Earlier this month (October), the retailer that I work for opted for stores to put out holiday products. The retailer next door to us has even played the occasional holiday song already. For those of you who don’t come from capitalistic, Christian dominated pockets of the world, my use of “holiday” refers to Christmas. When you work retail long enough, you’ll hear people say “the holidays come earlier every year,” and you’ll roll your eyes, understanding that truth, yet fervently hoping the opposite.
I have a feeling that in a decade, it is very likely that every single day, there will be a premium put on Christmas shopping. This is why I hope that in ten years, I can afford to escape from the states between the months of October and January. If I am running my own business, I plan on giving my employees the entire month of December off on top of whatever vacation they have accrued. If they want to stick around and work, awesome. I won’t stop them. But, I’d like to give them the option of enjoying life.
With all of that said, I have some secrets for everyone who has never worked retail (or in hospitality of some sort) a day in their life.
- It’s just stuff. Does your co-worker’s girlfriend who he’s been casually dating for three weeks really need the latest makeup palette from generic brand x? Is it necessary that your dog walker’s niece have the most recent variant of a celebrity fragrance? Sure, it’s one thing if the person you are shopping for works in a relevant field of the store you are in. Let’s say your fiancé is a personal trainer. Yes, please, buy him or her new workout clothes and/or state of the art exercise gear. How about your aunt who is a makeup artist? Go ahead and buy her pro gear from an upscale cosmetics brand. My point is, it really is just stuff. How much stuff do we really need? Do women really need five exceedingly similar versions of the same thing? NO! We definitely DO NOT!
- Know your audience before you leave the house. That means know who you are shopping for, what things they like, how much money you want to spend, and which stores will cater to all of the latter. Don’t walk into a busy store on a Saturday afternoon and ask a sales associate (who probably is already helping two other people in your same situation) what you should buy for someone. Especially a week before Christmas. We don’t like having to pick out presents for people we’ve never met. Sure, it’s our job to guide you. But, if you know nothing about the person you are shopping for, how can we guide you? Every year, my coworkers and I each have to help at least 20 of you clueless drones. And, we’ll tell you all to buy whatever we have excess of. We won’t spend an hour with each of you interviewing you about the recipient. We won’t make personal phone calls to them either. We have limited time to help you. So, HELP US HELP YOU! Please!
- I cannot emphasize the importance of the phrase “IT’S JUST STUFF.” I will repeat it over and over again until y’all wrap your head around that idea and truly understand it.
- People (yes, human beings) who work in the hospitality sector have lives outside their jobs. We don’t magically appear the moment the doors are unlocked. We don’t magically disappear when we lock the doors in the evening. We are not magical hospitality fairies. Most of us working hospitality are doing so to pay bills, put food on the table, support a family, etc. We aren’t doing it for the love of serving others. Most of us working hospitality would give an arm and a leg to have someone wait on us all day long. The only difference is that hospitality workers are genuinely grateful whenever they get any kind of service, even sh*tty service.
- Three Golden Words: PLEASE. THANK YOU. Even if you don’t mean any of them, just say them. And crack a damn smile when you do, even if it’s fake. We’re getting paid meager hourly wages to be on our feet anywhere from 6-12 hours a day (sometimes up to 18 for some people with families, mortgages, debt, student loans, etc.). A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way. Be grateful that you have the option of spending your money on STUFF and going to nice restaurants and staying in nice hotels. Many of us working hospitality don’t have that option.
- As we are not magical hospitality fairies, we’d really appreciate it if you plan your shopping wisely. Don’t show up to a store as the doors are getting locked and say “Oh, but I really need to buy ONE thing!” We know that buying one thing will take at least 15 minutes, usually extending the time employees need to be clocked in. Be aware of store hours. Even if you need to buy one thing, show up an hour before the store closes. That way, you can shop at a leisurely pace and we don’t have to say “we’re closing up our registers, so if you need us to grab you anything and take it to the counter, please let us know.”
- We do have lives outside our place of employment. We have families to go home to. We have friends we’d like to spend time with. Many of us cannot afford therapy, so our intimate relationships and social lives are incredibly important. We like having the option of going to the gym or sharing a bottle of wine with friends or taking our dog for a walk. Humans are social. So, after spending all day getting paid a meager amount to interact with people we otherwise wouldn’t outside of work, we need to be surrounded by a like minded community.
- Many of us who work in hospitality are, in fact, educated. Just because our yearly income usually falls below a truly livable wage doesn’t mean we are idiots. A lot of the people I work with have spent time at college and many of those people have degrees. I spent three years at a university before I started working retail. And, I am back at school finishing a Paralegal Studies degree. Even though we make significantly less money than most people who shop at our store, many of us are as intelligent (if not more) than you. Again, we are not magical hospitality fairies. We are human beings, with functioning brains.
- Don’t be that asshole that makes it a point to say Merry Christmas to everyone. If you are really that jolly, say “happy holidays! Thank you for working hard!!” We meet a lot of the adamant “Merry Christmas” agenda pushers every day during the holiday season. Your schtick is not original nor funny. Plus, if you tell me “Merry Christmas” during Hannukah, I will respond “Chag Urim Sameach! Hope you have enough oil!” If you say “Merry Christmas” to me on December 20th or 21st, I will say “Happy solstice! Blessed be! May the sprites be with you tonight!”
- For those of you living in the United States, never expect any sales associate to spend more than 10-15 minutes with you between Black Friday and January 6th, unless you are shopping at a tiny, exclusive boutique. If you are shopping at a major retailer, chances are the shopper to associate ratio will be 10 or 15 to 1, and that is including the six to eight cashiers ringing up an already horrendous line.
- Remember, IT’S JUST STUFF! Please, thank you, and a smile are all helpful.
With that said, have a wonderful Halloween and All Saint’s Day. Enjoy Thanksgiving. Ask the sprites and fairies and sky and earth to bring rain and snow. Live in the moment. Don’t focus all your energy on Christmas until Christmas is here.