Christmas in retail

Isabella Batkovic reminds us to spare a thought for the retail workers this festive season.

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The 1st of December marks the beginning of the festive season, signalling to many that the time to flock to shopping centres is nigh. For retailers however, the Christmas period signifies something much more sinister. When night falls and the extended trading period begins, the townspeople ‘transform’. Once the Westfield carols begin to play and the clock strikes ‘Christmas discount’, the others* begin to converge…

*Legends call them The Impatients. In Latin, they are referred to as Patrons Unsatisfyo. Today, many would know them simply as THE CUSTOMER.

When the thirst for bargains and competitively low prices take hold, nothing will stop these nagging, noncompliant, irrational customers from getting what they want, especially not defenceless little retailers who are equipped with only one active register and a failing EFTPOS system.

For retail workers such as myself, staying alive during this time of frenzied Christmas purchases is one thing, but staying sane is a whole different box of bonbons. (Ever heard the story of poor little Johnny McGee? Let’s just say he used to work at Coles, but after one too many shoulder taps and pricing questions, you can now find him safely locked up in a psych ward, dazed and confused, but constantly repeating the phrase “the customer is always right”…)

Phrases and actions that bring sales assistants one step closer to voluntarily admitting themselves into an insane asylum:

  1. “When you say ‘out of stock’ does that mean there is more out the back?”
  2. Shoppers who deliberately place unwanted items in the wrong area. (CHOCOLATE BARS AND 12 PKS OF TOILET PAPER ARE NOT SHELF BUDDIES.)
  3. “Is the red sticker price the actual cost or is it discounted off that again?”
  4. “I would like to speak to the manager.” (A line poor Johnny McGee heard 30 times too many.)
  5. Customers who argue about the refund policy because “it’s Christmas” (thanks, we didn’t know).
  6. “I don’t have a receipt but I know I bought it sometime in 1987. Can I have a refund?”
  7. Shoppers asking for a store to hold two shipping containers worth of items so they can “think about them”.

In such an atmosphere, doth thou not expect our hearts to be blackened and our eyes sullen with despair? Can you understand the physical and emotional turmoil each retailer must undergo during the so-called “silly season”? (As I write this sentence, 5,000 Australian sales assistants die a little more inside as complaints are made against them for a lack of “merry service”.)

As the 25th of December nears, and any chance of shop assistants feeling joy again disappears, retailers can take solace in the fact that only five fellow employees were lost to emotional malnourishment (so far) this season, and there are 11 long months until the festive retail apocalypse dawns once more.

Image: Hans van Reenen