Holiday season is the happiest time of the year, unless you work retail

I can hear the rattle of the glass door behind me.

I look to see a woman standing at the door with a wild glint in her eyes. She shakes the door handle with the ferocity of a bartender preparing a martini.

I look down at my watch. It can’t possibly be time to open the store, can it?

The woman has made direct eye contact; there is no escaping her now. Her toe has started a methodical tap against the freshly mopped floor.

The wild glint in her eye has morphed into pure impatience. I slink reluctantly over to the door and slowly unlock it, awaiting my impending doom.

“It’s about time you opened the doors, I’ve been waiting forever,” she says.

I force a smile and say good morning through clenched teeth. I hear a Christmas song playing softly throughout the mall. Santa’s Village is in the midst of being set up, awaiting all the starry-eyed children.

Holiday season is officially here. It’s the happiest time of the year, unless you work retail.

This will mark my fifth year working the Christmas season as a retail employee. I’ve folded so many pairs of denim and cozy sweaters over the years that only Dustin Hoffman’s character in the Rain Man would be able to count the exact number.

Retail during the holiday season can only be described as a jungle-like environment. I’ve seen customers fight viciously over a T-shirt with the same fervor as two wild animals. I’ve had people bargain and barter prices at the till, switching price tags with the cunningness of a jungle cat. Working retail during the holiday season can often feel like you are drowning in a sea of clothing and poorly behaved customers.
Photo illustration by: Kyra Macpherson.

My most memorable customer moment happened a few years ago while I was helping a woman shop for a present for her son. She was demanding, impatient and clearly stressed out considering it was Dec. 23. I had finally helped her find the perfect shirt for her dear boy and started to ring through her purchase.

Thinking I was about to have a satisfied customer leave the store, she started to argue the actual price of the shirt. The transaction was cancelled, due to the fact that she took the shirt, threw it at my face and stormed out of the store.

It’s a shame that being hit in the eyeball by a clothing security tag isn’t covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act.

Deloitte, a Canadian service firm that provides advisory services for audit, tax, consulting and financial needs, conducted an online survey with 2,258 Canadians this past September. Deloitte was curious to see how the instability of our economy would impact Canadians’ holiday shopping this year.

The results showed that 55 per cent of those surveyed plan to spend the same amount of money that they did last season. Only five per cent plan on spending more money this year. Half of Canadians plan on using a budget while doing their holiday shopping; the median budget was reported as $477 per household. Roughly 45 per cent say they will do their shopping online this year.

It appears that even with the increasing popularity of online shopping and our inconsistent economy, shopping centers throughout Canada will still be a flood with people looking for that perfect gift this holiday season.

An old co-worker and good friend of mine, Jordan Wheeler, has a massive cache of holiday horror stories that he loves to share. One of his most recent stories happened while he was ringing through a couple at the sporting goods store he now works for.

His store was having a promotion where if the customer spent a certain amount of money, they would receive a gift card in return. Jordan, being the ever-helpful employee, suggested to the couple that if they spent $20 more they would receive a gift card.

The one woman pointed at Jordan, looked him in the eyes and simply said, “You, you shut up!”

“Now our whole store goes around pointing and saying, ‘You, you shut up!’” Jordan said laughing hysterically. “And it was only the middle of November!”

Humor is most definitely the best defense against some of the discourteous and impatient Grinches that may walk through the mall doors this year. Sometimes all you can do is laugh at the absurdity of people and remember that the holiday season only lasts a couple of months.

However, it’s worth noting it isn’t always bad in the retail world. A few years ago I was working a particularly stressful and bleary-eyed 5 a.m. shift. I took a quick break to run and grab coffees for my manager and I.

On my return, I was juggling two coffees in one hand while trying to unlock the door to the store with the other. Just as I thought I had successfully outsmarted the door, my coffee went tumbling down onto the freshly mopped floor.

While starting blankly at the disaster I had created, a gentleman – a term that should only be used if earned – walked by and smiled. Five minutes later he was knocking on the door, with a fresh coffee in hand for me. I talked about him and his kind act for weeks.

I dare anyone to say they enjoy shopping during the holidays. The lineups are way too long and most stores look like a clothing bomb has exploded all over them.

But please try to remember that the 16-year-old kid ringing your purchase through is just that – a kid. This is most likely their first job and they’re just as overwhelmed and stressed out as you are.

Sometimes all it takes is one smile or one “thank you” from a customer to make their day. The Golden Rule approach is all it takes to have a positive experience between a sales associate and customer. Treat them with kindness and they will do the same.

So when Dec. 23 rolls around and you are doing your last minute Christmas shopping, please bring your patience and compassion. At the end of the day, we all just want to be home on the holidays.

This story has been updated to correct name of Dustin Hoffman’s movie, “Rain Man.”