Cashdesks and coathangers: working in retail

Back in 2014, I had completed my studies at Swansea University and was ready to start looking for my first post-uni dream job. I was lucky enough to gain an admin job before graduation, albeit only a few hours a week. It was a ‘real’ job with ‘real’ income. The contract was only initially for 3 months, to take over a spot that a BTEC student had walked out on and following this realisation I needed a more stable income.

I began applying for other part-time jobs as a backup and found myself really lucky to have won a job at my favourite high street clothing shop. I decided to take the job and work the two part-time jobs simultaneously. During that time, I was then offered permanent employment with the admin job, and kept the retail job to build up some money.

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The reality

Working in retail is hard. Most jobs pay minimum wage and you always have to deal with a variety of attitudes from a variety of customers. It will either make you ‘stronger’ or it won’t and you’ll feel the need to give it up.I was employed as a Sales and Services assistant, which basically means: cashier and hanger tidy upper. The training was easy, and few mistakes were made, but what actually makes or breaks your experience are the people. Sure, this can be said of any job but retail is competitive, you don’t necessarily need to be qualified or experienced to take the job and this makes people go after them.

My experience

Everyone that I worked alongside were aged between 16 and 25 and nobody wanted to be there, but most had no choice and no other option to exchange. The way that staff were being called at all hours of the day to be asked or told to do overtime was rather shocking and there was a definite assumption of a ruling hierarchy. Work rota’s were rarely stuck to, and commitments such as other jobs or school were always ignored. It was not a forever job for me that’s certain.

Whilst committing myself to two part-time jobs, my admin position escalated into more hours with higher pay and resulted in promotion as well as the offer of full-time employment. Thanks to that, it was certainly time to wave goodbye to cash desks and coathangers.

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I stayed with the retail position for 5 months, but it definitely felt like longer. Many people say that retail isn’t for everyone. You either like it or you don’t, and from what I witnessed and experienced, that’s definitely true. Personally, having had a not so rosy experience I  would admit I wouldn’t be inclined to take a retail job again, but circumstances change and you can’t predict what’s around the corner. That being said, i did meet some lovely people who were of similar age to me, and we did have a laugh. I don’t really keep in touch with any of them anymore, but I’m glad that I’ve experienced retail.

The pro’s

Give it a go: If you’re offered a position in retail and you don’t have another job, I’d advise to definitely take it. Whether you’re still in school, fresh from uni or searching for a part-time option, I think it’s probably quite necessary for everyone to try retail at least for a short period of time. It also looks good on your CV, and people who have also experienced retail jobs know how hard it can be.

Build a career: There’s a reason retail jobs exist, and one of the reasons are because people work their way up and create a career. This may be your chance so why should you pass by an opportunity? You never know where it may lead.

Little extras : I worked in a clothes retail store, and got a 30% discount on nearly everything in the store up to a full price maximum of £150. I also got ‘uniform’ every 3 months, which is basically free clothes that you’re encouraged to wear during your shifts. This depended on your hours, but doing around 12 hours a week, I qualified for two tops and one pair of jeans, and I still wear them today.

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The cons:

Naughty Customers: As I said, retail is not for everyone. You have to be polite to rude customers, explain why they can’t have a refund, stand on your feet for hour after hour and most people complain they ‘couldn’t do retail’ to you. You sometimes have to deal with shoplifters, or customers complaining that someone has left the shop’s magnetic tag on an item and it’s pretty annoying – there’s no way around it.

It’s not where you want to be: But a retail job, that you’re not motivated by doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe it’s to give you extra cash, pay your bills or give you some work experience? Remember, that somebody who already has a job will find it easier to find another job. Just think of it as a stepping stone.

Hours: The hours can sometimes be unsociable, long or inconvenient. Remember if you take a retail job, the likelihood of you working or being asked to work bank holidays (including over Christmas) is very very likely.

Whether you’re moving into a retail position, thinking about it or are in one now just remember you don’t have to be there forever. If you’re not currently loving your job in a shop, not matter it be a book shop, clothes or coffee shop just be certain that you’re building up your skills and experience.

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