The first thing you realise about going back to working in retail is how little freedom you have. You’re not even meant to take bottles of water onto the shop floor (that aren’t in a special and really hard to drink out of supermarket branded bottle that they charge you £2 for no less).
Having a hot drink in the morning is pretty much essential to my productivity and general happiness! If I go into uni without having had a cup of tea before getting on the bus I know I can just grab one after dropping my things in the MA newsroom. Working in a supermarket you have an allocated 15 minute break to have a cup of tea, you can’t just carry your beverage of choice and packet of rich teas down onto the shop floor with you. You’re not supposed to chew gum, you not supposed to eat sweets (I say supposed to not can’t….); it’s like being back at school. You’re only allowed to wear one bracelet and it has to be a ‘charity band’, you can’t have ‘bright’ hair, you’re not allowed to carry your phone on you or use it on the shop floor. It’s an endless list.
The last one seems particularly bizarre these days… when you consider I’ve spent the past few months reading news updates via my Beeb app on my phone, being encouraged to tweet regularly on my phone, take pictures on my phone… it’s a completely different situation. In this day and age to be a journalist you’re required to become an obsessive social networker.
In retail nothing goes on outside of the building you’re in and that’s the way they like to keep it. Excluding the television upstairs and your smart phone – if you have one – there’s no other access to the outside world. You’re tuned into ASDA fm (and there are no news bulletins on there, unless you include the latest ASDA ‘Chosen by You’ product, which is naturally fabulous by the way). You’re pretty much cut off from the world for however many hours you’re in there.
Everything you do is geared towards customer service – you live to serve. Anything which distracts or detracts from that is not good for company policy.
It’s not all bad though – it encourages certain skills, particularly communication. Today I helped a Romanian lady purchase a phone with much requested ‘IM’ on it (instant messenger). She spoke very good English and I told her so, because believe me a lot of the ‘emmits’ that come in are impossible to understand to the point where you pretty much end up slowly backing away. I speak notoriously quickly; I was amazed she kept up as well as she did. I also accidently referred to something on one of the phones as being ‘pants’ before realising that would probably really, really confuse her….!
A lot of customer service is exhausting though… because it’s so petty. Not even half way through my shift I faced the Music & Video and George desk’s biggest ongoing problem.
There is a sign which dictates which side to queue – but by God are the majority of the British public blind… today we had people queuing all over the bloody shop! Some people just don’t look, they don’t even think to look around them! And when you inform them they’re stood at the wrong end and that there are other people waiting behind them at the right end (as in the correct end..) they start yelling at you, telling you there’s no sign even though there is and the fact it’s poorly displayed is not in any way your fault. We’ve asked time and time again for ASDA to get a more obvious
I CAN’T HELP BUT NOTICE THAT SIGN TELLING ME TO QUEUE THIS WAY
sign. But they refuse. It’s like they want us to become bitter, repetitive moaners.
Today I had an elderly couple come to the desk to buy a phone. The first time they approached me there was no-one around and they were able to walk straight up to me – fine. But when they came back to pay there were people waiting – at both ends *sighs*. I felt awful because they were elderly and I don’t want to make any old person walk around in circles but they just walked straight up to the desk and didn’t even think that in a massive supermarket there might be other people waiting to buy things besides them…
I face this debacle every single shift I work. Sometimes I wonder whether places like Waitrose suffer the same problem – or whether the average IQ of their customers is high enough to allow self- awareness (too judgemental?). Then I consider that they might not have the same problem because they probably just have a better sign.