5 Lessons I Learned in Retail


5 Lessons learned in Retail


A while back I wrote an article about Why Students Should Work in Retail advocating the benefits of working in retail. While it may not be obvious to everyone, I believe that there are a lot of practical ideologies that can be learned and implemented into everyday life such as money and time management. However, I also believe that there are more lessons that can be learned and applied to your life. In my opinion, these lessons tend to be less obvious. I’m going to break down my thoughts on 5 valuable lessons that one can learn from working in retail.

Don’t Take Things Personally


Customers will get angry. Customers will get impatient. This is just the nature of the game. Don’t assume that the customer is directly upset or angry at you.

When I was in college, I worked at a convenience store. In particular, there was one customer that seemed to always be grumpy no matter what—there was no satisfying him. Initially, I thought he didn’t like me personally but I would soon discover that he was grumpy towards everyone. I didn’t matter if it was a different co-worker or other customers.

In general, I think this particular customer just had a perpetually negative demeanor. After coming to that realization, I pondered for a while in order to make sense of what I had learned. It was at that point I learned that you shouldn’t take everything personally. To apply this lesson to real-life circumstances, I’ve come to learn that negativity is bound to happen. People will be negative. Scenarios will end up sour.


I personally believe that the worst way to react is to take it personally and blame oneself. Rather, I think it’s best to sometimes accept the circumstances as they occur and continue doing what you believe is right or necessary. A rule that I later learned to deal with situations like that is the 5×5 principle: if a problem won’t matter 5 years from now, don’t spend more than 5 minutes negatively reflecting on it.


Everyone has a Story to Tell


While working at the same convenience store, I tried to make it a habit to actively talk to my customers about their lives. From my perspective, this wasn’t done intrusively. My goal was not to prod too deep and get them to reveal anything extremely personal about themselves.

In general, I’m a curious guy who likes a good conversation. What I noticed is that a surprising amount of people are willing to open up if you give them the chance and genuinely seem to care. I believe this lesson applies to everyone you meet.

If you’re curious, willing to ask thoughtful questions, and listen, people will be more likely to share a bonding experience about themselves with you.

Why is this important?

Well, I think in modern society, sometimes too much emphasis is placed on the self and not on the other. For example, we tend to see life solely through our own perspectives yet we rarely seem to take the time to learn things from the perspective of others or see the world through the eyes of another individual that has lived a different life.

My belief is that asking these questions and learning about others is empowering. It allows you to place yourself in a mindset of self-reflection. Give it a chance. Find someone that you know and just ask them a basic why question about themselves.

Be attentive.

If they like something in particular, see if you can ask why they enjoy that something so much. It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re willing to listen.


Every Component of a System is Important 


When you begin to work, you quickly learn how even the smallest component can create ripples and create a lasting domino effect. In nearly every retail job I’ve ever worked in, something would inevitably break down. ATMs wouldn’t dispense cash, cash registers would freeze, employees could get lazy, or corporate offices could create terrible policies.

Each of these things might seem small on the surface but can certainly cause an insane amount of stress and grief if the proper care isn’t provided (and proper care was almost never provided). For any of you that have ever worked in retail, have you ever received an unfair amount of beratement or negativity due to perhaps a technical malfunction or a policy that you have absolutely zero control over?

It happens. But the point I wanted to make was that I learned how necessary it is to be mindful of every component in a system. This can apply to anything. If you’re studying, don’t slack on certain parts. Even the smallest pieces might prove to be more important than initially expected. Be sure to stay efficient and give every element of a scenario, problem, or situation an adequate level of attention.


The Value of Money


Inevitably, when you begin working you’ll initially anticipate that first paycheck. In your mind, you’re trying to decide what you’ll spend all of that money on. Finally, payday arrives and your joyful exuberance turns to a sour disdain as you learn about the wonders of taxes and how much money you won’t get to take home.

Immediately, you’ll learn just how valuable money is. In addition, if you have to pay for food, rent, utilities, etc., you’ll quickly discover just how quickly money can be lost. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it sucks not being able to have an abundance of money, beginning with smaller amounts can certainly open your eyes up to just how valuable each dollar can be. Quickly, you’ll tap into the creative regions of your brain as you ponder how much food your remaining $20 can buy.

My recommendation: learn to budget way ahead of time so you can stress less about your money.


Time is worth far more than money


This final lesson is (in my opinion) the most important by far. When you work, you are compensated based on how long you are working. Essentially, every hour is given a monetary value. While in college, I worked in several different jobs. I initially did very basic graphic design, I worked in a pool hall, tried my hand in a movie theater for a very brief amount of time, and even worked at a bar and Walmart.

Eventually, I began to really consider my time—I appreciated it far more than any amount of money I was earning. Why was that? Well, for a few years I’d work night shifts at one of my jobs (well, most jobs I’d work nights). This job, in particular, had a large window facing out towards the neighboring apartments in the college town.

Now, initially, I valued money so heavily that I nearly always worked. I even opted for overtime whenever I could and would gladly pick up the shifts of other coworkers. I eventually realized how foolish I was as I would look out the window and see all of the other college students out having fun on Friday and Saturday nights while I was working.

I began to question just how important money was. Simultaneously, I’d always get invited to events on Friday and Saturday nights that I could never attend since I was always working. My time was no longer my own time. It was someone else’s and I sold it away for only 8 dollars an hour. It was clear that while money was important for general sustainability and the ability to survive, it was easily obtainable (in the grand scheme of things).

Some experiences, however, were not. Unfortunately, I can never go back in time and try to work less. Those colleges days that I traded for money are long gone. But ultimately, my experience working so much taught me just how valuable time truly is and how easily we can take it for granted.

These were just the lessons that I’ve personally learned from working in retail. Has anyone ever had a similar experience or learned a similar lesson. Let me know! Thanks for reading. Stay positive!