A Guide to Summer Employment 4 Things I Learned from Working in Retail

A Guide to Summer Employment 4 Things I Learned from Working in Retail (Getty Images)

Philadelphiamy junior year of high school. I was hired as a grocery store cashier and made many friends with my co-workers. As the years passed, I noticed my friends were either quitting their jobs or getting fired. I would say that it was surprising to see people leave the job but, I knew this job was certainly not for the weak.  

Here are four things I have learned throughout my retail experience.  

Stamina should be required for all retail positions.

For a few years now, I have read articles about how people want to give retail workers the opportunity to sit down while they are working. A common idea among many retail companies is when employees have the ability to sit while working, they may appear lazy to customers. When applying to any retail position, be cognizant of your ability to stand for several hours. If you have any health concerns, never hesitate to share them with your employer. Most companies have policies against disability discrimination, which is a wide spectrum. They are likely to have a way of accommodating you. Also, make sure you take advantage of your breaks and lunches. You should have enough to eat when needed and drink plenty of water. The best way to keep up with a store full of customers is to be well-fed and hydrated.

Patience truly is a virtue

During my job interview, I remember the managers asking about a time when I worked with someone, who struggled to understand how to do something and I was tasked with teaching them. I immediately thought of all of the times I have shown my grandmother how to send a photo through a text message or recover a deleted email. Little did I know, this skill would be utilized while I was on the job. Customers can be frustrating beyond words. Whether they are asking for discounts that do not exist or un-bagging groceries I already packed. Working with customers never seemed to get easier. To make matters worse, people would usually ask for the manager when they were not happy about something. The manager would fold like a towel and tell the customer exactly what they wanted to hear, in order to avoid any confrontation. Be patient. I know, easier said than done.

Quick problem-solving is key

Speaking of confrontation, the best way I have found to diffuse a situation regarding a difficult customer is to bring out the “babysitter” voice. Think about how you would talk to a child throwing a tantrum and then explain to them how you are going to make everything better. Is this patronizing? Absolutely. It is unclear whether or not the pandemic or an increased need for instant gratification has caused people’s lack of empathy and impatience. However, it seems to be getting worse every year. I would advise practicing patience and remembering that this situation will not last forever. If you struggle to deal with difficult customers, I encourage you to discuss it with your supervisor, to see if they have suggestions. 

The generational gap is real and huge 

Age can contribute to challenging customer interactions in many ways. As a teenager, I often felt as though the adults in my life did not take me seriously. However, this worsened when I struggled to convey my level of experience to consumers when solving problems. I never realized how few adults will admit to fault or a mistake even if it is a minimal issue. Although I understand the frustration and embarrassment, I found it fascinating how the older generation of people would be quick to anger even at the slightest inconvenience.  Through these experiences, I learned to be leery of how people act, just in case I needed to play the babysitter role multiple times during one shift. 

Overall, when searching for your summer job, try to choose positions you would like to have and can see yourself enjoying.  Remember, this is most likely not the only job you will have.  It is okay if you decide it is not for you.  Working is a learning experience and through trial and error, you will find your way.  Good luck!

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