WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO
AT first you think it will be glamorous. The excitement of working in a prestigious shop like John Lewis; getting a name badge on the first day and, of course, the 25% discount. But in the run-up to Christmas I began to progress into a permanently flustered version of my former self.
My typical mode of transport became jogging more often than walking – in order to try to satisfy the constant stream of customers needing help. If one customer asked you to get them something, you would be sure to have another four stop you on your way. You have to keep everything they say in your head, then try to balance it all in your arms while negotiating your way back from the stock room. I have dropped shoe boxes more times than I care to remember – one falling right on to the foot of a customer.
Most customers are fine but some seem to undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation as soon as they begin their Christmas shopping. While they are probably perfectly pleasant in normal circumstances, the start of December seems to bring a panic into their eyes and a tight set to their mouth. I have served on the tills and watched the irritation grow among those in a long queue: the foot tapping, the sighing and the frequent dirty looks in your direction. It’s hard to strike a balance between giving good customer service and hurrying along those at the till so you can get to the next person.
Only once did I come close to crying. It was the Saturday before Christmas, and a well-to-do lady came in looking for Ugg boots. When I politely told her we had none left in the size she wanted, she started screaming at me, telling me the store was a disgrace and she couldn’t believe I was allowed to work there. All the customers turned to look and I had to go and stand in the back to pull myself together. I tried to tell myself it was nothing personal, but it was hard to be impervious while her eyes were bulging and she was jabbing her finger in my face.
Sometimes I think shoppers forget they are dealing with actual people and treat them as an extension of the company – and an easy target for them to take their frustrations out on. I know it is stress that causes people to act that way but it would be nice if they could try to spread a bit of festive cheer. As a shopper myself, I have seen that retail workers can
also be rude, but if someone is nice to me I always try to be friendly in return.
That’s not to say there weren’t good points. Working at Christmas you were at least kept busy: it was better than during the summer when the shop was deserted and the days would drag. Even among all the panicking, there was a buzz in the air around Christmas time that could be infectious. But above all, it was my colleagues that kept me going: sharing a joke, offering encouragement and providing a sense of team spirit. They could make even the worst days better.