Illustration of a retail poster.
Working in retail allows you to gain a variety of essential skills that will apply to any career (Illustration by Diana Egan, University of Kentucky)
Thoughts x
Illustration of a retail poster.

Working in customer service can mean angry customers and long hours on your feet, but it can also mean gaining skills that will benefit you for years to come.

A nervous 15-year-old walked toward the customer service booth at a grocery store with her feet dragging behind her. She was looking for a job and was too shy to make eye contact, so she ended up talking to the retail worker’s forehead.

That girl was me.

My first job was being a bagger at my local grocery store my freshman year of high school. I didn’t talk to anyone the first few months; it was miserable.

Soon after, I trained to be on the cash register, along with a few other high schoolers and college students. I remember being nervous, praying to God to not make any mistakes. Eventually, I did start to open my mouth and talk to the other cashiers-in-training.

As my job was to interact with customers, I needed to be outgoing and social. The days and years went on and I slowly crept out of my shell. I formed close relationships with my managers, front-end supervisors and other employees.

This new confidence trickled into life outside of the store; I had even been sad to leave for college and only work during breaks.

Fast forward to 2020, the girl is 21 years old and now looks at people’s eyes rather than their foreheads. With a new internship, I had to leave my job as a cashier; it’s bittersweet.

Working in retail has taught me various life lessons that I will take with me after I graduate this spring.

 1. I can work with anyone

There are a ton of personalities and characters in the front end of a grocery store. We were a diverse bunch, and this exposure will definitely help me in my near future. Some co-workers react negatively to stressful situations, whereas others are indifferent. Learning how to communicate with different types of people will help individuals become successful in any job.

2. I can talk to any stranger

The grocery store I was employed by takes pride in their customer service and friendliness. I had to greet every customer with the same energy: “Hi, how are you? Paper or plastic?” It didn’t matter if it was seven in the morning or 10 at night.

No matter if I am happy or want to cry, I am expected to say hello and leave customers with a good impression as they exit the store. I feel comfortable holding a conversation with anyone, whether it involves talking about the weather, sports or asking questions about their dog.

3. I am a problem-solver

Throughout my five years at the store, I learned the ins-and-outs of the front end as a cashier. I knew where everything was, including where to find rubber bands, trash bags and cleaning products. If I had not been a cashier, I would have never known putting a plastic bag over a debit card helped it swipe through the card machine.

As I trained in additional departments, I became quite familiar with the rest of the store. This added to my comfort with helping managers fix a problem, as well as assisting customers and other employees.

4. I know how to glue a smile to my face

Because my grocery store emphasizes customer service, even if I wanted to cry and did not want to be there, I had to smile.

This is an important fact of life in my opinion: If I am focused on staying miserable all day, I will. However, if I force myself to smile and want to be happier, I will as well. There is truth in faking it till you make it — for example, if I wanted to be more outgoing, I needed to behave like an outgoing person. That’s what I did to be a successful cashier.

 5. I am independent

I did not know the first thing about being an adult when I started working in retail. I not only became more independent, I became more self-sufficient. I was no longer asking my dad for money because I had my own.

I learned the importance of showing up on time, taking instruction, being professional no matter what and knowing how to manage time. All of these skills will transfer over to any job I may have in the future.

My first job experience as a 15-year-old is irreplaceable. I made lifelong best friends and learned the importance of work relationships and professional skills.

As I enter my final year of college, I will soon be entering the workforce; I am more grateful than ever for placing my shy 15-year-old self in retail.

Working in customer service can mean long hours of standing and being yelled at. It will test your patience with people and teach you how to keep your cool, no matter the situation.

Working in retail gives you a fresh perspective when interacting with those working in customer service. The person checking you out at Forever 21 at 5 p.m. may have started working at 6 a.m. to open the store.

Customer service representatives are working to make sure every single person has a quick and friendly experience. Treat them how you would want to be treated.

Everyone should work in retail at least once in their lives. Everyone should know what it is like to be behind the counter or on the other end of a phone line.

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