4.14.2018

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.

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