Monday, December 26, 2011

Retail returns a torrid experience – the memories last all these years later

It has been nearly a quarter of a century, yet the memory is vivid enough that it feels like just last year.

I’m referring to a period when I was a rookie reporter-type person and the money I was bringing in was so poor that I supplemented it by working in retail. Specifically, I was in the men’s clothing department at a Carson, Pirie Scott department store.

I HAD THE experience of working for Carson’s for a few months, including a Christmas holiday season. I remember the joy of knowing that during the month of December, the paychecks got supplemented by the commissions I received on items I sold.

Although in honestly, I remember that my commissions weren’t as good as some of my colleagues – the ones who really had a knack for selling and made me realize that I was better off trying to earn a living banging away at a keyboard producing news copy.

But my most vivid memory of that time period came in the month after Christmas – by which point I was so tired of the job I quit (and shortly thereafter, the news reporter pay improved just enough to make it worth my while).

It was the week after Christmas flowing into the first couple of weeks of January that I detested because all of those items I sold during December (it seems) got returned by dissatisfied gift recipients during January.

WHICH MEANS THAT Carson’s docked the cost of any return to the sales associate (I think that was my title; the actual work wasn’t that impressive). There also was the fact that most people in the store during that period were more interested in returning or exchanging – and not buying anything new.

It wasn’t the least bit unusual to complete a workday in which you struggled to find any customers whose purchase could be credited to you – only to find out that your sales total for the day was in negative figures.

In short, all your returns ate up any sales that you might have received a commission on.

I suppose if Carson’s wanted to be miserly about things, they would have docked our pay to make up for negative figures. They didn’t do that.

BUT WHAT HAPPENED was that for the final month on that job, I basically was working a minimum-wage job with no extra push from commissions. Even the top sales people were barely able to come up with anything to supplement the minimum-wage salary (which back then was less than $4 per hour).

If anything, back then was the era when I did better financially than my retail colleagues because I had another job banging out news copy for one of the suburban newspapers.

When a smaller-circulation newspaper salary (of a few decades ago) became the reason I was still able to pay bills, you know that the retail gig wasn’t paying off.

Anyway, that feeling of finishing a day’s work in negative dollar figures and knowing that my pay for the next few weeks was going to be atrocious is one that I couldn’t help but recall as I received gifts in recent days.

ALTHOUGH I MUST admit that none of my gifts need to be returned – I find them all enjoyable (and keep-able).

So my point in remembering this experience and sharing it with you?

Keep it in mind when you make those returns. Whoever the sales clerk is who is dealing with you is probably swamped with nothing more than returns, and is probably seeing his (or her) own pay taking a hit for the next few weeks.

Be patient.

AND FOR THOSE of you who want to start spewing some take on the “Give the Lady What She Wants” cliche (the old Marshall Field’s slogan), I’d argue that part of the reason that your sales clerk is not working up to your satisfactions is BECAUSE you’re coping some sort of attitude.

Lighten up in coming weeks, and you might very well find yourself getting better customer service. Then again, that rule usually works year-round.


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