“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.”
Life Behind the Counter
From the outside looking in, my job probably appears to be a pretty easy gig. I’m employed as a cashier at a local general store that sells everything from milk to motor oil. The customers that frequent the store fall under no certain categories. In a typical shift, it is not unusual for me to see businessmen, college students, and “ladies of the night” all show up for the same two for $1 special on shampoo. Life behind the checkout counter can certainly get interesting, but it’s not easy or glamorous in any way, shape, or form. In this letter, I will reveal the hidden trials and tribulations that I endure at my job on a daily basis. It is my hope that you gain insight on what it’s really like to work in retail. Maybe I will even inspire you to think twice before throwing a hissy fit over your expired 25 cents off coupon being unacceptable!
MORNING- (8am-12pm) The store doesn’t open until 8:00am, but I have to be there 30 minutes early each morning to help clean up from the night before. Although it’s usually 2 or 3 employees closing the store every night, there is never enough time to clean up from a chaotic day. As upper management put it, “The store closes at 10:00pm. It needs to be cleaned, vacated, and locked up by 10:30pm.” Okay, sounds simple enough if you don’t consider the fact that at 9:55pm we still have a store full of people to check out, mountains of merchandise that have to go back on the shelves, and not to mention 3 cash registers that need to be counted down. The only way we get to leave at 10:30pm is if we leave the store in a complete mess and come in early the next morning to fix everything, which is exactly what we do. So, arriving at work each morning, I can expect to sweep, mop, dust, and re-stock merchandise, all before I check out my first customer, who is usually waiting outside of the store 15 minutes before we open. When I’m finally at the cash register, I plaster on the smile that I am forced to maintain for my entire 8-hour shift. I try my best to make the customers feel welcome and appreciated as I scan their coffee and donuts just to get bombarded with the snide question: “How are you so smiley early this morning?” In my mind, I think of the fact that I actually drove past my workplace twice before deciding to suck it up and go in. Also, I remember that I almost called in sick today to get a day off since I haven’t had one in 2 weeks. A part of me wants to tell the customer that I smile to keep from crying, but I simply reply, “It’s all a part of the job.” My day has officially begun.
AFTERNOON- (12pm-4pm) By now, I have been cursed out, called everything but my name, and even threatened all because of enforcing simple store policies that are displayed on the front door and at the checkout counter. For example, we only allow returns on unopened merchandise seven days after the purchase date. For some reason, customers tend to think that “unopened” means opened, yet re-taped, re-stapled, or re-glued. No, I’m sorry. It doesn’t work like that. In addition, there is a “no eating or drinking” policy in the store. There are about ten signs hanging in nearly every aisle to remind you of this. So, when I see you munching on a bag of chips that you haven’t paid for, do you really think I’m just going to turn my head the other way? Really?
NIGHT- (4pm-10pm) The night shift is by far the busiest shift. People who work 9 to 5’s are stopping by already in bad moods and taking it out on the helpless cashiers. Screaming toddlers accompany their moms, who are preoccupied with trying to find the most affordable, yet healthy frozen dinners. Thieves come in big groups, heading straight to the back of the store to rob us blind. They know we are too busy up front with checkout lines curved around aisles to give them a second thought. Merchandise is pulled from the shelves and littered onto the middle of the floor. Food is opened and “sampled”. Spills are everywhere as unruly children run wild and a few conniving customers will purposely fall down in hopes of getting a big legal settlement. By 10:30pm, I am literally running to my car, re-evaluating my whole life!
A disgruntled 24-year-old retail employee
P.S. This letter is only a brief overview of a typical day at my job. Often, things can get much worse…