Doesn’t have to be that way (2)

A little over a week ago I got a phone call from a store I applied to a couple of months ago. They were offering full-time and $10 per hour. I’ll get insurance after three months. And there’s the opportunity for commission. It’s the kind of retail job I got because I’ve been actively working and because I understand clothing. During the fourth quarter instead of hiring seasonal help, regular employees get more hours. And that means overtime pay. So, of course, I quit the other two jobs.

I started this post this way because one of my critiques of large-store retail has been that they don’t have to treat the employees as numbers or people without names.

I work hard to figure out everybody’s name but when we have three that are close, it can be a little difficult. And I’ve mixed up Cathy/Kathy/Cheryl or Donna/Dawn/Dawna, which can happen when you have 14 people on registers and you only see them once or twice a week.

As the main trainer, most of the cashiers know me. And when it wasn’t that busy, one of them asked who my fellow supervisor was because they hadn’t met them. When I called the supervisor, who wasn’t busy, to introduce them they rolled their eyes and walked away. It was because of their reaction that I made an extra effort to introduce myself to the cashier I had yet to work with and hadn’t trained.

We have these ridiculous mantras or motivational acronyms and one of them includes “always wear your name tag” so the customer can feel like they know you. My first post was someone who was a little too friendly for my taste as they used my name and winked at me.

It’s really sad when the customers make more of an effort to connect with the cashier’s name than their direct supervisor.

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Retention

Today, I trained six more seasonal cashiers in two shifts.

When I went to lunch, one of the people I began with handed in her apron. That means out of the nine we began with only four are left standing after four months. The latest, Katie, was a victim of the 3-hour shift.

Of the nine, four were cashiers. Given a 3-hour shift, we might actually earn two hours after we paid for gas to get to work. That meant $14.50 before taxes. And the days of these shifts were irregular so it was difficult to tell another place when you would be available. Most of us worked more than one job so when the schedules overlapped, you had to decide which place to work and more than likely it was the one where you had a longer shift. So people called in, which meant they had points against them.

The thing is I’ve known Katie was looking for something else and I even suggested places she might apply. So I wasn’t surprised when she quit. I’m more surprised she hung in as long as she did.

You see the difference between us is I responded to calls when people called out and slowly started getting longer shifts and my days were often extended when people called out. Whereas Katie never did get longer than a 5-hour shift.

In the four months I’ve been there, I’ve seen some crazy stuff by my fellow employees. And I’ve seen some work at a snail’s pace. Katie never did anything crazy and she worked at a good speed with a pleasant attitude. I wish her well at school and in the future.

What I wonder is how this company decides to allocate hours. Whose feedback do they use in deciding who to give more hours to? Or is it the squeaky wheel gets the grease and because she didn’t complain, they just kept screwing her.

 

Fourth quarter

Over the last month I have made extra money because the place where I was a cashier likes how I train cashiers so as a front end supervisor I trained 3 out of 4 of the seasonal cashier hires.

But what’s been happening is all of our hours have been getting cut because they are hiring more people so there are fewer hours available for the regular employees. We’re told to hold on because we will be getting more hours once the fourth quarter begins. We’ll get more hours because they expect more sales and they are open longer hours. Instead of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., they are open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week. On Sunday instead of opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m., we’ll open at 8 a.m. I’m not sure when we close since I tend to open on Sundays.

That’s great that we’re going to be getting more hours, but the cut in hours to make room for the trainees has really pinched budgets. As one person who has been there for a long time said today, “I have a mortgage, you know.” And that’s what management seems to forget, most of the people working there are older than I am with bills coming due that don’t get smaller and then larger because the fourth quarter is coming.

Returns

Now that I’m not a cashier, some days I spend doing returns for people. Most are routine where the customer realized the picture didn’t look good against their wall because they had different blues or the dog clothing wasn’t the right size.

Then there are the people who return items that have long since left the store. These are curtains they have had hanging in their home or pillows on their couch for years. Many stores have a limit to their return policy, but we take things back with or without a receipt and it doesn’t matter how long ago it was.

Today I had a woman return two pillows that left our store some time ago. The interesting thing about it was one of the two pillows had a price tag still on it. It was bent as if it had been on the couch for a while but it was still there. And they definitely smelled of body odor. What amazed me was she knew when she purchased it that she was going to return it when she was done. Why else still have the tag on it?

Then there’s the woman who redecorates her home by bringing in her cigarette-smelling items and receipts that have been checked for items so much they are as soft as material instead of paper. What she doesn’t have a receipt for she’s happy to take as store credit since it’s all a rental program anyway.

And what do we do with it? Some of it is tossed directly into the trash. Some is sold “as is” for 10% of the original cost.

Why should it matter to you? The amount we lose to people who abuse the return policy is passed on to other consumers. Yep, that’s you.

Budgeting II

When I hit 3-months at the store I’ve been working as a cashier, I was “promoted” to customer service/front end. I took it because I’m not standing in one place all day and, well, it’s not as tedious since you’re not doing the same thing all day.

The biggest bonus was that hours would be fairly regular since there are only so many people trained and I could notify a second job of my hours so it would be easy to schedule around. In fact, for two weeks I had the exact same schedule working three 8-hour shifts and one 5-hour shift. One 8-hour shift was as a cashier.

Then this week’s schedule came out and I’m working one 8-hour shift and two 5-hour shifts. That is a decrease of 11 hours in one week. You would think I had done something egregious, but nobody has said anything and I know the shifts run smoothly. Occasionally, we have to have extra people ring but that’s normal when “everybody in the store” decides to check out at once. At the end of the day, I don’t leave a lot of stuff for the next shift to do. And I was asked to train the latest batch of cashiers, who are all doing well.

I bring this up because I was just beginning to think I had everything under control budget-wise when suddenly, my income has been reduced by one-third. Sure, I haven’t been furloughed but the constant fluctuation makes it difficult to budget anything.

 

The Shutdown

It’s been a week since the government shutdown and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. I’m including it here not to take a particular side but to remark on the affect it is having on retail workers.

One place where I work distributes sales tabs in Thursday papers so we refer to that day as “Tab Thursdays” where those who don’t work come in to get great bargains. It’s a madhouse of a day and we tend to be so busy with helping them locate the items in the tab and ringing up sales that we don’t get much of a break. Now that I’m on the desk, this means I’m also fielding calls from (and making calls to) other stores in the chain for customers who want more than are in a store or got there after a store sold out.

It was about three hours after we opened when the first person commented that it was really calm for a Tab Thursday. Expecting the “usual” crowds, we had an abundance of cashiers so the lines would keep moving. Instead we were finding things for them to do. The next day was busier but a little slower than a Tab Friday and the weekend was a normal weekend despite the awful weather that usually sends people into the store.

This morning the manager at my second place remarked their sales for the week were down about 10% for the week. She said she didn’t know why and someone muttered “shutdown.”

If the government re-opens for business quickly, then it won’t be that big of a deal. But we’re heading into the fourth quarter and Christmas sales when hours increase because people do more shopping. If the furloughed non-essential employees are off for much longer, then they won’t be spending as much for Christmas presents and that will mean fewer hours for the regular employees AND the seasonal help. And that means they will have less money to spend on Christmas presents.

Listen

After three months I’ve moved from being a cashier to front end supervisor, which means I do several things during the day and have to respond quickly to cashiers when they call for assistance.

Yesterday, I was at the customer service desk doing a return when I received a phone call:
Me: Thank you for calling (store name). How can I help you?
Customer: I bought a table that needed to be brought out to my car. I’ve been sitting behind the store for five minutes and nobody has come out.
Me: Did you ring the bell beside the door?
Customer: No.
I had to shut my eyes and take a deep breath to keep from laughing. You see each cashier is trained to explain to people how to pick up the items from receiving and the paperwork the person needs to take up to the door with them. But somehow this person didn’t get any of that information.

At a later point there was a man trying to purchase an extension cord but the code wasn’t ringing up on the register. I tried looking it up on the computer to get our code, but it wasn’t there. And I grabbed the rest from the floor because they didn’t have a code. Then I returned to the customer prepared to let him name the price of the item, which is something we can do.
But as I started to explain it wasn’t anywhere in the system, he cut me off and said he’d waited long enough and he didn’t want to wait any longer. I said, “OK.” And walked away without selling it to him.

Both of these customers were inconvenienced because they didn’t listen to the store employee. One person wasted five minutes sitting in their car because they thought receiving would just know they were out there. I’m not sure why they think they would spend their day looking out a window to see if someone drove up, but it’s a symptom of just not listening that happens quite frequently in retail. I’ve had people come through and not look at me at all during the sale or act as if I am bothering them.

But the man who couldn’t wait 5 seconds for me to complete a sentence, probably wasted at least 10 minutes finding an extension cord at another store. Yet he thought whatever I was going to say was less important than what he had to say. And I see this a lot where people act as if whatever the employee needs to tell them is beneath their contempt. My favorite was the man who slowly ran his credit card through the machine time and time again while looking bored or as if there was nothing we could do right. Then I said, “You need to run the card through faster,” and sure enough, it read it the first time after he speeded up.

As if you don’t already get it, here’s the point: When a store employee is trying to tell you something, listen. We aren’t just talking because we have nothing better to do. Most importantly, we aren’t trying to waste your time. We’re trying to serve you based on our experience (cards need to swipe quickly to be read), our policy (ringing the bell) or the situation (letting you name the price if we can’t find a code).