I’m going to change things up a bit today and talk about one of the bad sides of Christmas: the last-minute shopping. Now, I’ve been known to run out for a thing or two at the last possible minute, but I know what I’m getting into going in, and I don’t condone the insanity that plagues many shopping centers on the days leading up to Christmas. That includes wrongs perpetrated on the sides of both stores and shoppers. It’s just a foolish, unnecessary, stressful mess.
Just looking at that image gives me post-traumatic stress symptoms. :P
I’m going to tell you a story of the year I worked at a Zellers department store during Christmas. I was seventeen, just trying to make a few bucks as a seasonal worker, and I was scheduled to work 9-5 on Christmas Eve. The stressors were many, my friend. Let me tell you about them.
Stressor #1: The store was packed beyond capacity. It was chaos as panicked shoppers – many of them who were literally just starting their Christmas shopping – shoved their way through the store. They were hurried and frustrated. They were fighting with store employees and fellow shoppers alike. And it was no one’s fault but their own, but you wouldn’t dare point that out.
Look, I know that everyone is busy around the holidays, and we don’t all have the luxury of being able to just run to the mall whenever we feel like it. However, if you start your shopping on Christmas Eve and start getting belligerent with everyone because the store is so busy, or because it doesn’t have the particular toy you need…well, I just have absolutely no sympathy for you. Even accounting for other holidays and store closures, there are over 300 other days in the year that you could do your shopping if you just think ahead a little bit. Your poor planning skills are not the fault of the other shoppers or the poor cashiers that you inevitably wind up harassing.
Stressor #2: Lay-Away is the invention of the devil. Approximately half the damn town thought they would be terribly clever by doing their shopping ahead of time, putting it all on layaway, and then come in to pick it all up on Christmas Eve. People, please don’t do this. You may find it hard to understand, but when five thousand people all make this same plan, and each person has several hundred dollars worth of stuff to pick up, it takes quite a while to track everything down and process it before you can leave the store with it. Honestly, the guys and gals who manned the lay-away counter that year deserved a goddamn medal.
Stressor #3: We were horribly understaffed. As is a common(ly horrible) thing with department stores, this particular Zellers regularly tried to run with as few people as possible, even during times that they knew would be outrageously busy. On Christmas Eve that meant that from open to close, each cashier had a constant line that never dipped below 8-10 people deep, and we had exactly zero help from floor staff. You know those people who are on the sales floor to help answer questions and the like? Well they’re also there to be able to hop on an empty cash if it’s too busy, but this night we only had two of them, and they were run ragged the entire night by crazed shoppers looking for toys that had been sold out weeks ago. So we had no help. I literally didn’t even set eyes on those two girls for the entire shift.
Stressor #4: There is absolutely no empathy and employees start getting treated like robots. I remember at one point my coworker was told that it was time for her to go on her break (the first one in over 4 hours, by the way). Since we had no one to take her place on the cash, I was instructed to facilitate the break by incorporating her line into mine (in other words, serve one of my customers, then one of hers, and so on, so that no one had to wait too long). It was the easiest and most fair way to handle the situation, but people flipped the hell out. They started shouting about how they’d already been waiting forever and that my coworker should have to finish the line before she got her break (which, as mentioned earlier, would never have happened). And more than one customer actually tried goading me into the fight by suggesting to me that my coworker was a “lazy bitch” who was leaving me to do all the work by myself while she buggered off to have a smoke or something. I barely got through those 15 minutes without punching someone.
Oh yeah, did I mention all the fuss was over a 15 minute break? Her first in over half the shift? Yeah.
Stressor #5: People kept trying to steal stuff. No, really. The one that sticks out in my memory is this one young kid – maybe 12 or 13 – who was buying a large, round Christmas tin. He looked visibly nervous, and when I picked up the tin I noticed that it felt too heavy. I opened the lid to find that he’d put a smaller tin inside…and another smaller tin inside that…and a further smaller tin inside that. I gave him a look, and he averted his eyes and pretended not to notice. So I scanned all four tins, took his money, and watched him leave the store in a big hurry, which made me wonder if he didn’t have something in his pockets as well.
And stuff like that kept happening all day. People hid shirts inside other shirts, or ripped open packs of socks and underwear to stuff extra sets inside. Sometimes they shoved small toys into the front of play sets with open-front boxes and pretended that they thought it was included. I never confronted anyone, and just scanned it all properly, but it made my frustration level go way up because I had to scrutinize every item everyone brought me.
Also, who goes through that kind of crap for an extra pair of socks?
Stressor #6: The goddamn registers didn’t work properly. I don’t know about Zellers stores in other parts of the country, but the Zellers store in my hometown had a reputation for never updating their sales properly, so the registers never rang in with the correct prices. On that Christmas Eve there were a mega-ton of sales going on, with completely random new ones being announced over the PA system every hour…and none of them rang up properly. Since a lot of the sales were things like, “25% off women’s shoes in brand x, y, and z” or “30% of kids clothes from sizes x to y” it was effectively impossible to keep track of everything, so every customer had at least one item that they insisted was scanning in wrong, but you had very little way to know for sure. And there were lots of sales that were very subjective, like “$20% of ‘Learning Toys'”, so then you got into arguments like, “Well, building blocks aren’t really a ‘learning’ toy, but they do have the alphabet on them so I guess maybe that makes them educational?”
To top things off, remember those floor workers I spoke of earlier? Yeah, normally we would call one of them to check into the sale for us, but as I mentioned they were completely inaccessible, and if you bothered to call one you’d just end up sweating at your cash register for 20 minutes while angry shoppers screamed at you to hurry up. So what did I do to handle the onslaught of people insisting that this item or that item was on sale? Well, here’s the thing: our registers did not need supervisor access to do a price override. So, yeah…you can see where I’m going with this. It definitely wasn’t the “right” thing to do, and I knew it at the time, but on that day, Christmas Eve, with hundreds of people crammed in the store at once and everyone losing their minds left, right, and center, all I really cared about was getting everyone rung through and out of the store as quickly as possible.
The entire thing was a learning experience for sure, and I have to admit that I’ve had a lot more empathy for cashiers during the holidays ever since that experience. Because here’s the thing; as much as you last-minute shoppers may want to get angry at the stores for running out of the item you want, it’s really your fault for not going out to get it sooner. And as much as you want to bitch out the cashier for things not ringing up properly, she’s not the one who programmed the registers and has no way of knowing the proper price for every item in the store. And as much as you want to kill the other customers who are getting in your way and holding up the register with an outrageous number of items, they’re just doing the exact same thing you’re doing, so hey, stop being such a hypocrite.
So my advice is two-fold, as we approach the final shopping days before Christmas and things begin to get a little intense:
1. Take a moment to stop, think about what you need to get done and get bought, and do your damnedest to work out a plan to do it before the last minute.
2. When you start to get filled with rage toward a store employee, stop for a second and put yourself in their position. Imagine if you were the one working a cash register on Christmas Eve (probably at minimum wage), getting berated by every single person who so much as looks in your direction. I guarantee you’ll suddenly feel a lot calmer and a lot less judgmental.
My final thoughts? Try to treat each other respectfully during the season. Period. :)
Have you ever worked retail during the holidays? Do you have any horror stories? Maybe a story that proves that not everyone is a maniac shopper? Please share!