Adventures in retail

I try not to think about it too much, in case it distorts what I’m trying to do with this blog, but the audience is almost entirely friends and family. You probably already know me. You know what I’m like, what I like and don’t like, you might even know what I’ve been doing and thinking about recently, so… Maybe this blog is mostly an exercise in repeating myself.

I remember when I first got into social media. It wasn’t long before I realised that I was spending my humble hoard of smalltalk on Facebook and Twitter, and when I met friends in real life I’d realise that my pockets were woefully empty of anecdotes and bon mots.

Also, that thing I just said. “what I’m trying to do with this blog”. I have no idea what I’m trying to do with this blog, so forget that.

Um. Yes!


So, I have been working for (what I assume is approximately) minimum wage at HMV for about four weeks, now.

I have an ego. I can be prideful. Though admitting it might show an ugly side of me, I thought I deserved better than this. Not long ago I was designing million dollar promotions for a famous online game – now I’m asking “Would you like a bag with that?” dozens of times a day. I shouldn’t be here.

Ridiculous concepts lurk behind those humdrum words. “Deserved”. “Shouldn’t”. According to whom? Me? The universe? The god I am very sure does not exist?

Shit happens.

I tell myself it’s temporary, and there’s a good chance that will turn out to be true. I am not out of the woods yet. I am still being evicted at the end of January, and still have nowhere to go. No money for a deposit, and no guarantee of any work at all after the next week or so. I am going to campaign pretty hard to stay at HMV, unless some office job pops up in the meantime. The bitter irony, of course, is that between this job, trying to supplement my earnings with freelance, and training, I have little time and less energy to look for work or a new place to live. But I have no choice.

I actually intended a different focus for this – lessons learned in my new life in retail. Let’s see.

* The training is almost non-existent. Everything has to be learned by getting it wrong, in the shop, with customers, often at a till. I feel bad for whoever is left waiting while I try to figure out why their item won’t scan, or the wrong price is coming up, but there it is.

* No, we don’t do refunds. Not ever. No, we can’t just put the money back on your card. No, not even when you bought it “a few minutes ago”. That doesn’t matter. I’m sorry.

* Sitting down is underrated. Never before have I been on my feet for so long, every day. It’s tiring – compared to the office work I’m used to – and when I get to sit down the rush of pleasure is surprisingly intense. Ohhhhh yeah. Sitting down is awesome. I’m doing it right now, and loving every second.

* I much prefer it when you pay by card. Paying by card gives me the perfect amount of time to get your bag, shake it open, and put your stuff inside. When you pay by cash, you have to stand there while I sort stuff out, and I feel like I’m keeping you waiting. You don’t mind, probably, but I do. I don’t want to keep anyone waiting. And let’s not even talk about those obscure gift tokens and shit. Ack.

* Related to the above – you know that thing where sometimes the little debit card machine takes longer than usual to let you put your PIN in? That’s my fault. Sorry. Every so often I glance up to see the customer quietly, politely staring into the display, fingers poised, and it’s never the system being slow – I just need to press a big green button with CLEAR on it. It is a delicious moment of power, though. I can’t deny it.

* I’m not kidding. No refunds.

* The absolute best part is what they call SF. Shop Floor. That means just wander around and help people. It’s similar to FC, First Contact, but without the priority on making sure people don’t try to nick stuff. Helping people is the best bit. We have a sizable A-Z selection of DVDs for both Comedy and Drama. Quite a lot of films could arguably be both. We have sections for special offers. We have the so-called marketplace at the front. We have storage upstairs. We have the stockroom downstairs. That DVD you really want? There are a lot of different places it could be. The system we use to hunt it down is temperamental. Performing the same search twice in a row can yield different results. The odds are against me, but I will run around that damn building for as long as it takes to put the item in the customer’s hand.

Let me tell you a story.

This girl came up to me, while I was sauntering around in my pink HMV t-shirt, and asked if we had the Lord of the Rings box set. She was very quiet. Very shy. Hard to tell how old – could have been 16 or 26. She followed me, silently, as I went to the most likely spots on the shop floor. Her eyes large and trusting, she said nothing. Someone on the tills said we had a bunch of them upstairs, for sure. Great! I’ve already wasted enough time running around. I zoom up the stairs, and when I emerge I see another colleague. “Nah.” he says “Not up here.”

Damn it! I jump back down, unaware that he is unintentionally lying to me, and there are in fact plenty of copies up there. The hunt is back on. I feel bad for this girl, but she’s being terribly patient. Back and forth. Up and down. The system says we have plenty! Where the fuck ARE they all?

Finally, I track down a single copy. I walk towards her, holding it aloft like a treasure. I feel like I’ve been on a journey no less arduous than that of the Fellowship. As I offer it, her face lights up – almost literally. Huge smile, utterly delighted. I jokingly pretend that I can’t give it to her after all, and she acts crushed. When it’s actually in her hands, she hugs it tightly. Couldn’t be happier.

Made my day.

* Look. It’s store policy. I can exchange it for something else, if you like? Or put it on a gift card?

* I’m at least ten years older than pretty much everyone else there, and a fun game is making 21-year-olds guess my age. They generally start with their own age, and work from there. This leaves them hopelessly unable to reach an accurate number. One guy, bless him, said “Everything you say sounds like… poetry. Like you’re reading a poem.”

I think that’s about it for now.

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