I’ve heard a lot of crap about working in retail: the clients are horrible and expressly make messes of piles of folded clothing, leave unsanitary things in the changing rooms, and generally make your working day hell. I’ve had next to none of these problems working in wholesale. Granted, it might have been because I worked in a rather upscale department store in a large shopping area of a very touristy city.
My clients can’t really make a mess out of folded clothing, because I have about 8 pairs of jeans folded up, and the rest of my merchandise is on hangers. Changing rooms are bearable. I have two on my stand. The worst time I’ve ever had with them is when someone left perhaps 15 items in there, half of them not being from my brand. So, not too terrible. For unsanitary items, the worst I’ve had to do was pick up a baby wipe. It didn’t have any suspicious traces on it, but I was still instructed by my supervisor (you didn’t think she was going to pick it up when she me there to do it, did you?) to get a bit of plastic to pick it up. Clients are usually nice and polite foreigners. I’d only been insulted once, and that had been by a local teen that looked like she didn’t know what a hairbrush was.
Working there was bearable, despite me feeling worlds apart from all the glamorous women that worked and shopped there. My daily tasks included dusting and cleaning my stand (which was about double the size of most of my neighbors), making sure the proper amount of merchandise was put on display (never more than two of each piece in the same place), and, of course, welcoming and attending to clients. The company also required me to keep a list of pieces from the latest collection that had been sold for the day, to see which pieces worked and which ones didn’t. Usually I worked around seven hours a day, five days a week.
I’ll be the first to admit that my supervisor and I didn’t always get along. Our sales strategies were far different from one another’s; she was much more aggressive, willing to push the product onto the client if they seemed reluctant to buy the product, listing all of its different qualities and reasons why the client should make the purchase. I am a passive person; sometimes I’ll stay quiet even when I know I should speak up. Usually, I didn’t have to convince clients to buy things. The only remarks I would make would be on the size (does it fit properly on the shoulders? Was it the right size on the waist? Can you bend your knees and sit down comfortably?) and how well it flattered the client. In my mind, no need to tell them that a garment was 100% silk, they could feel the smoothness against their bodies.
She was very nice. If she was in a good mood, she’d make jokes. The only times that she had negatives words to say to me was when she felt as if my actions had negative effects on sales (if I was slouching, if I didn’t look friendly and welcoming, if I was active in helping clients, etc…). In the beginning, she liked to compare me to a robot or a wall because my reactivity was quite low whenever a client was around. It was due to nerves, but I got over it. Once, on a day my supervisor wasn’t there, I’d spent an hour over at another stand chatting to another salesgirl. The next day, I’d gotten chewed out thoroughly for it, especially since apparently ten other employees, including managers, had apparently seen me neglecting my stand.
I understood why I’d been given a talking to. I should have stopped my conversation to help customers, and I could have periodically gone over to chat when there had been no one looking at my clothes. I can live with a few dressing-downs.
However, the next week, I had went over to the same stand (where the same salesgirl was present) to do my little list of best-sellers for the day, since that’s where I kept all my papers (on my stand, there’s no place to hide anything). Unfortunately, management had decided to move this stand elsewhere, and so were taking down bits of wood, one of which had nearly hit my friend on the head. So we simply went to stand on the other side of the table. This meant I had my back to my stand, whereas before I could see parts of it. One of the managers comes up to me. I’ve never had an actual problem with this one, though she acts like one of those constantly cheerful people that had a tendency to grate on regular people’s nerves at one point. She doesn’t seem to naturally be one of these people though; her smiles seemed forced. She asked me, smiling, to please return to my stand. I refused, saying that there was no one there that needed my help. She replied saying that there could be. I turned around to glance at my area, and true enough, there was NO ONE there. I gave her a sort of half smile, saying I could see the stand fine and that I’d stop what I was doing if a customer showed up. Still smiling, she marveled at my ability to see the area despite my back being turned.
If there is a thing I despise, it’s someone laughing in my face.
She was being perfectly polite. I knew I had to stay perfectly polite, even if she was openly mocking me, not only to my face, but also in front of my friend and another manager. I do turn around once in a while, I told her. Flatly, she told me that it didn’t matter. What was I to do against someone like this? Smiling, I told her I’d return to my stand since that’s what she wanted.
Thinking about my other encounters with this particular manager made me realize that this hadn’t been the first time she had smilingly mocked me. Most days, when she’s passing my stand, she’ll stop to shake my hand and ask how I’m doing. But one day, she had been to one to give me the amount of money that I had made the previous day. Usually, I get this information from someone else. It was a number high enough to surprise her (because my supervisor hadn’t worked that day, it had just been me on the stand) and surprise me (because it had been higher than my estimates). Seeing my surprise, she asked me if I had even been on my stand the previous day. Looking back, I suppose this was supposed to be a jab at my hour of forbidden blabla with my friend. I smiled and replied that I had left at 6 that day (the store closes at 9).
Eventually, I quit. The other employees made me miserable. I was always being watched, in a Big Brother-esque way. Every move I made was reported to my supervisor. Of course, they always smile to my face and strike up conversations with me. But it always felt like they were talking down at me, like I was just some stupid intern that didn’t know what she was talking about and therefore could be dismissed without concern. If I had a problem, it had to be dragged out of me, because I knew they wouldn’t take it seriously, or they’d concentrate on the wrong issue. They always tended to take it as me blowing a very small problem out of proportion.
Perhaps it’s just a French thing. Foreigners seem to stereotype Frenchies as being snobby. Perhaps it’s just a thing at this particular department store. It might’ve been different had I worked at another location, but I doubt it.
In the end, I’ve learned a lot of things from my brief stay there. Working in sales in just not for me. I can’t stand the superficiality of it all. I’ve watched very lovely women spend hundreds of euros for items with logos stamped all over them. I’ve been on the receiving end of a thousand fake smiles, coming from a thousand people seeing me as being part of the stand and not a real person.
But overall, this is a job I had a lovely time there. Spending most of my day in a fashionable and glamorous department store was a welcome change from my dreary home life, even if I couldn’t afford any merchandise. If I could repeat this experience, I would. I’d just wish I was made of sterner stuff.