How to Excel in a Retail Job

A job in retail

A profession in retail is a unique experience. Whether you feel that selling merchandise to customers is your life passion or just a job to make ends meet, it's important to understand that your position is meaningful, reaches out to many people in your community and leaves a lasting impression. As such, you should always want to excel in it. Excelling as a retail employee includes taking the role seriously, understanding what is expected of you and finding ways to support others in your team.

Personal Integrity

Be Dependable

Try your best to arrive at work on time, ideally allowing enough time for traffic (whether you drive or take public transportation) and any unexpected delays as well. It's a good idea to arrive at least 10 minutes before your shift is scheduled to start. This way, you can ease into the workday and have a little time to prepare before going out on the sales floor.

If you are habitually late you will be leaving your coworkers in a lurch. You also risk facing disciplinary action or even dismissal, depending on the jurisdiction in which you work. If you can't make work because you're ill or indisposed for a good reason, alert your workplace as early as you can. This allows them to make alternative arrangements to cover your shift. Equally, if you want to get ahead in the job, making it known that you're available to fill in at short notice can be a great way to get noticed, make more money and be seen as highly reliable.

Present Yourself Well

Retail work is very visual, and it includes not only the stock, but those selling the stock too. Smart grooming and good clothing are an important part of presenting a professional image that inspires confidence in anyone dealing with you. Make an effort, even if your natural preference is scruffy and comfortable. Good presentation can also provide you with a professional "shield" between you and customers, giving you the confidence to behave more professionally.

If the store requires a uniform of some sort, keep it well laundered and pressed (find out if the company covers such costs). Have a comb or brush handy for touching up hair during the shift, and perhaps a small mirror and some makeup for touch-ups.

Understand Store Policies Thoroughly

If you have any questions about what is and is not allowed, ask before doing or failing to do something, or you risk not following the store policies. Many stores give training at the commencement of your job but changes occur over time, so be sure to keep up to date with store policy changes the longer you stay there.

For example, you might want to take home used boxes from the store for your volunteer work of doing art with street kids. However, your store might have a policy that employees take nothing from the store; you'd need to know this beforehand, or risk being dismissed.

Interacting With Others

Get Along With Coworkers

Aim to be friendly, polite, flexible, and sympathetic to the needs of those you work with. Successfully developing a rapport with your coworkers will ensure that they trust you, can easily work with you, and can count on you. Plus, enjoying the company of the people you work with will make any slow day go by a lot faster.

What about those times when a coworker wants to chat endlessly? Realize how bad this looks to customers, and how it can cause customers to shy away from asking for your help or service. Ask your coworker to keep the chatting to times when customers are not directly affected; if your coworker seems to keep chatting, it can help to ignore any attempts to engage you in conversation when it's not convenient.

Seasonal events can stress everyone in your team, when there are many shoppers, stock is strewn everywhere and you're constantly stuck at the cashier's spot. On such occasions, give each other pep talk, offer a word of praise now and then, and keep an eye out for coworkers who miss breaks and offer to cover for them so that they can take them to refresh.

Sometimes coworkers will behave negatively. On such occasions, be aware that workplace conflict is a natural part of working with others and is something to manage, not run from. Try to handle things yourself initially but if it's too difficult or involves serious issues such as harassment, seek immediate help from your supervisors / superiors.

There may be times when one or more members of your team fails to take the role seriously. Realize that everyone has down days or feels fed up with what they're doing. It's not usually about you, so don't take their behavior to heart. Ask them "What's up?" and be compassionate about their issues.

Work With Management, Not For Them

Get to know your boss (for example, the store manager) and any other authority figures (for example, assistant managers, sales managers, department managers, etc.). Know what each of your superiors expects of you in your position.

Aim to be flexible. This includes keeping an open mind if you're asked by management to stay late during the busy holiday season or to take on an extra responsibility. If you execute this well enough, your efforts will be recognized and you are likely to receive some kind of benefits in the long run, perhaps even a promotion.

Ask questions. Whether it's because you don't know something or because you'd like to try something innovative but you're not sure how it'd go down, asking questions shows engagement with the job and interest in it.

Provide a Great Customer Experience

Greet each customer and find out what they've come into the store for by asking open-ended questions. Guide them to the product (if available) and assist them with answering any questions they might have. Then, offer to help them find anything else they could be looking for, or if applicable, if they would be interested in a warranty plan (cross-sell!).

Smile and stay upbeat even when the customer doesn't smile back. Customers do notice your smile, they may simply be too busy, self-absorbed in thoughts about what they have to do next or a shrinking violet. Your pleasantness may be enough to thaw the ice for the next person that customer meets!

Be aware that disengagement from or lack of enthusiasm for your job is apparent to all - to your coworkers, your boss... and yes, your customers. And customers are super ready to judge that a disengaged retail worker is likely to not want to help them, setting up a defensive situation from the start. Even if this job isn't your dream ticket to a future career, stay professional; it's good training for any future job. And you never know when your next customer might be a source of information or work opportunities - or simply interesting!

Be Professional When it Comes to More Challenging Customers

Clearly not all customers are pleasant and some are downright surly or difficult, especially when waiting in long queues or holding unrealistic expectations about what your store can offer them. In such cases, don't take their ranting or negativity personally. Realize that some people will be mean-spirited no matter what you do or say and that some people are simply out to make trouble, for whatever reason.

Be aware that often the more challenging customer has underlying emotional issues, such as anxiety about overspending, anger about something totally unrelated to the store/sale (and you're sadly an easy victim), a sense of entitlement, etc. It is not personal (which is probably why it hurts even more, as you feel treated like an automaton). Whatever the cause, stay calm and polite, and if you feel you're over your head, call for your supervisor.

Debrief whenever a customer has been especially difficult. Whether it's encouraged by your workplace culture or not, find at least one team member with whom you can talk through difficult experiences. If your workplace doesn't already have such an opportunity in place, suggest that learning sessions be implemented to help all of you learn how to better deal with difficult situations in a more professional and constructive manner. Nobody is born knowing how to solve all conflict, and such skill-building should be part of your workplace training.

Learn how to cope with stress. There might be times when you're swamped by several customers, all wanting your attention, all frustrated and perhaps rude. Stay calm, be polite, and try your best to help them.

Perfecting Your Sales Techniques

Know the Store and the Products You Are Selling

Familiarize yourself with the sales floor layout and which merchandise is located where. Research as much as you can about the products the store⁄your department sells, and what advantages your store or the products you sell offer over similar stores or competing products. This way, when it's time to sell a product or service to a customer, you'll be well-informed and can confidently close the sale.

Train Often

Almost all retail stores provide some kind of basic training to new associates, typically outlining the proper procedures of your position and how to handle common customer scenarios. You can never learn too much, either, so feel free to ask management what training options you may have available if you need a refresher.

Help Maintain the Store

Even if your role is not in logistics coordination, you can make sure that shelves are neat, items are in their correct places, there are no messes or potential hazards around, and that employee areas are safe and adequately stocked. Demonstrate to others how important it is to pick up stock on the floor, rearrange messy stock etc., by simply pitching in and fixing it whenever the need is apparent. You don't need directions from above to keep the store neat.

Always stay busy, even when there's downtime. Find tasks to keep you moving and productive during lulls. Not only will this make the time go by faster, but it'll help the store and earn respect from your manager(s).

Have Fun

Most importantly, enjoy what you do and learn from the experience. You never know who you'll meet and what opportunities your job will bring in the future.

Don't share your discontent about your retail job on social media. It will likely be quite easy to identify you and the disloyalty shown will count against you. If you dislike your job, start looking for a new one and keep your thoughts to yourself. A good reference is essential to finding employment elsewhere.

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