You should know that retail workers actually have a secret society where they convene together for the sole purpose of making your life a living hell. They swap torture tactics across a large round table and come up with terrible return policies and ways to make the overly-friendly greeting they are required to give you even more annoying.

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Obviously, this is an absolutely ludicrous theory but at times I honestly feel like this is what people think.

I don’t know a lot about business but I know that the folks you talk with one-on-one in the store or restaurant have little to no control over company policies.

(And for the record, almost all of them have the same complaints as you do.)

Believe me, the sales associate would love to give you a 50% discount on that shirt you accidentally ripped the seam out of. But unfortunately, they are shackled by a company rule that protects them from having to give frivolous discounts to clumsy customers. It’s out of their control.

The server is just as put out as you are that your food came with the onions you asked to have left off because instead of a 25% tip, there’ll be 2 dollars left on the table. They don’t make the food or even manage the people that make the food but they’re being punished for that mistake. It’s out of their control.

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These fierce soldiers of the retail and service industries are incredible. As a former hostess, a sales associate at several clothing stores, and a clerk at a local dry cleaner, I can’t count how many men and women have raised their voice or used derogatory language with me for things that are out of my control.

One experience left me crying over a set of customers that were very agitated with the company I worked for. I thought about quitting. Not necessarily because of the angry customers, but because I understood their concern and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t know if I wanted to work for a company that doesn’t deliver on their promises.

But as an entry level employee with limited work experience and only a couple semesters of college under my belt, I couldn’t quit until I had enough money to pay for my next semester of college.

I’m lucky, though. I have the opportunity to gain a fairly inexpensive education and I have a family and a warm home I can come back to if things start to get tough for me financially. I have a safety net that a lot of other people don’t have. But I’ve had coworkers at retail stores that rely on that company as their only income; the only way to pay rent and put food on the table for themselves and their families.

In my hometown, as in other towns across the country, companies can fire employees “at any time, for any reason, or for no reason, unless an agreement exists that provides otherwise.” With this termination law hanging over their heads and retail employee turnover rates so high, they can’t afford to disappoint you.

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Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak up if you have a legitimate concern. I’m saying be kind. Be mindful. Speak to a manager, leave a bad review or send an email to corporate. These methods allow you take your complaint to someone who actually has a say in the policies of the company. The base level employees you’re yelling at do not.

There are countless ways to be more compassionate in your retail and service interactions and employees actually do notice.

If you leave a poor review for one company, leave a good review for another. Mention names in your good reviews but leave them out of your bad ones. Spread the positive as much as you spread the negative.  Understand that on the worst day of someone’s life, they may have to clock-in to a job that requires a smiling face and a good attitude. Remember that those people have to go home at night just like you. They have to make sacrifices just like you. They have to have bad days, good days and in-between days because they’re people.

I personally make it a point to thank every customer that treats me like a human being.

So, what’s the #1 best kept secret of retail employees? We care.

We want to help, we want to do our jobs, we want to make money and we’d love to make you the exception to a company policy…but we’d probably get fired.

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“4 Lessons Retail Marketers Can Take From High-Growth Fashion Brands.” Marketing Land, 25 Sept. 2015, marketingland.com/4-lessons-marketers-can-take-away-high-growth-fashion-brands-143311.

“Alaska Termination (with Discharge): What You Need to Know.” Alaska Termination (with Discharge) Laws & HR Compliance Analysis, BLR, www.blr.com/HR-Employment/Performance-Termination/Termination-with-Discharge-in-Alaska.
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