The woes and pros of working in retail

Retail is a part of everyday life.

There’s no way around it, whether you’re grocery shopping, buying holiday gifts or just getting a coffee.

Being the customer is the easy part.

Actually working in a retail environment can be interesting, to say the least, but it is an important life experience.

In my 13 years of customer experience, I have had a wide variety of retail jobs all over Canada and even one overseas.  I have worked in the fast food industry, at call centers, in convenience stores, in shipping and receiving, at some office jobs and even in accounting. I also had a stint in bartending.

I got my first job when I was in high school. I worked at a Tim Hortons in Kingston, Ontario. I remember being excited to be making my own money, but I was also intimidated because I didn’t know what to expect.

But because of this experience, I believe that everyone should have at least one retail job in their life.  It can be rewarding and stressful, but once you’ve worked in that field you change as a customer.  You understand that type of work in a new perspective.

Taylor Smith is a first-year student who has been working in retail for four years. She gets it.

Working in retail can be a major milestone for people when it comes to learning new skills and developing a sense of respect while frustrated. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“I think that it’s important that everyone works in retail at least once in their life, so they get the experience of properly communicating with others and learning how to build customer relationships for whatever other jobs they may eventually do in the future,” Smith said.

“I think it can also be just a really fun experience if you like communicating with people and hanging out with them.”

Working in retail can teach you valuable life skills like patience, respect and even how to talk to people.

Sometimes customers get upset when they’re not happy with the service or product provided and sometimes people can be rude. Even if it’s not your fault, you must bite your tongue no matter how difficult it is. The words “grin and bear it” have never been more appropriate.

In those situations, you must breathe and not say what you’re thinking. You have to smile and just take it. That moment is pretty much the retail rite of passage. It happens to all of us. Believe me, I have been told off, yelled at and I’ve even had a Timbit thrown at me when I was not going fast enough for a customer.

“The thing about working in retail is you get to learn a real patience with people, and I think that if you’re working retail you also learn how to treat retail workers when you are standing in line,” said Cassandra Lyn Kun, a first-year student who has worked in retail for six years.

Cassandra Lyn Kun has been working in retail for six years and she has learned a lot about people during her experience. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“I think that everyone needs to have a retail job at least once in their life to learn how to treat retail workers, learn an amazing amount of patience and [also understand] how hard our jobs are.”

Don’t get me wrong — there are also customers who will make your time worth it.

In most jobs, you’re not just doing basic cashier work. You are also learning merchandising, marketing, project management, teamwork and problem-solving. These jobs are all about multi-tasking.

There will always be days that you want to run out the door and leave the country, but you return and you work hard everyday to make a difference for someone who needs their Timbits or coffee, or at least that’s what I tried to do.

From my jobs in retail I’ve learned independence, adaptability and that I can do whatever I put my mind to.  I’ve had many challenges as well, like dealing with rude customers and language barriers, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t change any of it. I think everyone can benefit from a job that forces you to become a people-person, because in this world you have to be.

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