A guide to being a sound Christmas shopper (from someone who worked in retail for over a decade)
Filling shelves, sweating in the stockroom, smiling at impatient customers – Christmas shopping in no craic, especially if you're the one behind the till
Never trust someone who hasn’t worked in retail or hospitality. That’s how the saying goes, right? As someone who’s racked up just over a decade working in retail, I’d say there’s some truth to this.
Christmas 2018 was my first festive season as an adult not working in the shops. It meant no running back and forth to fill shelves, sweating in the stockroom, smiling blankly at impatient customers and doing the dreaded Christmas rota.
Despite retail at Christmas being generally hellish, a nice day to work is Christmas Eve. The buzz of the city centre, and most people shopping are in good spirits. Mariah Carey is on repeat and countless tins of Roses eaten behind the scenes get you through the day. Shops close relatively early (still could be earlier) and it feels nice to help people find that last-minute gift for a loved one. This would all be worthwhile if you knew you had more than 24 hours off work afterwards. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case and you’d often find yourself trudging back in on December 26.
The opening hours
The part I dreaded the most was putting up the Christmas rota, trying to be fair and give every member of the team some sort of Christmas break. Not to mention making sure we had enough staff to cover all the shopping madness. Every year I worked in retail the schedule for December would go up with the opening hours extended more and more each time. Someone was always upset, and I was always the bad guy. Deciding who had to get the three-hour coach from the other side of the country to come in and work on St Stephens Day. Where is the Christmas spirit in that?
Boycott the shops
A day that should be spent with family instead meant getting up at 5am to be in work before the sale madness begins. Nothing says Christmas like turning down that extra glass of Baileys on Christmas Day for an early morning wake up. The best good deed you could do this Christmas would be to avoid the shops on Stephen’s Day. The more people that go in to shop the sales, the more shops will open, and the longer the opening hours will get. It seems insane that a day after receiving lovely gifts we immediately want to go out and shop.
Frankly, the only insatiable appetite you should have at Christmas is for mince pies, not more clothes. Instead, if you’re lucky enough to have your loved ones around you, spend it with them. Don’t queue up at 5 am, or shop the pre-sale late on Christmas Day. Enjoy spending time with your family, scoffing Quality Streets watching Die Hard (it is a Christmas movie) because someone else out there is sweating in a stock room or on the 6am coach from Galway.
Tips on being a nice person whilst shopping over Christmas;
- Don’t complain about the queues for the till/fitting room. You’ve chosen to come in at 2pm on the Saturday before Christmas what did you expect?
- If you’ve had particularly amazing service try and find a supervisor/manager to tell them, so many people working at this time of year are temps and are hoping to be kept on after Christmas and this really helps
- Most things are out of their control so don’t lose your temper at the sales assistant
- Smile: something so simple can make a big difference. The number of angry faces in a queue can be very disheartening
- Everything will take longer – expect and plan for this. People who never usually shop will be out buying gifts
- Be patient with staff if they can’t answer your questions straight away. They are most likely a temp and not an expert
- If the queues are crazy, please don’t ask for everything to be gift wrapped. Be sound and ask for the gift wrap to bring home and do it yourself
- Don’t complain about how hot the store is. If you’re hot, the sales assistant is probably boiling
- Don’t ask what stock is going into the Stephen’s Day sale. Yes we already know but we’re not allowed to tell you
- If a sales assistant is not being the most smiley and happy, be nice to them. They’ve probably had a string of awful customers. Try talking to them about something other than how busy it is; compliment the great red lip or earrings they’re wearing. Trust me a nice comment goes a long way in the midst of the madness
- Be an organised shopper. Don’t queue at the till to ask for something from the stockroom – ask someone working on the shop floor
- Nobody has time to get you four different sizes or walk you around the store. When shopping during busy periods don’t expect their undivided attention
Ultimately, working over Christmas is not what anyone wants, but someone has to do it. So imagine that person serving you is your friend, cousin, son or sister and how would you like them to be treated when they’re working. For myself, I feel no guilt in flaunting my time off now, I have definitely done my time. I expect I will need to be rolled back into the office come January, given the lack of running around I’ll be doing (how on earth am I going to rack up 20,000 steps a day now?). The time will be spent with family, plonked in front of the TV and eating leftovers, just what I’ve always wanted. I hope you can do the same, and if you are in retail I will be thinking of you and avoiding the shops on St Stephen’s Day.
This article was originally published in 2021.