My Experiences in the Retail Industry

My Experiences in the Retail Industry

How I entered the retail industry.

Fresh out of Junior College, the most sensible thing for most was to look for a part- time job. For most of us stuck in the rat race, we knew that we had to choose a job relevant to the university course we were applying for.

I was interested in business, and the position of an HR admin assistant seemed logical. A month into working, I became worried.

I thought I needed a more numerically related job! Soon, I began my life as a financial planning intern at a large insurance company in Singapore. After a month of working there, I realized financial planning – to put it crudely – is all about pushing sales through the art of persuasion. However, I wanted to study accountancy but no company was willing to hire a fledgling student with zero accounting experience.

When the A levels results were released, I was accepted by 2 local universities NUS & NTU without any interview required. This meant that I could look for any part time job I wanted with no reservations! This was how I embarked on a journey in the high end retail industry located at Orchard Road.


What I learned about the retail industry.

On customers:

Customers are nice people. When you hear retail assistants complain about mean, demanding and rude customers, take it with a pinch of salt. My own experiences prove otherwise. They are kind, and more often than not, tolerant of my mistakes. Plus, extra points for those customers who touch my arm and say ‘Thank you’, wave at me good bye, and give me bright smiles. The most fulfilling part of the job were the fleeting but warm connections I made with these strangers.

However, before you assume all customers are saints, let me tell you that kindness is a boomerang. I was kind to them first. I smiled at them and ensured that they had an pleasant shopping experience. After all, a lot of people go on shopping therapy when they’re stressed out, right?


On retail assistants:

Something that often confuses me is how easily some retail assistants get irritated. Often, they are easily annoyed by people messing up displays, asking a few more times for sizes, or staying in the shop for a million years and leaving without buying anything. It confuses me because I wasn’t even slightly annoyed when I was in the same situations as them. Sure, we meet different types of customers, some more picky than others but we should avoid getting angry so easily. It seems that this anger might stem from the common misconception that customers are just inherently unpleasant.

As such, the defensive mentality that retail assistants should avoid being taken advantage by customers sets them up for a career of resentment, resulting in poor customer service. So for those newbies out there, my advice is to have a correct mindset and be ready to serve.

On co-workers:

Initially, I didn’t get along with all my workers. Some was my fault as I made mistakes (but in my defence, I was a newbie), but other times I just have to say 八字不合 ( in Chinese, it means our characters don’t match). Having said that, it’s important to make an effort because working life simply will not be smooth and pleasant if you don’t at least try to build good relationships with others.

The advice I would give is not just applicable to retail but in many social situations. You have to first understand why everyone acts differently- some are nice, some are mean. Behavioral differences stem from genes, the environment and many other factors. If they appear nonchalant, it is their way of behaving which doesn’t necessarily have anything against you! Try to understand personality differences and react less aggressively to people who don’t act the way you would like them to. You shouldn’t let this affect the way you are though, and you should continue to be the nice person that you are.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King

Hopefully this article sheds some light on what it’s like to work in the retail service industry. For those already working in retail, perhaps this provides some insights on how to deal with the occasional unpleasantries. After all, I’m sure you can relate.

But, this is not entirely representative of the food industry. Over dinner with friends, I heard complaints about working in food and beverage. Hungry people are angry people. Ever heard of the term ‘hangry’? We all know that.

Header image credit: n.karim


Caley T is a student currently residing in Singapore. She graduated from Anglo Chinese Junior College and is set to begin her tertiary studies after being accepted at Nanyang Technological University.

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