Working Retail: A Christmas Story

‘Tis the season for spending quality time with family, baking Christmas cookies, watching The Christmas Story TV special on loop and of course all of the shopping. Families pack into malls and other brick and mortar shops to search for that perfect something for their loved one as anticipation and a hint of anxiety hangs in the air. Shelves of hot items are bought up quickly to be replaced with the newer inventory at a later date.

It is during this wonderfully festive time that one hardly thinks to themselves, “Huh, someone has to straighten up this display, I should pick up what I just dropped” or “That was exceptional customer service, they did everything they could to help me, I genuinely hope they have a good day,” in fact it is quite the opposite. A dad is shouting from across the store, “Let’s go!” to his wife and kids as a sales associate desperately tries to put all of their items into the bag at a fast pace. Meanwhile, a young mother drags her kid away from a small cardboard display that has been knocked over and disheveled.

It is in this chaos that brave store owners, managers and sale associates work their hardest to make sure every individual in the store has a positive experience, but at what cost?

Stress is a factor in nearly every job, but in retail, these factors of stress are especially abundant. One study by Isik Zeitinoglu et al. (2004) examined part-time and casual workers and the stress they experience, “Included here [sources of stress] are juggling multiple jobs, (often to complete full-time hours/week), low wages, lack of job security due to the inability of the employer to guarantee hours, short shifts and shift splits, irregular and unpredictable work schedules, and lack of career development and promotion opportunities.” (Relations Industrielles / Industrial Relations, pg. 14)

This level of stress is affecting roughly 4 million people who enter the workforce every day based on research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018. They are entering minimum wage retail jobs because they are the only ones available to them with little to no experience and these stressful environments are creating an even bigger problem. Zeitinoglu’s study states, “representatives recognized that as a result of the stress…there were higher levels of absenteeism, turnover, and conflict in the workplace…being in a stressful environment caused some of the workers to risk their wages and stay at home rather than come into another stressful day at work.” (pg. 16)

It is concerning that so many people working in retail are impacted by this, especially when mental health is of the utmost importance in the 21st century. However, working in retail isn’t always this negative experience.

Ashley Alvarado, 20, has been working in retail for 2 years now. She is a full-time team leader at Plato’s Closet in Santa Rosa and a part-time student at Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma Campus.

“Since I’ve only had one job, I haven’t really had the full-on experience of hating a job. I can say that it has been very stressful on me with school & working full-time.”

As so many other students working in retail, motivation and a good work ethic is essential to staying with these jobs because there is truly so much one can learn if they stick with it. Working retail gives people the opportunity to gain important abilities that will help them in many other occupations such as communication skills, customer service experience, teamwork, organization and so much more.

“Retail is hard work. You deal with so many different people and it can be a fun experience or a horrible one, but I think everyone should work retail once in their life,” Ashley stated.

Kyra Kosik is the store manager of Plato’s Closet Santa Rosa and has been working in retail management for 5 1/2 years and had similar feelings as Ashley when it came to the idea that everyone should work retail at least once in their life for the experience as well as noting the people skills one gain when working in this part of the industry.

“Working in retail in retail is definitely not an easy choice, some days I wish I was in an office or somewhere else, but then I think of the staff I get to help develop…I hope I am someone 10 years down the line they will look back and remember even just 1 thing I taught them.”

Kyra and so many store managers across the nation genuinely want customers and their staff to have the best experience as possible and it really hurts them when staff and customers complain or act out. As a culture, we need to change how we interact with individuals in retail positions with more human kindness and understanding.

“I also think of the customers I get to help, I can not count how many times I have had positive customer interactions that have just made all the stress worth it…,” Kyra emphasized.

This holiday season and for every season it is important for society to recognize these outstanding individuals who have dedicated a part of their lives to help people and their shopping needs. So, be that customer that salespeople want to help not the customer they have to help just because it is their job. Everyone’s life is busy, but taking the time to slow down and enjoying conversations with people instead of treating them like robots in a system will create a better shopping environment for everyone.

Happy Holidays!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mom says:

    Way to go Mija! Interesting perspective from behind the scenes and register. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I fell for that “get the young ones in to work because they don’t have families” con a few times, and now I don’t even get involved in the office politics. I work one Christmas then have two weeks off the next. That’s as fair as it gets.

    Liked by 1 person

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