An Open Letter to Retail Customers

A seriously odd customer today got me thinking about how we all treat the people who wait on us in any service capacity.

Oh, let me back up: I work part-time in retail. I know that cashiering isn’t glamorous, it isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating, and I know it suggests high school students and, well, people with nothing else to do.

But let me tell you a few things. I have a Master’s degree in Journalism, and I’ve worked as a reporter. I’m actually a pretty good reporter. But I don’t like reporting. I don’t mind, however, working retail, and I choose to do so to supplement my household income. I can perform quick arithmetic in my head, I’m scrupulously honest (see above about not enjoying newspaper reporting), and I actually enjoy working in the gorgeous fast-paced setting that is retail sales.

Plus, I work in a semi-New Age store. I meet interesting people, and I get to look at pretty things. I’m a magpie of both shiny things and shiny ideas, so I do get some pleasure out of my work, when it’s going well.

The bad days are very bad, though, and that’s largely because a portion of the population does not appreciate that I’m a human being, not a talking cash register.

So I’d like to ask the internet to remember a few things about the people who wait on you.

1. I am not a child. Don’t accuse me of breaking things or of not keeping my room clean enough. I work hard at this, and I frequently work completely alone. It can be hard to keep up with your demands, but I’m not completely incapable. Just give me a minute to do my job.

2. I don’t want to be hit on. C’mon, guys. I’m a married woman. Plus, I’m not getting paid to flirt. I smile and ask you about your day because it’s polite for me to do so.

3. I don’t like it when salespeople stalk me, either. But sometimes companies expect their employees to do just that. Be understanding. Don’t shoo me like a stray puppy. I’m just doing my job.

4. I’m a pretty smart gal. Don’t assume that because someone is wearing a name-tag, they’re not an educated, intelligent person. Just don’t. You never know someone else’s story.

5. I have feelings, too. I know you’re in a hurry: I am, too. But when my equipment has a fault, or when there’s a long line, I can only do what I can do. Believe me, I’m trying to go as fast as I can. And if I can’t answer your question, don’t yell at me. Don’t take your bad day out on me. Maybe I’m having a bad day, too.

And finally, my gigantic pet-peeve:

Don’t talk on your cellphone when you should be interacting with me. I know that I’m just a function to you, a check-out machine at the front of the store, but I’m not a computer. I have to tell you your total, make sure you found what you needed, ask if you want a receipt, a box, a bag, any number of things. And I can’t do that if you’re not listening. You’re preventing me from doing my job well.

Plus, it’s just rude.

I’m begging you, internet. The next time someone in retail, in service, or on the phone asks you a question or takes a long time, remember that they’re a person. They’re doing a job, but they are not that job. Be nice.

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