‘Twas the Retail Nightmare Before Christmas, Pt 2

Earlier, we took a look at some QLP employees’ horror stories from their previous days in the retail world. Are you ready for part two? Get ready for some more retail experiences gone awry!

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

Jen F:

“I would have to say the very worst part of the holiday season in retail, is working the returns desk. The store I worked at had a “holiday items” return policy as follows:

“Any holiday decoration in its original packaging and in working condition can be returned for the full amount with the original receipt before the holiday.

Just stuff these lights into a box and untangle them next year!

No, you can't return your tangled Christmas lights after the holidays.

Any holiday decoration in its original packaging that is damaged or not working can be returned for the full amount with the original receipt only as store credit or even exchange before the holiday.

Holiday merchandise returned after the holiday will be in the form of store credit at the lowest sale price with or without the receipt.”

I cannot tell you how many people tried to return Christmas lights and trees after Christmas thinking they would get a full refund. When I told them what I could return it for, I was called every name in the book, I had things thrown at me, they threatened to get me fired…anything you could think of. What was I going to do? I couldn’t override the computer and give them whatever they want (if your string of lights didn’t work, then bring them back before Christmas, not two months after!).

People are crazy during the holidays.”

Jenna M:

Read the fine print. You won't regret it.

Read all sale details carefully - you'll save time and hassle!

“When I worked at Old Navy, it blew my mind: when I would ring something up, the person would complain that the pants are supposed to be $10 when they rang up $25, so I would go look at the sign and it clearly said “SHIRTS $10.” Then the customer would act like it was my fault that they didn’t know how to read the sign.

Same goes for coupons for promotions that haven’t started yet. When you hand me a coupon for a sale that doesn’t start for two weeks, there is literally nothing I can do. Telling me that you don’t want to come back again in two weeks when you already have all of the stuff picked out now does not help, as I do not care that you are too lazy to a) read, and b) come back in two weeks to use the coupon to purchase all of this crap after the promotion actually starts. And no, we cannot put something on hold for two weeks. You’d be lucky if we could let you put it on hold for longer than a day.”

Mandy K:

“Christmas ’09 was spent working the customer service desk. Never before have I met so many unruly, incompetent, and outright rude people. I have a litany of personal stories, but this one happened to my coworker. Luckily, I was able to witness this, but didn’t have to live it:

Retail arguments are never fun.

Retail tip #1: Arguing with your cashier typically won't produce the results you want.

A woman comes up with a digital camera that has clearly been used – the box and the item look like they were beat to crap. So based on that standard alone, there was no way that we were going to take the item back. She – surprisingly – has a receipt, but she bought the item about five months ago, and Target has a very strict 90 day return policy. So without even mentioning the terrible condition of the camera, my colleague politely informs the woman that her receipt has been expired for two months.

She says, “What?”

“Your receipt is expired. They expire 90 days after purchase,” my coworker explains.

“That’s ridiculous. I have never seen that. I have never read that.”

My coworker kindly points out the expiration date (which is clearly labeled on each and every receipt), the policy printed on the back (clearly outlined), and our sign over the service desk.

This lady is now clearly in the wrong, but she is refusing to believe it. “No. I don’t see it. Where does it say that? I don’t see it. I DON’T SEE IT.”

The receipt is not smudged, torn, or missing information. It’s printed clear as day. Which my coworker shows her.

“You’re lying! This receipt doesn’t say anything! It isn’t anywhere on here! You are a liar! Let me speak to a manager.”

Oh, okay, because a manager is going to be able/want to erase that information for you. The manager comes and repeats the policy. I never understood why people don’t believe you until they speak to a manager. Customer service workers don’t want to screw you, they want you to go away and leave them alone.

Anyway, there was a lot of screaming on the customer’s end. It ended, as it usually does, with an “I will NEVER shop here again,” coupled with a dramatic grab of merchandise and stomping out of the store.

And then the customer after her complained about her ruckus…and promptly started yelling at me when I told her I couldn’t accept a coupon that expired two weeks ago.”

Amy S:

“I don’t have one horror story, I think my brain has blocked them from my memory. However I do have an annoyance. A little background: I worked at the Crate & Barrel Outlet in Naperville and the closest regular store is in Oakbrook or Geneva Commons. If I had a dollar for the number of times I had people complain to me that we “didn’t have the same selection as the regular store,” I’d be a millionaire. Customers were always shocked that our merchandise was about 3-6 months older than what the regular store had. Then they’d complain that they’d have to drive there to pick up their full-price item.

Anyone have a lava lamp to go with this sweet retro shirt?

Retail tip #2: Outlet stores don't always carry the same merchandise.

Uh, yeah, as opposed to what?

Option A) Invent a teleportation device to magically make this season’s new mixing bowls you wanted appear right before your eyes.

Option B) I should drive out there, pick up their bowls, and bring them back to our store.

I really hated working retail. I still believe in ‘retail karma’ and will refold anything I look at to make it identical to the one the sales person just folded. And if I decide against an item, I take it back to its spot about 9 times out of 10. It’s going to be a cold day in hell when I go back to working retail.”

What lessons can we learn from this smorgasbord of customer service experiences?

Well, for starters:

The next time you’re out doing some Christmas shopping, treat those salespeople as you would like to be treated yourself, or how you wished folks would’ve treated you when you were a salesperson.

Say “Please.”

“Thank you.”

Wait patiently.

And, for crying out loud, please try to put things back how and where you find them.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old saying that goes, “It is better to give than to receive.” Well, this holiday season, give those folks working retail a break, and almost always, if you give them nothing but kindness and gratitude for their hard work, they’ll be more than sure to send some your way, too.

Do you have any retail horror stories to share? Which one of these real-life experiences was your favorite…or the most shocking?

Image credit to teejayhanton.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    In addition, if you really don’t have the time to put something back in the right place – or just have no idea where you picked it up – be respectful and give it to a cashier or someone at the customer service desk. Employees are going to have to re-shelve merchandise regardless – don’t make them go looking for those shoes that you dumped in the home goods department.

    But I definitely gotta agree with you, Eric. If you’re nice, polite, and patient, you’ll definitely get service from retail employees that’s above and beyond their terrible pay grade. i would always give better help to the customers that were nice to me.

    • Eric

      Honestly, folks. I worked in a small store for an outlet mall. One would think smaller square footage meant a smaller chance of items being outrageously “misplaced.” People acted like kids forced to eat their vegetables at dinner…you’d find women’s tanks smashed between men’s chino pants like a kid would smash his unwanted green beans underneath his dinner plate.

      I’ve found in my own experience, if ever I need a hand, nine times out of ten asking nicely will be more than enough. It’s AMAZING, and I mena amazing, how many store associates and restaurant servers have complimented my girlfriend and myself simply for being “nice.” And having good manners. Shouldn’t we all? The hell’s wrong with people, nowadays?

      You don’t see store associates walking into your office and rearranging the things on your desk. I wish sometimes it could go both ways, and then, and only then, people may start realizing how bothersome their behavior is.

      In conclusion, Merry Christmas!

  2. amy

    I love your quote here, “this holiday season, give those folks working retail a break, and almost always, if you give them nothing but kindness and gratitude for their hard work, they’ll be more than sure to send some your way, too.” It’s so true! If the customer was calm and understanding then I would always go out of my way to do whatever I could to please them – including actually checking the stockroom instead of going back there and having a cookie and a glass of water. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    Great stuff, Eric!

    • Eric

      The one thing that gave folks instant good service, in my book? Two simple little words: “Thank you.” If I thought they honestly appreciated the help, and honestly needed it, they got it. Simple as that. Store associates are there to help, and usually are glad to. Folks? Don’t take advantage of them simply because they’re there, and order them around. A.) you should know better, B.) shame on you if you do, and C.) you’re wasting the time of people behind you who honestly need the help.

  3. Jen

    I would always do what I could to help out nice people. If I couldn’t give the refund, I could usually exchange it for the same or a similar item.

    It pays off to be calm and respectful.

    Awesome post Eric!

  4. Jenna Markowski

    This was an awesome (and timely) series, Eric! I haven’t even stepped foot into a store yet to do my Christmas shopping, and I’m dreading doing it this week. After having experienced retail, I usually just get frustrated/sad for the people working while I’m shopping. I feel their pain!

    And you couldn’t be more right — when I was working retail I would go above and beyond for customers who were nice to me. And usually if there was a hang-up of some kind at the register, myself or the manager could make something work if the customer was nice. But if they were rude from the get-go, there was “nothing we could do.” As Mandy so accurately said months ago, “Nice people get perks. Mean people get decaf.”

    • amy

      Hahaha, I had forgotten about Mandy’s awesome quote! It totally applies to so much more than just coffee 😉

  5. Amanda

    True story here: The evening after I read this post, I went into a clothes store to do some more Christmas shopping—at the checkout I chatted with the sales lady about the busy Christmas season and such, and I realized I forgot to grab my $5 off coupon, I simply mentioned that to her politely, and she said she could give me their 30% off coupon to use instead. Whoa!!!! Politeness always pays off. I saved $30–again $30! when I would have only saved $5. And if I was rude to her or in a big hurry, she could have easily said–well bring your $5 coupon in next time. =) I love nice people!!!

    • Eric

      Totally. Politeness always comes in handy. When I worked a cash register, we had discount cards for teachers and students, but never for servicemen and servicewomen. Well, I ever had a soldier walk up to my register, BAM! 15% discount for being polite and serving our country. Did my company give such a discount? Nope! Did it stop me from bending the rules because someone was polite, respectful and deserved a thank you? Not one bit. Little bit of politeness goes a long way!

  6. Sharon

    I don’t know if this will post, but I’ve been working at a large dept store for almost three years. I’m extremely good at making people feel happy they came in – whether they buy something or not. I don’t *push* the credit card hard. I’ll do anything I can to help someone. However, Christmas eve (one hour before we closed!), I had a customer so MEAN, that I gave it right back to him! I’m retirement age, and a petite 5’3″ 115 lbs. He was 28 years old, 6’2″, and a body-builder. He accused me of making him wait, so that I could “earn” my “sales commission” by “leapfrogging” over him with another customer! (I HATE line-jumpers, and would NEVER do that!) I evenly informed him that I did NOT earn commission. I earned $9.00 (measly) dollars per hour. He kept it up, haranguing me, and nastily going off on me. My co-worker was obsequiously apologizing all over the place that she had not taken him right away. I — on the other hand — had had it. I have NEVER in my life said this to anyone – not even my brothers growing up– but I asked him (remember, he of the 6’2″ body-builder) if he “wanted to take this outside”. I was mad enough to let him realize how stupid he was to make a big deal out of this. He did NOT apologize, but was shocked at what I had said. I left the floor for a 15-minute sanity break. I told my manager that we might get a horrible report through our website. She got really upset with me! sigh! After my break I went back downstairs. This young man was STILL there! He came up to me and apologized profusely, explaining that he’d just had a big fight with his mother, and “was not centered” (this is the Los Angeles area!), when he went off on me. He wanted to give me a hug, and I let him. And hugged him back. I actually felt a warm connection with him. We parted on good terms, strangely enough. However, I’ve been shaken by this incident all during Christmas day. My co-worker was totally freaked out by the ‘fight’ she observed. I’m not sure how to get over this. And to top it off, my manager has no idea how nicely it ended up! (I used to manage a cancer-research laboratory at a major university. I would LOVE to give up retail, and go back to research. If only I could!)

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