If there is one saving grace to retail (and it’s a stretch to even suggest there is) it is not, as may be expected, the 50% discount on clothes (because it just makes it that much easier to SPEND your hard-earned cash there), for me, it is in fact the customers.
I guess I haven’t been working in customer service long enough to have a horror story about a crazy that walked off the street and into a rage at me because they were having a bad day (although there was a lady a few days ago who yelled at a co-worker of mine when she tried to “return” a pair of pants my store doesn’t carry with the tags snipped off).
I am a people person, a curious writer, and generally a nosy mole, who likes to try and find out what makes people tick. Don’t worry, I have already quizzed all my co-workers about their life stories (and stealthily tried to figure out how they got stuck in retail after having degrees…more out of horrified fascination than anything else…like looking at the blue flame welders use..bad for the senses but impossible to look away) and a part of the selling gig is to try and figure out what the client wants and how to get it.
The shop/chain I work for sells only women’s clothes and accessories and they are kind of corporate, but on the reasonably priced side. The shop is also located in an underground shopping mall on the PATH system (a rabbit warren-like affair that stretches underground through parts of downtown Toronto to prevent people from having to go outside in the freezing cold. It is like an underground city with clothing stores, banks, food courts…waxing places…juice bars…there’s probably a car dealership down there somewhere. I’m not sure why there would be…but I’m sure there is) and most of the customers we get work in the corporate offices stacked on top of us.
The ladies range in age from Intern-types fresh out of Uni, to the older working woman. And while there are customers I have connected with, and those that I haven’t, my favourite age group is the late thirties to mid forties/early fifties. These are women who ACTUALLY listen to what I have to say, ask my opinion, want to open the fitting room door and show me what they got.
Some of these women remind me of my Mum. They are mostly patient and not used to shopping for themselves so they are willing to listen to suggestions. They have money so they aren’t horrified by a sweater that costs $30.
A lot of them have body issues. A lady today who was gorgeous, Indian skin but with a cool British accent, told me she’d recently lost 19 pounds on some German diet I think she called the “Dukan”? She liked a little black corporate dress and she tried on the Small and the XS. She had a petite frame but you know what? She had a bit of a wobbly bit on front.
“My Kids did that”
She told me. And she tried on both sizes, got a belt to try to jazz it up, put a cardigan over it to see…and she just couldn’t sell it to herself. My approach to this crappy job is that I never want to be pushy. I am a natural talker and I’m honest. I am competitive so, I want to do well in any situation, but I REFUSE to lie and act like a simpering idiot. I was straight with her and told her it looked great but that it was a personal preference. I too happened to be wearing a little black corporate number and you know what? I have a jiggle round the middle too. AND I HAVEN’T EVEN HAD KIDS! No excuse.
This lady, who was super nice and interested in my Aussie accent told me that she hadn’t worn form-fitting clothes in a long time. She was getting used to her body again. She didn’t buy the dress, but I think she felt a little bit confident and sexier having tried it on.
Same deal with the lady who came in on Friday and need an after work drinks type shirt for a last-minute reunion at a pub. She grabbed an XL shirt and I made her get a large. She was shocked. I made her try it on and it wasn’t even tight. It was more form-fitting for sure. I told her the truth, that she had a great waist and that she should emphasize it. We chatted for quite a while and when she left, (after buying the shirt) she turned to my manager and said “I hate shopping, but i’ll be back because of her”, and she smiled and waved, even gave me a cheeky wink!
These women, who are still attractive, functioning, smart, hardworking people, come into a shop for 15-20 minutes and talk to me – blah, under functioning, retail-bum, Masters-holding random (who by the way used to dress appallingly), and they can walk away feeling good because somebody told them that something looked good on them?
I want to stand on the street corner stopping random people and tell them they look nice today, or that that colour suits them. If an item of clothing can put a spring back in their step, then maybe retail ain’t so bad.
Anyway, I’ll keep getting up and going back because I need to support myself while I do this internship and figure out WTF I am doing with my life…but if these ladies keep coming back…then maybe I’ll even learn to smile about it…