I don’t know whether it’s this crazed time of year, or the demands of retail jobs in general, but lately I find several clerks are not paying attention to me. I am a small woman with a soft voice, so I make an extra effort to speak clearly. Even through my dark glasses, I can see their glazed expressions.
“I’d like $25 on that gift card.”
“Sure, $75 you said?”
“I’d like a plain coffee to go please.”
“Is that to go and do you want room for milk?”
“Did you say you wanted the receipt emailed to you?”
Actually, I didn’t say anything about the receipt at all. I was too busy punching in my membership number, my mother’s maiden name and date of birth, hitting No to requests to feed animals and the homeless, entering Debit or Credit and figuring out when to slide the card or wait! no, this is a chip card, insert and wait …
Most of the time I have pretty good luck with clerks. I understand how difficult the jobs are. I was fired from my only retail job and that was decades ago before multi-tasking became a prime requirement. While in college in the LA beach area, I worked for The Broadway (sold and renamed Macy’s in the ’90s). I did okay for a shy person and enjoyed helping people. The problem was they moved us from department to department, so we never really learned merchandise well. I especially liked women’s clothing and gifts and stationery and could usually figure out what items customers needed or would like in those departments. I ran into trouble when they moved me to men’s underwear. Sure, I met a lot of cute guys and their fathers, but what a mortifying price to pay. Then the corker was being moved to draperies. Draperies! What the hell does a 19-year-old know about the best fabric to pick for a West-facing, oceanfront mansion window, let alone color and measurement? Some wealthy biddy complained about my lack of interior design expertise and that was the end of my 6-month retail career.
Today I wouldn’t last even a week, I’m sure. Customers are more demanding and clerks are expected to do about 10 things at once. These are trying times and they are trying. Everybody’s in a hurry. If a line doesn’t move fast enough, someone shouts out, “This is dreadful, unacceptable!” I admit I feel impatient at times too, but most of the time it’s only a matter of five minutes and I can read the latest magazine covers as I inch forward: “At Last! <Famous Name> Reveals Dying Wishes!” “Ten Ways to Drive Your Man Crazy in Bed!” Behind the woman in yoga clothes who is complaining in a loud voice, I can’t help wondering why she feels her time is so important. Is she on her way to perform open-heart surgery? Is she late for yoga class?
Not only do customers expect smooth, fast-moving service from clerks, employers do also. Clerks are doing more than just helping one customer at a time. They are reassuring those in line they’ll be right with them, thank you for waiting. They are greeting customers as they come in the door. “Welcome to Best Buy! Welcome!” They are answering the phone! Giving directions, hours, checking to see if an item is in stock. Handling difficult transactions with flaky random-access computers and bar-code readers. Helping co-clerks do the same when they get stuck. Helping surly customers. Those with expired coupons or pouches of coins or multiple returns all on different credit cards. Those who complain about poor service and write nasty reviews on Yelp.
So I guess I can forgive an occasional distracted lapse, glazed eye and deaf ear. Feel my heart leap when a friendly worker takes the time to joke with an old(er) lady. Knowing that if I were in his or her uncomfortable shoes, I’d be that much closer to losing what’s left of my sanity. And for sure the job.