Retail-iation


Photo Credit: Al Hayat
I brought my laptop to the Starbucks on my street last weekend to get a bit of writing done and to quell the caffeine demon inside me that was demanding an Americano. I was very excited to find the new free Wi-Fi was up and running. (Yes, that’s happening!) I looked for a table, I got a table, I convinced this guy his computer didn’t need as much charging as mine, I plugged in my laptop, and started typing away.

Having left my headphones at my apartment, I started to become more and more distracted by the conversations around me and less and less focused on formulating decent writing. Starbucks is a great place to listen in on conversations because people attempt to hold legitimate meetings at Starbucks locations all around the world. Maybe it’s the caffeine that tricks people into thinking they are in their own private and secure offices when they go to a Starbucks to work or meet with someone, but regardless, they talk really loudly about things they shouldn’t.

One girl was talking on the phone about the details of some private event she was coordinating. Three foreign teens, two German and one British guy, were huddled over some Euro netbook in what appeared to be a search for items on the black market. Two little kids with tiny hot chocolates were going over to the milk and sugar station adding packets and packets of sugar to their drinks while their father ignored them. A tall man that appeared to be some sort of athlete (probably someone I should know but don’t) ordered a breakfast sandwich with “NO egg please. I just want the cheese and bacon.” And the best of all, was this retail store manager with an associate sitting in the overstuffed leather chairs discussing “serious retail business things” — which mean they were completely trivial and ridiculous.

I worked in retail while I was home for breaks during college and in Boston for one semester. I can tell you it was quite frustrating to take “direction” from managers. Retail managers all think they are Kelly Cutrone from such esteemed shows as Kell on Earth,The Hills, and The City. I remember my manager in Boston would ask me why I wasn’t purchasing more expensive brands with my employee discount or why I wasn’t using my 50% off handbag discount with an incredibly judging tone. Why? Because I’m working to make money and when I take 50% off the bags at your store they still cost $1,000. It’s okay, most of the women I worked with were in debt from using their “discount” so frequently, desperately trying to match the spending habits of their elite clientele. My manager who nagged me constantly was eventually fired for shoplifting.

So here are these two women, sitting face to face. The manager is speaking in a very concerned tone.

Manager: So basically I guess I’m just frustrated because when I’m at the store sales are high. I go away for vacation for a week and when I come back sales are down. I walk around the store and things are just out of control. None of the hangers were spaced properly, the Sarah Skirts were not in half folds, and the mannequins only had three accessories each. You guys know that they each have to have five…how hard is that?

I’d like to tell you what the employee said back, but she just sat there at this point with her eyes glazed over. I guess sales being down is something worth being concerned about. I get that. Retail is about selling brands and products to the customer. If that’s the goal, teach your employees how to sell and be smart about it. Don’t tell them you’re disgusted in the lack of accessories. Don’t give items and folds of clothing names like the Sarah Skirt or the wide fold. Just sell. There is no need to sit here for an hour — in public — complaining and speaking as if your managerial role at a retail store is going to take you to the tents in Bryant Park . Sweetie, it just won’t.

Even the slightest positions of power are dangerous. There are so many reality TV shows that center around pseudo famous people that power trip their way through life. This becomes hilarious and fascinating to the viewer. The pseudo fame often justifies the fact that these people can treat others horribly because of their status level.

I would argue that we should get some cameras into some retail stores to capture the type of drama that unfolds when a new shipment of sweaters comes in that need to be z folded, but they get x folded. I want footage of a manager trying to explain (while breaking out in hives) how making sure there is a thumb size gap between hanging dresses will make or break a sale. I’d like to see moments where the “girls” at the retail store order themselves expensive lunches every day and pretend they are living a lunch that matches the clientele life. That’s what I’d like to see and laugh at all day long.

Love,
Cat

About Caitlin Fitzgibbons

Caitlin is an UPchicago.com contributor with a bi-weekly column on people-watching in the city.

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