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Retail Workers' Biggest Challenges, Expert Advice From the Sales Floor

The key to retail is finding the right fit between your values and the company's mission

Retail Workers' Biggest Challenges, Expert Advice From the Sales Floor

Needless to say, a career in retail can be tough work. It takes patience, diligence, and depending on your shift, a lot of caffeine. But there's light at the end of the tunnel, really. 

Here are some of the biggest hurdles retail workers face and advice on how to handle from retail employees - with experience from eight months to eight years or more - who have been there and done it. 

Meet Our Industry Insiders

Alex Corrado is a marketing and sales coordinator with more than three years of past retail seasonal experience as a sales associate at Nordstrom. Caroline Sullivan, too, is a sales associate at a specialty boutique and has worked at women's and children's clothing stores over the past three years.

Naser Mahmoud, a major sales assistant at Costco, worked as a food service assistant at the chain for more than seven years and Mandi Hinrichs worked as a service desk associate for Bob's Stores and briefly as a sales associate at Hollister

Ariana Colozzo has worked more than three years at Marshalls and a year-and-a-half at an Eddie Bauer outlet. Savannah Hughes has eight months of past retail experience working at Banana Republic in men's clothing and Lynn Tran has worked at various retail stores, including Forever 21Abercrombie and J.C. Penney.

Q: How do you deal with difficult customers during the holiday season (or in general)?

Corrado: Listen to what they want and ask questions - be attentive. Show them all of their options based on what they told you, above, below and within their budget. Although showing them something below their budget would make me less money on commission, they’ll have a better experience because they found what they wanted at a lower price and they’ll remember that you were the one who showed it to them.

Hughes: You have to tell them that they cannot use their six-month-old coupon, and no, you cannot use my employee discount. And you have to do it with a smile. Experiences like these are a lot easier when you're friends with everyone on the floor and you've had a solid dose of caffeine.

Hinrichs: The holidays can be especially stressful. Despite the long hours and sometimes overwhelming customers, try to maintain a good attitude. Employers appreciate employees who do this. I was once given a gift card by a manager who appreciated my hard work during the holidays! 

Mahmoud: Keep a cool head when dealing with everyone no matter how they treat you.

Tran: Customers [can be] rude but know it's not your fault! You're not the owner of the company so take their antics with a grain of salt.

Q: I don't know how you stand all day! What helps?

Hughes: Buy good shoes. Clarks. Eccos. Soffes. Aerosoles. It's worth it.

Q: What's the policy on calling out of work?

Colozzo: Don't miss work unless it's absolutely necessary, especially in the first few months. Oftentimes, as with everywhere else in life, if you start off unreliable, managers will notice and treat you like that going forward. 

Q: What advice do you have about delivering great customer service? 

Hinrichs: People appreciate good experiences and may tell one or two people. However, people will remember bad experiences and tell everyone who will listen. Try to create a good customer experience as it reflects well on you, the brand and can create customer loyalty. Everyone has a bad day. It's best to leave your personal problems at the door because the way you handle your day effects your co-workers and your customers. It's best to create a positive environment for everyone.

Q: If customers ask how clothes look on them, do you actually tell them the truth?

Corrado: Give them your honest opinion on how something looks. If something looks bad and you don’t tell them, they’re only going to end up returning it and costing you commission money in the process. 

Q: How do you move up the retail ladder? 

Hinrichs: Go the extra mile to learn other jobs. My first job was as a cashier and sales floor associate for Bob's Stores. Within a few months I had moved up to a service desk associate and was learning the duties of a key holder. Knowing several different jobs makes it easier to help customers and relate to co-workers/employees should you ever receive a promotion.

Corrado: Don’t be afraid to ask your manager or co-workers for help — it’s a great way to learn, and learn quickly.

Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned from working in retail?

Sullivan: I would say it's important to be able to multitask because retail is so fast paced. Also hav[ing] a thick skin is important in anything related to customer service because you can't take things personally. While you need to do your best to provide the store's services and create an overall good experience, stick my your store's policies and don't make exceptions for people. If they don't like the return policy, for example, they can take it up with the manager or cooperate. 

Corrado: Be the expert. Absorb all of the product knowledge that you can so that you can learn all of the best selling points to use when speaking to a customer. 

Q: What's the most positive part about working in retail? 

Corrado: Helping people find what they're looking for/making them happy, especially if they were a customer that was pleasant to work with.

Sullivan: My favorite memory is after a working with a customer for an extended period of time, she was very appreciative and she even mentioned to my boss that I gave her excellent service. It may seem like a little thing but it's awesome when customers value our hard work, and pointing it out to my boss makes me look good, too, which is a plus! She also did the follow-up survey, which is awesome to get feedback and makes the whole store look good!

Hinrichs: The most positive part of retail was that it forced me out of my shell and fostered people skills that have helped in every job I have had since. Working in retail forces interaction with co-workers and customers, both good and bad. I feel comfortable talking to people, answering phone calls and even resolving problems in a professional setting because of my time in retail. My first job in retail started as a high school job but it certainly has been valuable.

Mahmoud: It's given me the patience to be able to handle stressful situations without cracking under the pressure and given me great friends who I probably wouldn't have made if I didn't work at Costco.

Lessons learned? The key to retail, and any job, is finding the right fit. It's important to line your values up with the company's mission and actually care about the product. When you're selling what you love, your customer service skills stand out and you position yourself for advancement within a company.

Find your fit and browse retail jobs available in your area!

Liz Torres can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @etorres446.  

Monster Wants to Know: What's your favorite advice from our industry insiders? What advice would you give? Share with us in the comment section.

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