Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Retail Taught Me

Monday, Labor Day, there was an interesting edition of the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC - replaying some interesting segments looking at working in America (to be fair pretty much all the programming was on this topic). The one that caught the ear of your MatchGirl was about the Politics of Retail. This is something, gentle readers, that rests close to my heart.

You may not know, but your MatchGirl spent over a decade working in the retail industry and she is familiar with the trials and tribulations of it. From working for a big chain, where every moment is clocked and accounted for, mystery shoppers coming in, a lot of protocol to follow to working at a mom'n'pop where there wasn't even a safe, and the cash just hung around in the back (above the stereo) - I've run the gamut in retail.

This is what I know. Retail taught me loads. I stayed in it too long - partially because I was lazy and partially because it's hard to transition out once your resume is loaded with retail jobs - but it taught me everything I know.

In a retail environment, you need to be able to size the customer up in about 10 seconds. You need to know who they are, what they're looking for and if they can afford it. You can't judge too closely by the clothes they wear or the handbag they are carrying. One of the most wealthy, and most consistent,  customers I ever had was a gentleman who looked like he stepped out of central casting for a homeless person. He was rich and eccentric and had a standing lunch reservation at the Ritz. You can't always tell.

In a retail environment, you need to listen. Going back to my number one networking tip, listen. If you need to make that sale to meet your goal, you need to know what the customer is looking for. But it's more than just hearing what they said they came in for, it's about listening to what they are saying. In my experience, what a customer knows how to ask for and what they are really looking for are often different things. A pro knows how to suss the difference.

In a retail environment, you need to communicate. You need to be able to talk to, and get along with, a wide variety of people. You need to be able to let them know what's going on and to hear what they're saying. Even if your each racing towards your own commission goal, a little communication will help you all out along the way.

In a retail environment, you need to be able to turn on a dime. The customer comes first and it doesn't matter if you're manager is expecting you to finish inventory of a wall of product by noon. If a customer comes in, you need to drop what you're doing and help them. You need to, in simple and catch-phrase terminology, prioritize.

I could go on for a lot longer. I could start talking about how people, especially denizens of New York, don't treat retail workers right. I could write a companion book to Ms. Kelly's piece. I won't do it here.

Retail is a hard job. A really hard job.

I don't want to go back. But I'm glad I did it.

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