How to Not Suck at Shopping

I’m a proud retail worker – I spent this summer opening a new store in my hometown, and I honestly can’t wait to get back to work (hopefully over the upcoming holiday break). I met so many interesting people, as I helped choose outfits for long-awaited weddings or pulled luggage for an upcoming vacation. I don’t really remember most of the people who came through the store, 99% of customers I’ve met are unremarkable – and in retail, that’s a really, really good thing. Because the people you remember are the ones that caused problems.

Sure, some of my worst customers were people who screamed at me until I wanted to hide in the break room, but some of my most vivid memories are a little unexpected: The man who apparently changed his mind about the pair of cargo shorts he was holding, and looked me in the eye as he dropped them on the ground and walked away. The woman who spent an hour in the dressing room with her five children running around the store, causing varying levels of chaos. The man who walked out of the dressing room with eight tangled hangers and eight inside-out pairs of jeans in his arms and dropped them in mine with a brief “Thanks, sweetheart.” All these months later, even talking about these people makes my blood boil, only because I know how simple it would be for them to not suck. And I’ll bet you any retail worker you talk to will have similar stories, because they’re just so common.

I don’t think those people knew they were being rude. I don’t think they meant to suck at shopping. So, in the interest of saving everyone who works retail (including my co-workers) from similar madness this holiday shopping season, and in special anticipation of Black Friday, I’ve compiled a pretty simple do-and-don’t list to help you not be one of “those” customers.

How to Not Suck at Shopping || Living Between the Lines - Tips from a retail worker on being a considerate shopper, just in time for the holidays.

Your cashier is going to thank you for this.

We’ll start from the beginning – if you walk into a store and an employee greets you – say hi back! How much effort does it take? Almost none. But it’ll make their day, because I know for a fact they’ve probably been ignored more than they’ve been responded to so far today. If they ask if you need help, answer honestly – they’ll understand if you’re just looking. If you do have a question about where something is or what they carry, though, don’t be afraid to ask!


While Shopping

Do – Supervise all children at all times. If you’ve got kids with you, this one should be familiar, but it’s easy to give in to the temptation to leave them in the toy section or outside the fitting room. Most stores will let you bring kids of any gender into any fitting room, so you can keep an eye on them.

Don’t – Let your kids run around the store alone. Obviously, the fear of a dude in a trenchcoat snatching a kid is very real, and while I’m sure that anyone – employee or fellow shopper – would try to stop him, real threats aren’t always so easily identifiable. A more likely danger is that of accidental injury if an unsupervised kid tries to climb a shelf or display. Those uncarpeted floor can lead to some nasty falls. And on a less dramatic note, if you’ve got kids with you, you know – they’re the world’s best mess-makers, and it shouldn’t be a worker’s job to clean up after them.


Do – Tell an employee about any breaks or spills. These can be real safety hazards for everyone in the store – it’s easy to slip in a spilled peppermint mocha, and even with a vigilant parent, a kid could easily cut their hand trying to play with broken glass. Stores can get sued if a mess causes an injury, so by politely letting the next employee you see know what happened, you’re protecting everyone in the store.

Don’t – Worry too much about getting in trouble. Unless you’re at an incredibly high end store full of very expensive merchandise, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to pay for something you’ve broken. If you are somewhere incredibly high end and expensive, well… Try not to break things.


Do – Minimize your impact on the store. Keep hangers facing the same way, try not to mix sizes, try not to upset piles of folded clothes too much, and don’t let fallen items stay on the ground to get ruined. Think – if everyone did this, you’d never have trouble finding that shirt in your size again!

Don’t – Discard items you no longer want. So you felt adventurous and picked up that pair of patterned pants, but now they’re starting to look a little tacky and you don’t even want to try them on. Well, okay, first of all, live a little and give the pants a chance. But if you still don’t want them, give them to an employee (fitting room attendants are usually your best bet) to put back. Don’t leave them in a different section, and for the love of God please don’t leave them on the floor. (But I’ll bet you didn’t need me to tell you that.)


Folded Clothes on a Shelf - How to Not Suck at Shopping || Living Between the Lines

These displays are awful. YOU know you’re going to make a mess, WE know you’re going to make a mess, and you can’t even properly see the merchandise. Don’t stress about them – but do try to be gentle…


Basically, try to leave the store in the same condition you left it in. Remember that any mess you make has to be cleaned up by an employee before they can go home. And if it’s the holiday season, shifts are long and late, and that employee probably wants to be with their family.


In the Fitting Room


Do – Understand that fitting room rules aren’t personal. If there’s a limit to the number or type of things you can take into the fitting room, it’s not because anyone in the store thinks you, specifically, will make a mess or steal something. These policies are usually corporate protocol, and employees follow them so that they’re not liable for any thefts or other major problems. They can’t make exceptions, even for you.

Don’t – Take your frustration out on the fitting room attendant. Yes, it sucks that you have to take two trips to try on all your clothes. Your attendant probably thinks it sucks, too, because they have to count your clothes twice now. If a rule is inconvenient, try to remember that you’re both probably victims of that inconvenience. And you can leave whenever you want – your attendant is stuck there.


Do – Hang things back up. If it came on a hanger, put it back on that hanger once you’ve taken it off. This takes a maximum of 30 seconds, and it’s completely worth it. I’ll bet, at some point, you’ve had to wait on an attendant who was trying to hang someone else’s clothes back up. It’s really annoying – and stressful for the worker, because trust me, they know you’re waiting. You can prevent that – be the change you want to see in the world. Plus, it makes separating the clothes you want from the ones you don’t a breeze.

Don’t – Hand your attendant piles of inside out clothes and tangled hangers. You’d be amazed by how many people think this is okay – they’ll even say to my face “isn’t that what the person is there for?” Nope. That attendant is there to make sure everyone has a fitting room and that any clothes you don’t want find their way back to the right place. If you do this, you’ll probably slow everyone down. And there’s a chance your attendant will remember you and write a passive-aggressive blog post about you, and you just don’t need that sort of negativity in your life. (Bonus protip: Unless you’re an adorable old lady, probably don’t call employees “sweetheart”).


Do – Feel free to ask fitting room attendants for their opinion. Most people who work retail have at least some fashion sense, and they’re usually willing to offer comments on something you’re unsure about. Fitting room attendants are also usually really familiar with what the store carries and what other people have been trying on, so they might have suggestions on current styles or even specific items that might suit you (but don’t count on that.)

Don’t – Badger attendants or get negative. If you try on twelve dresses, do try to form an opinion on some of them by yourself. Attendants can help, but they’re not supposed to make your decisions for you. They’re also usually instructed to be positive, so asking questions like “Does this make me look fat?” Or “Is this a bad color on me?” put them in a really sticky position if it really is unflattering. Instead, ask open-ended questions like “What do you think of this?” that give them a little more space to be tactful.


Rounder Rack of Clothes - How to Not Suck at Shopping || Living Between the Lines

Fun fact: If you lose track of a child from a fitting room visit, they’re probably hiding in here. And their hair is probably a staticky mess.

In short, be respectful of people and rules. Oftentimes fitting rooms are the sources of a lot of theft, and keeping track of who’s where and what they have there can be difficult, especially during the busy holiday season. The rules are in place to protect employees from being responsible for people stealing (or hurting anyone’s feelings.)


Checking Out


Do – Take your clothes off hangers while you’re in line. Most stores don’t let you keep the hangers, so you’ll save both yourself and your cashier some time if you get your clothes free of hangers while you wait. Plus a lot of stores put racks of little things, like chocolate or gadgets, near the checkout lines to entice you to impulse buy. Busying yourself with hangers is a good way to quell that impulse. But, while we’re talking about those displays…

Don’t – Hold up the line looking at last minute purchases. So you got sucked in by that unique tea or pair of headphones by the checkout line. It happens to the best of us. But it’s rude to expect everyone behind you to wait while you decide whether you want rose hips or jasmine, so if you’re going to shop some more, wave the person behind you ahead.


Do – Check where returns can and can’t be made. Some stores only allow returns by managers, or at specific registers, or both. The computer systems that registers use can be inconvenient at times, so returns often take longer than normal purchases – respect that and, if you’re making a return and there’s a designated register use that. Or avoid it, if you’re just there to buy (it might save you some time).

Don’t – Make a scene if returns cause you trouble. If you’re making a return and you have to move to a different register, or the system is making your return difficult, try to be understanding. These sorts of situations are usually technologically based, not the result of human error, so your cashier is rarely to blame. If a return in front of you is taking too long, feel free to wait in another line (if one is available) but once again, it’s probably not the cashier’s fault, so try not to blame them for the inconvenience.


Do – Ask about return and gift receipt policies. Return policies vary store by store. What you can return, how long you can return it for, and how you’ll be refunded are all important. Feel free to ask if your cashier doesn’t offer the information. It’s also a good idea to let a cashier know in advance what items will be gifts, as some computer systems generates gift receipts early and they may need to know ahead of time.

Don’t – Use your cell phone. Yes, even to text. I promise it can wait. Talking or texting on your phone usually means ignoring the cashier, which rarely ends well. Miscommunications are a lot more common when one party is in two different conversations, and aside from being pretty rude, it slows the transaction down and makes everyone wait on you. You might not feel distracted, but I can promise (from experience) that you are.


Soft Sweaters (which are the real American Dream) - How to Not Suck at Shopping || Living Between the Lines

The faster you get home, the sooner you can put on your new, soft sweater. And that’s the real American Dream.

Honestly, checking out is much easier when everyone is communicating clearly. Try to streamline processes, and be attentive while checking out. Long checkout lines are the worst, and by following these simple steps, you can help eliminate them.


In General


Do – Treat retail employees like the human beings they are. The holiday season is absurdly stressful for everyone. These workers are helping a huge amount of people, and they’re all very aware that what you’re buying might be a gift, which adds a lot of pressure not to make a mistake and ruin some unknown child’s Christmas. The holidays are stressful for everyone, and it’s easy to vent your frustration on whoever’s convenient – and retail employees are nothing if not convenient. As you make your way through the store, think “Is what I’m doing going to make someone’s job harder?” If the answer’s yes, try to find a way to make it easier – take fifteen seconds every now and then to make someone’s life easier later.

Don’t – Expect workers to do things that aren’t their job. Employees are paid to help customers find what they’re looking for, get them into fitting rooms, ensure items are in the right place, and ring up purchases. They are not paid to clean up other people’s messes or babysit other people’s kids. Employees have specific tasks to perform, and it’s highly unlikely that they’re free to stop doing that and help you look up whether their store has a location in Dinosaur, Colorado (or whatever).


I think that wraps it up, so, from me to you – happy holiday shopping, and may you always find your size.

  • tiffzny