The greed of customers vs. the wrath of sales assistants

By Ben Allison

There’s a war out there…

No, I’m not talking about Gaza or Ferguson. This war is happening every day on our very own shores. Actually, it’s happening in our very own stores.

Each and every day, an overtired and overworked sales assistant prepares to battle a greedy and demanding customer.

Like the majority of university students, I am currently in a menial retail job, paying my way through my studies.

I recently read a blog post published in the Huffington Post titled ‘Sick of bad customer service, maybe you’re a bad customer’. As a sales assistant, this post struck a chord with me and as such, I decided to address a list of common customer situations that send sales assistants into a wrathful rage.

As a sales assistant, I consider myself to be a bubbly, enthusiastic, hard-worker who strives to serve each and every customer who walks through the doors to my store with the same degree of respect, each and every time.


If you walk through the doors with a level of arrogance and attitude straight off the bat, it changes the game. Suddenly we’re sworn enemies.

As a sales assistant, whenever I greet a customer with a simple ‘hello’ I generally get one of two reactions:

1)     The customer screams exasperatedly, ‘JUST LOOKING’.

2)     The customer pretends they don’t hear me despite the fact I’m not even standing a metre away from them and as such is simply blatantly ignoring me.

In defence of the customer, I understand their position.

When I shop on my days off, I become the customer, and let me tell you; there are particular brands in Rundle Mall I avoid at all costs because I can’t be bothered being locked into a meaningless dribble of small talk with the overly enthusiastic sales staff whose shrill, nasally voices seem to penetrate your whole body and send chills down your spine. I can’t publish the names of the stores for fear of a defamation case, but I think the majority of people my age know which notorious brands I’m talking about…

Having said that, when I am presented with such a sales assistant, I still have the decency to say ‘hello’ back.

At the end of the day, I know that I will need them later in the sale to either get me a size, a different colour, or to open up a changing room. I fear pissing them off because I know the power that they hold.

I also understand that the sales assistant is forced to approach each and every customer. I realise through my own experiences that they couldn’t care less how my day is going, yet they are compelled to ask.

At this stage in my article, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I used to work in a retail clothing store where items would often appear on the completely wrong table under a completely wrong price point.

When customers brought the item up to the counter, ready to pay for what they thought were heavily discounted items, I had the complete power to give it to them at the outrageously cheap price; however, I wasn’t compelled to do so.

When a rude or arrogant customer approached me, guns ablaze, ready to battle me to death to get their item at the price it was ‘advertised’ at, I wouldn’t budge a single cent.

When a customer approached me, politely asking if the item was really only $5, I would discount it for them without hesitation.

Is that a little petty? Yes, but in my warped brain I rationalised that it taught the ruder customers a valuable lesson; you catch more flies with honey. In reality, the rude customers walked away thinking I was an asshole, having not learned any lesson whatsoever.

On that note, sales assistants hate it when customers ask for ‘extra discount’ at the sales counter or try to haggle down prices.

I’ve never heard of another retail chain that gives customers discount just for asking for it! Unless you’re buying carpet, can someone please enlighten me as to what stores actually allow this, because I will definitely start shopping there from now on.

Sales assistants also loathe it when customers tap on the window at 8:55 am, expecting the doors to swing open and a red carpet to unroll especially for them. Let’s make this clear right now: most sales assistants get paid from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm on the dot. I can tell you, they will not be impressed if you expect full and attentive service either side of that. (Also, don’t come in at 4:55 pm expecting full attention; you won’t get it.)

Finally, let’s discuss the ultimate war zone: Boxing Day Sales. It still baffles me why thousands of people flock to stores to get their grubby little hands on ridiculous sale items they would never have bought at any other time of the year.

Here’s the real secret: you’re being manipulated by advertising and marketing.

At my old retail job, our Boxing Day sales started weeks before Christmas. All we did in the morning of Boxing Day was change the signs to ones that read: ‘BOXING DAY BONANZA SALE’.

And do you know what? It was still the busiest day of the entire year. Thousands of people snapped up thousands and thousands of dollars of clothes that:

a) they didn’t even bother to try on because there was a half hour wait for the changing rooms, and

b) wasn’t even part of an exclusive Boxing Day sale.

They could have easily driven to the store the week before (when it was admittedly busier than any other time of year but nowhere near as crazy as Boxing Day) to have the actual time to try on the garments, decide if they liked them or not, and then still pay the exact same price for it.

Nevertheless, year after year, middle-aged mothers work themselves up into a frenzy, much like a bull seeing red, snapping up the ‘sale item’ left, right and centre.

I can’t understand the insanity that sets in to these sale-crazed customers. It’s almost as if as soon as Christmas Day is over, all jolly and merry Christmas spirit is thrown out the window and a new sale-frenzy mindset takes over.

Two years ago on Boxing Day, I had a pair of shoes thrown at me because I wouldn’t let the customer cut to the front of the line to exchange a pair of $5 sneakers. That’s not a lie for comical effect. I literally had a pair of shoes thrown at me.

Clearly the idiot who coined the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ never worked in customer service…