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Can I help you?

Illustration by Mary Strope


In 2015, how do you treat the people you buy stuff from? While the Bay Area job market may look less diverse than ever, retail and service positions abound. These jobs are often a lot of work, especially in relation to their pay, but you can help out workers by being respectful in the 10 following ways!


  1. Respect the store’s hours. Don’t pound on the door before the business opens, and for the love of god, don’t come in close to closing and insist on staying. Sometimes stores (especially small businesses) stay open in the hopes for a sale. So if you do end up staying past closing, let’s hope it was because you were hustling to buy something.


  1. Don’t step behind the counter. In a job where you constantly interact with the public, the space behind the counter is all you have. Just as you probably wouldn’t go to someone’s office and stand behind their desk, respect these man-made barriers. They exist for a reason.


  1. Retail workers exist to provide courteous service – not friendship. You may have a friendly conversation, and that’s great. But customer service is but one component to what is often a far more complex job. You might want someone to ask how your day’s been going, but that doesn’t mean it’s part of their job.


  1. Put stuff back where you found it. If you don’t know where something came from, return it to an employee. Many customers seem to be under the delusion that they’re bring helpful by jamming a stray item (often helpfully turned inside out) back onto a rack or behind a display. They’re not.


  1. And hang your clothes on the hangers like you found them. Don’t throw things on the floor. Yes, I’m talking to you, grown adults.


  1. Form one line. Don’t cut. If you don’t want to wait, or are in a rush, then don’t go shopping.


  1. Understand that working retail can be physically and emotionally exhausting. From standing on your feet all day, to hauling merchandise and cleaning and organizing the store, to the filing and bookkeeping that often accompanies a retail job, to dealing with people who are taking their anger out on you, to simply having to be friendly and assist people all day long (no matter what mood you’re in), it involves way more than standing behind a counter and greeting people.


Resolve to respect retail workers (and wear Cher-worthy earrings) in 2015.

  1. Yelp with caution. One unfortunate side effect of gentrification: people move into a neighborhood, go to a locally-owned longtime business, expect it to be run like a chain store, and then write a horrible review online when it doesn’t, seriously hurting the business and its reputation. Is it really worth it to destroy someone’s livelihood just because you didn’t get a friendly-enough “vibe” from the waiter or thought the décor needed mason jars and reclaimed wood?


  1. Appreciate idiosyncrasies. As mentioned above, small businesses are not chain stores and often have quirks you won’t find at cookie-cutter establishments. Maybe these quirks are not your cup of tea- luckily, no one’s forcing you to shop there.


  1. You get what you pay for. Once at a Brooklyn Dunkin Donuts, I saw a patron order a $3 breakfast sandwich and then proceeded to request a bunch of modifications and substitutions. He seemed to think that fast food workers who don’t receive tips should give him the same attention as, say, a pricy fine-dining establishment. But realistically, it’s just too much to ask.
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