Ah, shopping—the stress relieving, money-consuming activity of choice on the weekend. The more bags you have during your stroll in the mall, the better the stroll seems. If you’re the type of person, who, after carrying more bags than you can physically hold, is still walking into a store, I’m judging you. You are the catalyst; the reason retail is succeeding in keeping their student-trapping system alive is you.
Just think of the last time you walked into a big retailer. You probably saw a sales associate dressed in trendy clothing, working to upbeat music and getting a discount in their free time, which probably caused a pang of envy in you at how cushy of a gig they must have.
In reality, the image is deceiving. In fact, the always-smiling, all-knowing, charismatic, beautiful young college students who ask you to sign up for emails at the register are very good at wearing a mask.
Unless someone walks into a store that lacks customer service, the customer is met with a greeting. Retailers craft the welcome as the first image the customer gets of their chain, so if the associates are friendly, the brand has created a false sense of inclusivity. This sense of harmony floats through a person’s mind as they shop, and their material impulses are encouraged by the aura of conviviality within the shop, the feeling that everyone is getting along and happy to be there, together, right now in this special place.
Not only does this false sense of contentedness draw in shoppers, but it also works magnificently to turn eager young shoppers into giddy new employees. After all, who wouldn’t want to work in such a warm environment?
Unfortunately, retail jobs are not at all what they seem, something I learned from working one for years. If you are interested in getting that chic job in that trendy boutique, consider these points before you head to the mall to submit an application.
The “Benefits” of Working Retail
You’re in college; you have loans, debts and things you need money for, but you also have school. Because school schedules are tricky, it’s hard to find a job that will work with you, as stores take scheduling issues as leverage to use against you.
They know you need money, and they need people, so the job seems to be a fair trade: They give you hours, and you get anywhere from a 20-40 percent discount on their clothes. As a result, you can afford things without breaking the bank. You have a job that gives you money, so everything is going to be okay.
Plus, interviews are basically pass/fail, considering most retail chains have online questionnaires that pre-filter unfit candidates. More and more, it feels like they’re practically trying to give you the job. It’s at this point, when the interviewee mentions how often that they hire new talent, that you should realize how bad of a workplace environment you’re getting yourself into. But you don’t, because you’re still overcome by the allure of everything.
Reeling You In
You’ll work for about month, happily using your discount, before reality sets in. You are no longer immune to the hundreds of clothes you have to put away. The music is too loud; the store is too busy; the lines never stop. They give you a raise, and somehow, even after some cranky middle-aged woman screams at you for her credit card being declined, the 25-cent increase makes you feel better.
Eventually, you begin to realize that the company doesn’t value you as a person, but rather as a unit of labor who is filling their needs at the moment. This is when you’ll start to feel trapped.
You start to question why you are here, but now you can no longer quit; instead, you have become dependent on the money. It doesn’t matter if the store closes at 9 p.m.; you’ll still leave at 11 p.m. and be awake until 1 a.m. because you have homework to finish.
Say goodbye to the weekend too, because once you’re deemed worthy enough to be a cashier, you will never have one.
You’re Scared of Change
The job sucks and you hate folding clothes (even though you can do it with your eyes closed), but you’re comfortable working because your coworkers and you share the same hatred for customers. Why? Because no one wants to be here.
You’re all just selling clients the fantasy that you enjoy having them treat you like a maid. In a way, your coworkers become your own support system, and if you ever leave, they’ll probably wish you were dead.
The euphoria of making money weighed against the dread of owing it is what keeps people working retail jobs. The life you lived before making an income somehow seems impossible now, and you can’t imagine cutting off your source of income. The tediousness of applying for new jobs seems impossible, especially considering that you’d have to do so secretly and in your ever-diminishing free time.
Plus, even if you start interviewing for other jobs, if someone finds out and spreads the information, your manager will immediately blacklist you mentally. If you’re planning on leaving them, then you better believe they’re making arrangements to replace you. Once you’ve shown your hand, there’s no going back—now you have to leave.
In my experience, I never had a problem with my managers; in fact, I loved everyone I worked with. Then, the store hired a new manager and she had it out for anyone with “priorities” other than the company. She hated that I went to school and the idea that I wanted to do anything with my life other than retail.
Here’s my advice: Don’t become too dependent on the job, and make it very clear to the manager what days you are willing to work. If a job really values you as a person, they will understand if maybe you can’t work Sundays because you do all your studying then. Make sure you are getting paid fairly, and make sure you are getting breaks throughout the workday.
Also, don’t buy everything; you really don’t need a shirt in three colors. Even if you’re just trying to take advantage of the discount before quitting, only buy what you need; it’ll save you a trip on returns later. Don’t let the system take advantage of you. If you start to feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why and what you need to do differently.
Know that you are a human with rights, and the crappy system that stocks your bank account has no right to take advantage of you. Take charge, play the system.