Day 12: Don't throw retail workers under the bus

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

Retail employees are working in one of the lowest segments of employment there is. The pay is often minimum wage or just above, there are rarely any actual benefits to speak of, and there never seem to be enough hours to go around, which makes it even harder to survive on minimum wage. Unfortunately, on top of all that, the job is also not easy, and the main reason for that is a pervasive disrespect from the general public.

Bad customers feel they are entitled to always get their way, and they sometimes get pretty creative in figuring out how to do that. Sometimes, this comes in the form of overt lies that can't be fully proven wrong. Here's an example: Someone says that they called and an employee told them they could return something for full price even though they bought it four months ago (far outside our return policy). They are counting on us giving in at some point if they make a big enough deal out of it. This may or may not actually happen, but it's what they're going for. And they've already proven they're willing to lie, so then they double down: "No, I didn't get her name, I didn't think I was going to be quizzed about it. Are you seriously not going to give me full price? I have the receipt right here!"

Sometimes customers make a point of going to a different store for returns than the store they bought items from, making it easier to claim someone told them something I would never expect. I mean, we don't work at that store, so we don't know how they're being trained, right? Our solution to this tactic is usually to politely insist they go back to that store. "I'm so sorry, but that's not our policy at all, so if someone at Burbank told you that, it would only be able to apply there, unfortunately."

A couple of months ago, I sold a woman a jacket on a Saturday. I don't remember if it had the tag on it or not, but that doesn't matter at all at Old Navy. All our clothes have something inside called a joker tag, which has the item number on it. So if the outside tag with the barcode on it falls off or is taken off for any reason, it's totally fine. We're not Express. (Note: If the joker tag has been cut out for any reason, this does become a problem, but this is rare.)

The next day, I was training someone on the register and the same woman came back. She looked familiar to me but I wasn't 100% sure if it was because I had checked her out recently or if she was just a regular customer. But when she got the jacket out, I remembered specifically that I had sold it to her the day before.

The trainee mumbled something along the lines of "Hi, how can I help you?" because trainee, duh, and the woman said, "Hi, I need to return this jacket. I bought it yesterday and I have no idea why, but the cashier ripped the tag off after she scanned it. I called immediately yesterday as soon as I figured out it wasn't going to work and the manager said they would be able to make an exception and still return it since it wasn't my fault. So weird that she ripped the tag off, right?"

I picked up her receipt to make absolutely sure I was remembering correctly, and sure enough, there was my employee number.

I took over for the trainee and said, "Hmm, that's weird because I checked you out yesterday and I definitely didn't rip the tag off. I don't remember if it had a tag or not when I sold it to you, but we sell things without tags all the time and it's not at all a big deal. It may have fallen off accidentally before or after you bought it but I wouldn't remove a tag intentionally."

Answering like this was really gratifying because it's not often that I get to say exactly what I think at Old Navy. I was very polite, but I will absolutely correct someone when she is telling a blatant lie about something I absolutely know I didn't do.

She immediately focused more on apologizing that she didn't notice it was me than saying anything about the accusation. "Oh, wow, you look so different from yesterday; I'm so sorry, I really didn't think it was you!"

I was still processing her return and all I said was, "My hair is up today."

She continued to trip over herself to apologize for not recognizing me, but the main issue, of course, was that she was lying about something that didn't matter at all. She wasn't going to get in trouble. We weren't going to refuse her return. Why not ask about our policy before making something up?

And the reason, of course, is that she wanted to protect herself.

So let's talk again about how retail workers are on the bottom of the food chain. She decided that in order to ensure she would get a full refund in cash (as opposed to not being able to return the item at all, which, I guess, is what she was assuming was the worst case scenario), she would throw a minimum wage employee under the bus.

So she was willing to risk someone's job (or at least disciplinary action) to potentially save herself $40. Good to know where her priorities lie.

Now, are retail employees perfect? No, of course not. It's an entry level job, so employees sometimes have no experience. Of course they make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes at their job. You make mistakes at your job. Do you want someone calling you out to your boss?

Today's pro-tip: When an employee genuinely does mess up and you need to explain that in order to fix a problem, you should explain the issue politely and not angrily, and just ask for a solution. You can even suggest a solution if you feel so inclined. Don't get mad, and certainly don't lie to make it seem worse than it was. And if you do something wrong, like forgetting to return something within the return window, just suck it up. You can ask for an exception, of course, but don't get mad if we can't give you one. Be a responsible shopper.


Day 11: The basics of shopping

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

In my ten years at Old Navy, I've encountered some truly baffling things. Most days, things are pretty normal. But sometimes I have to wonder if people have ever shopped before. I'm going to go through a few of them—I've blogged about all of these before, so this will be a little bit of a greatest hits. Some of these are total one-offs and some are unfortunately more regularly-occurring than you might think.

1) The woman who asked me if I could give her a discount because she had cancer

Dude. Do you guys remember this one? She wanted me to give her a discount because the employee she had dealt with the day before hadn't told her that the sale was ending (lol, as if we are supposed to tell that information to every customer we come across) and then decided to take another course of action and argued that I should give her the discount because she had cancer. AND THEN made me ask my manager and made sure I had told him she had cancer.

2) People who don't know that you need to know and enter your social security number in order to sign up for a card

This happens so often and it's exhausting. I kind of wish the entering your social security number step was first in the credit card signup process because of the high amount of people who back out at that step. I don't know if it's a problem of people not understanding that it's a credit card (I say "if you're approved" in my pitch, so it should be clear) or if it's that it's the first card they've ever applied for so they don't know it involves your social security number (nothing I can do with this one) but it is super annoying.

3) People who truly don't understand what sales are

When you are shopping for an item of clothing, the original price is on the tag. If an item is on sale, there will be a sign on the rack or table that the item is on indicating what the sale is. That doesn't change the price that's on the tag. That's literally what a sale is. If an item is on clearance, then the tag will be changed. Different stores are different about this, yes, but in general, normal sales are not marked on the tag because they go up and down all the time. I've had people come up to me and genuinely ask, "Hey I'm sorry, can you tell me all the prices on these? Because like ... the tags say one price but then the signs on the tables say something else. I don't get it." 

4) People who don't understand coupon date ranges

I know that some stores aren't strict about their coupon date ranges. For instance, you can use expired coupons at Bed Bath and Beyond. But we are not that. When we scan an expired coupon, the system is like, "Hey hi, what are you doing? No." People often get annoyed about us not being able to use old coupons, but the most ridiculous thing that happened along these lines was the woman who literally didn't know what day it was and thought she could use a coupon that wasn't good for another month.

5) The woman who was looking for a very specific shirt but described it in a very, very vague way

When I'm helping you find an item and it's something very specific, maybe tell me that it's something very specific and don't pretend it's something very general. Super weird, made no sense, left everyone feeling confused. 0/10 do not shop again. 

6) Abnormally tall people who expect us to carry their size in store

This might fall a little more closely under the category of people wanting us to change things we have no control over, but like, dude. If you're nearly seven feet tall, we're not going to have your size in store. I understand that it sucks, but sometimes you just need to accept life the way it is.

7) People who buy far too many flip flops for their dumb weddings

This one is pretty specific but has actually happened a number of times. People buy far more flip flops than they need for their dumb weddings. I don't know where the block happens that causes them to think every single person at their wedding is going to want to change into flip flops, but it's just never ever ever the case. Never. 

This one happens multiple times every day. Learn how to troubleshoot daily items! Seriously, what kind of person doesn't know to scribble a pen around a little bit to get it to work? It obviously doesn't work every time, but it should definitely be the first thing you do, before announcing to me that it just doesn't work. I can't even fully explain this one because it makes me so mad.

9) The woman who genuinely didn't understand she could sign up for a new email address if she wanted to

Like the cancer story, this is a true one-off. I had a conversation with a woman in which she realized, as if it was a revelation, that she could sign up for a new email address if she wanted to. I don't know if she hadn't thought about the fact that they were free, or if she thought she could only have one email address per provider or what, but I feel like I did her a huge favor that day.

10) People who can't figure out how to apply online
I'm sorry, but if you can't figure out how to submit an online application, you don't deserve to work at the store. And you should take this as a good life lesson, because if an employer's application is too complicated to figure out, you shouldn't want to work for them.

Today's pro-tip: I don't even know, man, just be a normal human?


Day 10: The basics of paying with cash

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

Just like people have trouble paying with cards, people also have a whole lot of trouble paying with cash. It is similarly annoying but slightly more gross. Here are the worst offenses.

1. Putting cash on the counter when my hand is out

This kind of goes back to that whole "I'm a person" thing. When you are getting your cash out, I'm paying attention to you. So when you're about to relinquish the cash, I have my hand outstretched. You know, kind of like you're about to hand something to me. Putting cash on the counter instead is incredibly rude and shows that either you are not paying attention to the person you are having an interaction with or you are paying attention but just don't care that the person is expecting you to treat them like a human.

In addition to just being rude, it's also less efficient. When you put the cash down on the counter, I now have to pick it up off the counter. If it's all in a nice stack, that's not so bad, but if you've spread out the coins, which happens a lot, I now have to pick up each individual coin. Like, you just had all of those in your hand, dude! You could have transferred them to my hand very easily and we would have all saved some time.

2. Storing cash in your bra when it's hot out

Y'all, this is just gross. I know that a lot of people do this, and I'm not supposed to judge it, but I've had to handle sweaty boob cash way too often to be okay with it. I honestly prefer waistband cash to boob cash. Boobs are just sweaty more often, I think.

If you're going to store your cash in your bra, take it out before you get up to the register, yeah? Like maybe start airing it out when you're in the fitting room.

3. Paying with lots of coins

Counting out a bunch of coins to pay with is the ultimate cheap move. I want you to use those coins, absolutely. I'm not a person who doesn't value change. But either take them to a Coinstar or roll them up and take them to a bank. Up to two or three dollars is okay with me, as long as it's not 100% pennies. But past that, you are wasting everyone's time.

Even worse is when people combine numbers one and three, paying with a ton of change that they have all spread out on the counter. Like, no.

And a side note on this one: I have to count the change no matter what. You telling me impatiently that it's all there when I'm counting your five dollars in nickels isn't going to make me stop counting. I'm not giving you an accidental discount or end the day with my register short, okay?

4. Having your cash spread out throughout your purse so that you can't find it easily

People are very, very disorganized with their cash sometimes. People keep their cash in envelopes from the bank, in their wallet, in the zippered part of their purse, in their pockets, in their bras, in their waistbands, in their kids' purses, in their husbands' wallets and in the bottom of their strollers, and those are just the ones I could think of faster than I could catch up typing.

That is fine, keep your cash wherever you want, but just know that I am judging you when you have to say "Oh, hold on, where was the rest of that?" and then remember the next location while you're attempting to come up with an amount of cash equal to or greater than your balance.

Just like the bra money, get it together in advance.

5. Refusing to use smaller bills even though I ask you to

We are usually able to break $50 and $100 bills. But sometimes it's the first thing in the morning and I've already had two people pay with hundreds and it would really be a lot more convenient if I didn't have to open up the safe to get change for your $100 bill.

I don't ask people for smaller bills unless I physically see that they have smaller bills in their wallet, and yet a lot of people will still say "Noooo, sorry."

Now, I understand both sides on this one. Sometimes I want to use a specific bill for a specific transaction because I want to keep my money organized in a specific way, but if an employee says, "I'm sorry, would it be possible for you to use something smaller? I don't have enough change in my drawer right now to break a hundred," I'm going to use the smaller bill. It's just common courtesy.

Today's pro-tip: Have your cash organized and try not to be gross.


Day 9: The basics of paying with cards

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

Most people pay with credit or debit cards these days. They've been using credit and debit cards their whole lives, and yet they are somehow incapable of doing it right. Here are some of the ways people misuse credit cards and somehow find a way to blame me for it.

Chip cards

Even though they are relatively new (compared to my 10 years at Old Navy) chip cards have been around for at least a year or so now, and people still have so much trouble with them. I understand that different stores are still treating them a bit differently. Old Navy for some reason is still having people swipe debit cards, and so I try to over-communicate that as we go.

I explained this in great detail in a post in 2016, which mentions that a lot of people try to swipe their cards when they should be using the chip, but the problem now is the opposite—everyone wants to use the chip all the time, even when they're using a debit card, and they can't seem to hear me when I tell them to swipe it. I have variations of this conversation about twice per shift, but it's happened at least once verbatim:

Customer: Should I use the chip?
Me: Is it credit or debit?
Customer: Oh it's a chip card. Should I use the chip?
Me: That depends on whether it's a credit or debit card.
Customer: Oh, debit.
Me: Then no, you can swipe it.
Customer: *inserts chip anyway*
Me: Since it's a debit card, you can swipe it.
Customer: It's not working.
Me: Yes, you can just swipe it since it's a debit card. 

Using other people's cards

This is changing somewhat now that chip cards are becoming the norm, but for most of my tenure at Old Navy, we had to be incredibly vigilant about credit cards. Anytime someone used a credit card, we had to check their card and ID. And the name on the card, obviously, had to match the name on the ID, which also had to match the person who was in front of us.

This is incredibly difficult for some people.

"But it's my husband's!"
"But it's my mom's!"
"But it's my aunt's!"
"But I don't have my ID on me! No, not even a Costco card!"

Guys, be an adult in the world. You need to have a way to pay that is not dependent on someone else. If that means carrying backup cash, that works. If it means having an extra card, that is also good.

Also, pretty much every card in the world has an option of adding an authorized user. So if your husband / mom / sister / whoever wants you to be able to use their card with them not there, have them get you a card. Otherwise, you need to have them with you.

Also also, just never go anywhere without an ID. There are many many circumstances when you will need it, and they are not all retail-store-transaction-based.

Expecting me to have the answer when your card is declined.

People's cards get declined for a variety of reasons. You may not have enough money in there. Your bank may have noticed suspicious activity but not called you yet. Maybe you forgot to tell your bank you were traveling. Maybe you deposited a check but it hasn't cleared yet. Maybe you were late on a payment.

I am not a bank teller. I'm just here to sell you clothes. The computer systems at retail stores rarely, if ever, falsely decline someone. Getting declined doesn't necessarily mean you're at your spending limit or you don't have enough money in the bank, so you don't have to feel bad about it. But you also definitely shouldn't be yelling at me about it.

I had a customer a few weeks ago who was so confused about why she was getting declined, and she pulled up her bank's app on her phone and showed me her balance. Like ... okay, you can try swiping your card again, but I'm not the one choosing whether or not to approve the transaction.

Today's pro-tip: Always have multiple methods of payment available to you! If you're going shopping, assume one of your cards will fail. Bring two cards, or keep some spare cash just in case.


Day 8: The basic rules of returns

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

Customers have the right to return things to the store—within reason and within policy. Outside of that, it's up to the company's discretion. At Old Navy, you have to return things within 45 days of the purchase and have some sort of proof that you purchased the item. That proof can be in the form of a receipt or looking it up on your card. Past the 45 days or without proof of purchase, you can receive a store credit in the mail for the current selling price.

There are a lot of steps to returns, which means there are a lot of different opportunities for customers to get mad at you. Here are some of the main issues people have with returns.

1) People who think they should be able to return things from Gap

When you order from Old Navy's website, you can order across brands. So you could get one item from Old Navy, three items from Gap and one from Banana Republic, and they may all come in the same bag. This does not mean you can return them all to an Old Navy store.

Now this one I actually kind of understand. They did all come in the same bag, and if we were just going to ship them all back or something, it would make sense to be able to return them all to one store. But we don't ship items back. That would be way too expensive for the company. We just sell the items in the store. So we can't take Gap and Banana Republic items in a return because we can't sell those items.

Again, I'm not judging people for not knowing this right off the bat. What I am judging them for is when they get huffy and annoyed about it. I had this conversation a few weeks ago:

Customer: I can return this whole purchase here even though some of it's from Gap, right?
Me: Oh I'm sorry, we actually can only take the Old Navy items.
Customer, with attitude: Are you serious?
Me, being short because she is already getting an attitude: Yes.
Customer: Come on, even though I got them in the same package?
Me: Yes.

2) People who don't know how to tell what is from Old Navy

This one is usually only a problem with people who have received gifts and assume they were bought at Old Navy for whatever reason. I have had many, many people bring back things from Target that they got as gifts (some of which were mixed in with Old Navy items, which makes a little sense) and someone even tried to return a pair of Levi's.

3) People who bring in things that are no longer in our system

"I found this old pair of flip flops in my closet and I wondered if you can take them back" is a real sentence that was said to me a few days ago. I could tell just by looking at them that they were too old to return because they had the suuuuuper old square tags we had when I started. They genuinely were about ten years old.

Surprisingly often, people will bring things in that they claim they were recently given as a gift but that don't come up in our system because they're about two to three years old. I don't know if they're lying because they're embarrassed about how long the items have been in their closet or if a friend or family member really did give them clothing items that they bought years ago, but I'm so sorry ma'am, it's not in our system anymore so I can't return it.

The best part about this is there are joker tags inside each item that include the month and year the item was manufactured. This is incredibly helpful when I reject things. "Sorry, this dress is actually from the summer of 2013 so it hasn't been in our system for quite awhile" is a very effective denial.

4) People who expect full price when they're way outside of the return window

Stuff gets really cheap toward the end of its life cycle at Old Navy. We regularly mark items down to $1.47 or less. So if you're returning something six months after you bought it, do you really think you should get full price? You took it out of rotation so someone else was not able to buy it, and now you're bringing it back and we're only going to be able to sell it for a couple of dollars. Why would it be fair to give you full price? You had it for the first six months of its life, and those six months are the item's most valuable six months. The fact that you didn't use it doesn't change anything.

Now, let's backtrack a little bit. Should you get full price if it's three months after you bought the item and the item is on clearance for half its original price? Some people might fall more toward a yes than a no at this point, and that's a perfectly fair opinion to have, but there has to be a cutoff. Every store has a return cutoff and ours happens to be 45 days. Buying things from a store is an implicit agreement to the return policy, so if you are a person who is okay with being rude about a return being rejected, you should probably make a habit of reading the return policies in advance.

5) People who expect full price as a credit because they're 100% sure they paid full price

I don't know the exact statistics or anything, but I would be willing to bet that about 75% of items at Old Navy are sold at some kind of discount. And that's fine because that's their business model. Old Navy is a value clothing brand. Old Navy's customers, in general, place a lot of importance on getting a good deal.

So tell me why basically every time people return things without a receipt, I tell them the current price of the item and they say, "Ohhhh, no, I'm pretty sure I paid full price." Um, okay, cool that you think that, but it's probably not true. And even if it is true, it doesn't matter because you have no proof. Keep your receipts or pay with a card, people. Goodness gracious.

Today's pro-tip: This doesn't apply if something is defective. The vast majority of stores accept truly defective stuff outside of their policy. But if you washed something the wrong way and it shrunk, that's on you.


Day 7: Hello there, I'm a person.

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

One of the most annoying and frequent issues we deal with at Old Navy is people who are on autopilot. This is how I refer to people who are checked out, busy, distracted, or otherwise not paying attention to what we're saying to them.

When people are on autopilot, they don't properly engage with our questions. This is a problem for two reasons. The first is just basic human decency—unless you're at a self-checkout, shopping requires an interaction with a human being. I'm a human, you're a human, let's have a conversation. The second reason is that there are some questions we genuinely need the answer to! Before I can process your card, I need to know if it's debit or credit. Before the transaction is over, I need to know if you want your receipt emailed or printed.

Obviously, in terms of speed and efficiency, the second issue is more important. But let's talk about the first one first. Working retail is not easy. We are supposed to be pleasant and engaging with every customer we come across. From the very beginning of these helpful conversations we're supposed to be having, where we approach customers on the sales floor to see if they need help, we are ignored:

"Hi, how are you today?"
"Just looking."

Oh, um, okay.

It may not seem like a huge deal, but when nearly every interaction is tinged with the feeling that the person is just wishing it would be over, it gets really demoralizing. Have you ever had a nice conversation with a cashier and felt like they were incredibly grateful for some reason? This is why.

I'm not saying you have to be super chatty; I'm really just asking that you answer my questions and speak to me like I'm a human. When people can't even do that, for whatever reason—they're too engrossed in their phone, they're rummaging through their purse, they have headphones in while they're checking out—it's clear that they think they're above needing to speak to retail workers.

Don't get me wrong—I don't think anyone is consciously thinking "I'm above these people" when they deal with retail workers. But you wouldn't ignore a coworker or a friend who was standing in front of you talking to you, right? Of course not! Then why are you not paying attention to the cashier who is literally working in service of you?

Okay, now let's move on for a bit to the second issue with people who are on autopilot, and then I can tell you my favorite autopilot story of all time.

As demeaning as it is to have conversations with people who are not paying attention all the time, I can get past that. The really unacceptable part is that a lot of the things I say or ask during a transaction actually require an answer, so then I have to repeat myself or prompt the customer to pay attention in some other way. Here are a few common examples:

Me: Receipt with you or in the bag?
Customer: Yes.

Me: Would you like your receipt emailed to you, printed, or both?
Customer: Emailed is fine.
Me: Great, what's your email?
Customer: Oh, sorry, can you print it?

Me: Is that going to be credit or debit?
Customer: Yes.

Me: Is that going to be credit or debit?
Customer: Debit.
Me: Okay, you can just swipe it.
Customer: *inserts card*
Me: Since it's debit, you can swipe it instead of inserting it.
Customer: Why isn't this working?

It is so frequent and so annoying. Almost constantly throughout a shift, I find myself having to repeat things, ask things in a different way, etc. And I even try pretty hard to improve my basic scripting in hopes that asking a question differently will help. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't.)

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it really is disheartening that people have so little regard for their fellow humans that they can't be bothered to pay attention to the person serving them during a quick two-minute transaction.

And now here is my favorite autopilot story of all time. Unfortunately, it happened last fall and I didn't write the conversation down until now, so I don't remember the exact substance, but this is the gist of it.

A Spanish-speaking customer came up to my register. She also spoke a little English, and that is how she started the conversation, but she quickly hit a wall and needed to switch to Spanish.

This is totally fine. I can speak enough Spanish to get by in most customer interactions. But I guess she assumed I wouldn't be able to speak Spanish, so she turned to my coworker and asked her instead. I told my coworker I could handle it and then turned back to my customer and answered her question in Spanish.

And I swear, she said to me, "Lo siento, no hablo ingles."

Like, what? I wasn't speaking English!

After I recovered from my shock, I repeated what I had said originally, which was the Spanish answer to what she had asked in Spanish, and she turned to my coworker again and asked her the question again.

Like, she was so on autopilot that she didn't notice I was speaking the same language as her. How do you do that?

I even asked my coworker later to make sure I was saying the right thing and I had been. So there was no excuse.

Today's pro-tip: Don't be so self-absorbed that you can't have a conversation with the person selling you clothes.