section.

They can't be the people who refuse to see the clearly marked fitting rooms. I'm sure that nobody I know has ever attempted to try on clothes at a *till point. *

And I really, REALLY hope that they are not the kind of people who poo not once, but twice, in a changing room – or, as one of my colleagues once had to deal with, wrap up their turd in the clothes that they have just tried on and then brazenly hand it all back to a shop assistant, who will uncover it one minute later and have her day, if not year, ruined.

I hope they don't include my friends, but but you just don't know, do you?

One of my colleagues once had to deal with a turd wrapped up in the clothes the customer had just tried on and brazenly handed back to her

To be honest, I can forgive this sort of naivety, or desperation if you will. It is customer complaints that I am not mentally equipped to cope with. I can deal with difficult situations, but I will never be able to fathom the insane levels of frustration that some shoppers feel over bits of fabric.

How happy I would be to have a day off work to peruse a shopping centre at my leisure. To even have a taste of what they are used to. Forgive me for pointing out that there is more to life than the correct size in a dress that you only knew existed several minutes ago.

When you grow old and reflect upon your life, you will not look back and think, 'This was great, but I really wish they'd had those shoes in a size 6.' Let it go, people. Stop shouting at me!

If you don't have any complaints to make, but you do fancy some special treatment, I've got a fail-safe tip: Pretend to be from head office. When you enter the store, stand and look at the window displays for a bit first, but make sure to put your hand on your hip and nod at them. This will begin to incite fear in the staff.

Bring a well-dressed friend along and only ever converse with each other when facing mannequins. That alone is enough to make me radio a manager. Then, when heading for the tills or the fitting room, try to spy some mess. Give it a bloody good looking at in front of someone who works there. Et voila! Super-smiley staff and extra helpful service. Trust me.

Now that I've given you this valuable advice, do not give up the jig by asking why we don't sell styles that everyone stopped wearing years ago. We do not sell fishtail skirts, elasticated waist belts or shrugs. Nobody is going to go to the stock room to look for them. 'Do you think I could find them anywhere else?' Only if you have the means to travel back to the '00s. Soz. (NB: To the lady that asked where our bootcut brown corduroys are, I would not have let you buy them, even if we did sell them.)

If you do ever feel compelled to yell at a member of staff, please weigh up the circumstances and think about who has the most right to be frustrated. Yes, it is very hot in here, but I'm trapped here for nine hours and you are free to leave at any time. One particularly hot day earlier this summer, I had a delightful woman accuse me of trying to kill her mum because I had no control over the air con. No, I do not want your mother to die on the shop floor. No, that would not look good.

When I'm not on trial for attempted murder, I am accused of lying, false advertising (I am sorry you found it in the sale section, but the tag clearly shows it isn't on sale) or the classic utterance of 'bitch' when I refuse a dodgy refund when it's ripped to shreds.

If you do have a genuine complaint to make and wish to be taken seriously, I recommend looking like you're going to spend a lot. Great leniences will be made, I promise. The best way to do this is pick up a ridiculous amount of items to try on, but make sure you leave off almost all of the hangers. Rich people HATE hangers. Try it.

When a shift finally ends, it's nice to head to the closest bar. But no, I'm not quite free yet, because regardless of what genre the venue is supposed to play, they've managed to slip in at least one of the songs I've had to listen to at least 20 times today already. The closest place for me to get an end-of-shift cocktail has the actual real-life same album as my store. Awful. 'Oh my God, I love this one!' your friends shout. I did, a long time ago, before it induced mental images of bright lights and shiny white floors...

The redeeming thing about these frustrating occurrences is that a large team of people around you are experiencing the exact same thing. Regardless of the fact that it's a forced environment for friendship and you aren't sure if you'd be friends 'on the outside', there is serious bonding to be had over shared experiences of being shouted at and treated like crap.

Before working in retail, I didn't know how close it was possible to be to another human being, while still only knowing each other by 'babe' (the general term among my fellow troupers, those shopping assistants too tired to remember names).

Sometimes it can be hard to deal with £68 in cash being thrust upon your counter instead of into your palm, leaving you to fumble around in the pennies and feel like trash. As you scrape up each coin, it's nice to have someone standing by you with a sideways glance that just says, 'I know.'

Anyway, I've got to go. There's a customer begging for cash off that dirty t-shirt.

Picture: Lukasz Wierzbowski

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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