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Opinion

Working in retail leads to frustration, clever solutions

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February 12, 2010

Throughout the past year or so, we have been bombarded with a barrage of “our economic illness is now terminal”-type news. As a result of our frail, bedridden economy we are left with the prospect of not finding the jobs of our dreams upon graduation. Some of us might have to accept an internship or temporary position.

Terrifying, I know—but what if you end up in retail? It’s obvious, the most painfully unbearable option would be to re-enter the world of retail as a low-level employee: full-timing at Dollar General, Petsmart, or maybe even Target. But dear readers, I am here to guide the way. Fresh off the two-week notice, still piping hot, I’ve survived yet another stint in the boiling fires of the retail business. And I am here to lead you, just in case.

Wisdom Nugget #1: Always Look Busy. Every bruised and battered soul who has emerged from a job in retail knows this bluff. If you keep your hands and feet moving, you look busy. And if you look busy, no one will bother you or complain about your inherent apathy. If you take a break to lean on something, make sure that you rub your shoulder or your lower back. This move persuades any onlookers—be they customers or co-workers- that you have been working hard and are only pausing to wrestle out the knots that have built up in your muscles from all the hard work you’ve been doing.

Wisdom Nugget #2: Arch Your Eyebrows to Convey Serious Intent. Employees that can master the “arched eyebrow” look will go far in a retail position. The look may be different for you, but in many cases just looking slightly angry will suffice. This look conveys serious intent. This look will simultaneously impress your boss and scare away needy customers jumping to ask you time-wasting questions.

Wisdom Nugget #3: Avoid Eye Contact. Eye contact forms a special bond between two human beings. In most cases, the connection is fl eeting and almost immediately forgotten. But in retail, the customer often exploits the bond of eye contact to his or her immediate needs. “Where’s the canned soup?” he asks. I respond “Aisle 4.” And I wonder, how did our species go from hunting in the forest with sticks and stones to a point of helplessness where we can’t even find soup in a store anymore? I suppose we can’t smell out the scent of canned soup. Just avoid eye contact and these questions will answer themselves.

Wisdom Nugget #4: Perfect Fake Laughter. In retail, the fl eeting interaction between a customer and a cashier can grow awkward. Humor is a good antidote for this feeling of social awkwardness.

Instead of resorting to uncomfortable silence while the receipt scratches out of the machine, one or the other may slip out a joke (frequently regarding the weather, I’ve noticed). It’s too bad that in most cases, any customer attempt at humor will result in a terribly unfunny joke. Your job is to laugh at that brainless remark and the kicker is, it has to sound genuine. So perfect it. If your fake laughter doesn’t sound real, the customer won’t come back, and then what?

Wisdom Nugget #5: The Clipboard Look. I’m asking you to try yet another personality while clock-watching the day away at work. This is a standing look and it too will drive away any customers or begrudged bosses. Simply hold a clipboard, examine things or scramble around a pile of random papers, and check things off on the notepad. The Clipboard Look is sort of a by-product of Always Looking Busy; it makes you look professional, task-oriented, and perhaps financially prosperous. In this sense, it’s also a sexy look.

What’s better than checking off a freshly finished task while glancing from the brim of the clipboard at the cute girl just walking in? Nothing. The Clipboard Look will enhance your retail talents as well as your sales fl oor fl irting skills.

By mastering these skills kung-fu style before rallying forth into the pitfires of retail hell, you will survive and thereby guarantee yourself another chance at landing that busted dream job. Best of luck in 2010!

Joe Hager is a student at UW-River Falls.