The Chronicles of Retail

Sometime in the middle of November, I took my newly-purchased tote with our city library’s logo on it, loaded it up with my laptop and headphones, and headed to Barnes and Noble to work on my novel. I planned to go to JCPenney to apply to work there for the holidays, since my parents had been hearing that they were hiring. I went and applied just for the heck of it, since I had already been flatly denied by Macy’s and Target for being “overqualified”. I went to Starbucks in Barnes and Noble and spent some time writing.

I soon got a call from an unfamiliar number, and they left a voicemail. I listened to it, and in amazement called back. It was one of the managers from JCPenney, calling to invite me to a group interview the next day. By 2:00 the next afternoon, I had been hired as a temporary customer service associate. My parents and I visited our favorite restaurant, Yasoo Yani, in celebration.

At the end of this month, it will have already been five months that I’ve been working at JCPenney. I worked in mostly women’s accessories from November to January, in January was part of a team that repriced, cleaned, sized, colorized, and prepared the whole store for the upcoming changes. And since the second week of February, I’ve been trained on the register and begun working different departments. I think I’ve finally been put in the juniors department.

Although my first priority has always been to get the job I really want, I’ve always been curious about retail. All of my previous jobs had been very different from what I’ve experienced over the past four months. I’ve had my ups and downs, and I already feel that even though I have decided that retail is not for me in the long-term, it has taught me a lot and improved some of my biggest personal weaknesses.

The first one I’ve noticed most is that this job has forced me to be confident, outspoken, and just talk to people. I’ve always had a hard time initiating conversation with people in person or on the phone, because my biggest communication strength has always been writing. I stuttered as a child, and I still do stammer and mix up words when I get nervous. Just asking someone how they’re doing today would reduce me to spending a few minutes working up the nerve to do it. Today, I call out to people regularly, “Hello! How are you? Is there anything you need help with today?” The phone isn’t as big of a deal either. I used to hate calling for official business to the point of being cripplingly nervous while calling. I’ve always been told I sounded professional on those calls, but I never thought so. Now I don’t really even think twice about it, because I have to communicate so much within the store and with people from outside of it on a regular basis. Managers, loss prevention, customers, associates, etc. are constantly calling the cash wraps, and we are expected to greet and attempt to help each customer who comes through the door. It’s becoming second nature to me, and I barely noticed the change until I looked back at myself when I first started in November and I was more focused on getting the physical work done than the more abstract part of my job, because I was basically afraid to approach them. I am proud of myself for overcoming this obstacle, and am appreciative of this job being the push that I needed.

The second one I’ve noticed is the patience I’ve had to learn. I’m not exactly an impatient person, but I am definitely somewhat OCD, and when things don’t go according to plan or “just so”, it can send me into an internal rage, if even only momentarily. I also have a hard time dealing with people or things that irk me constantly. I’ve had to realize that I’m going to have those few coworkers who just grind my gears really hard, and there’s nothing I can do about it but deal with it and adjust. The best reward for it though, is to be able to get along with those people well enough to get the job done and earn respect for yourself and find respect for those people as well. And honestly, I get along with and like most of the people I work with. We get the job done, and that’s the most important thing.

Finally, I am learning to deal with making mistakes. I’ve had days that I feel like I made a mistake cashiering every other minute and fixed it immediately, but still felt like an idiot. The worst one was when I had a bad return. A couple of customers returned some items that had our tags but were not our merchandise, and used a previous return to trick me into thinking it was legitimate. I was feeling pretty devastated the rest of that night after it was brought to my attention, even though my supervisor told me she thought it was training issue and that I wouldn’t get in trouble for it. However, I have to look at it as a lesson–I will never make a mistake like that again, and therefore, I came out on top.

I’m sure there will be more things that I learn before this job is over–job searching is difficult, it’s a lot of waiting, and a lot of working crazy hours while wondering if it will ever end and I’ll get the job I really want. But ultimately, I’ll be glad I had it in the first place. I already am. You can’t put a price on life lessons, and you can’t put a price on the knowledge you glean from them.

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