Thursday, December 22, 2011

2010: A Retail Christmas

Christmas in Washington brings a multitude of iconic memories and experiences: The National Tree and Congressional Tree is lit, the US Botanical Gardens becomes alive with model trains amidst plant memorials, twinkling lights glitter in the city, temperatures dips with fierce breezes, and rush hour becomes more intense with holiday shoppers. On the inside of store windows, Christmas enters a new dimension for those living the retail life. At the first chime of Jingle Bells the morning after Thanksgiving, employees brace for the most recent evolutionary development of the human species: The Holiday Shopper. Having worked two Christmas seasons at an outdoor gear shop, I’ve learned to adapt my world view to a retail Christmas with the following theories.

I: First Line of Defense: Overcoming the Language Barrier

As employees of a specialty gear shop, we prefer to think of ourselves as tech-savvy in the latest gear developments of the outdoor world, to a point where it is easy to forget a majority of customers are only able to express themselves through the most basic of lingual options. At the risk of unleashing consumer frustration if we hesitate, we must understand that “portable hood” refers to a balaclava face mask, “toe-slippers” is layman terms for Vibram Five Finger Shoes, and “those things” (paired with finger wiggling motion) is just another way of saying chemical hand warmers.

II. Second Line of Defense: Understanding the Source of Frustrations

The customer who starts breathing heavily when you cannot suggest the perfect size for their beloved one who is 100 miles away? Someday they will figure out we do not have telepathic brain waves.... and no, I will not size model that thong!
Or the customer who desperately prods for you to say they will be warm enough in thin socks and blue jeans without any thermal base layers? It is tempting to pretend that you have a magical warming power to grant them freedom from winter clothes, but sooner or later they will develop some common sense (one can only hope!) with the realization that cold weather comfort comes with a price. Just think of it as doing them a favor.

III. Third Line of Defense: Recognizing the difference between intelligence and idiocracy.

The customer who demands to be treated with utmost royalty and respect when requesting an item to be on sale and acts hurts and betrayed when you politely decline? (I only have so much power over the computer brain) Or the customer who actively insists on dismissing your trained expertise for an on-call boyfriend who is clearly incompetent? It’s ok. You’re not dating or living with them, nor with the consequences of their decisions.
Then there’s my favorite: the customer who thinks you’re a goddess and will buy anything you touch, even it means buying a $100+ Jetboil system for coffee when all they really needed was a $20 Java Press. Just… savor the moment… I suppose.

IV. Fourth line of defense: Realizing that People will just be People... with all manners of weirdness associated

This is evident through the customer who thinks by talking about an item long enough or by staring at similar items, the desired product will magically appear. And if it doesn’t, it is your fault of course!
Some customers just like to be right, even when wrong, as evidenced by the college professor wanna-be who devises complex mathematical equations to justify their reasoning of chosen gear for cold weather camping... and when you disprove the imaginary equation with logic, they insist on clinging to their derived incorrect conclusions. Thank goodness I’m not on that trip!

Weirdness also associates itself with wastefulness. Despite the environmental push to preserve our natural resources by bringing your own shopping bag, rare is the customer that has actually adopted this theory into an active lifestyle habit. Insult to environmental injury, many holiday consumers insist that products be individually bagged, then again placed in a larger bag. And God forbid we do not provide further resources in the form of gift boxes. It’s disgusting really. Especially when you personally handle thousands of bags you know will just end up in a landfill... a river... a mountain path... scarring our home forever.

It’s easy to drown in the holiday insanity... of demanding customers, a constant mess to clean up... the 7 day work weeks.... too easy. But the insanity of the 2010 holiday season made me savor the beauty of Christmas Day even more. The nagging requests surrounding me at all angles dissolved into the aromas of beef wellington and fondue and the smooth Christmas Jazz playing in the background. Just the peace, love, and joy of Christmas mass and family... of an unexpected Christmas package from a mother... of preparing the Christmas meal for local family... of the joy of giving gifts and the sweet nothingness of sitting on the couch surrounded by loved ones.

The day was too short as it was back to the daily 7 day work week grind the very next day, but the warm memories linger. All of the sudden, I am not in the mood to teach my climbing class or to fold the eternal supply of fleeces. These duties threaten to chase away the warm feelings.

Today, as I pushed aside a clatter of hangers, I knew deep inside my time as a retail employee must slowly wind to a trickle. A supervisor position (with better pay and potential benefits) is available to me. But my applications and resumes are elsewhere. I have been sucked of my energy, my passions, and my life. I feel like a shell of who I once was.

Here’s to hoping the joy and warmth of the realness of the Christmas season will linger throughout the year!

At the time of this writing, I was working seven day work weeks between two jobs in the Washington, DC area. I have since left to follow my dreams out West. I’m still figuring out what those dreams are, but I do know this… life is so much more than a shallow feeling of getting or receiving the latest tech gadget or new high-tech jacket. Sure, these things are nice…. But the simple joy of spending time with loved ones doing activities you enjoy is real.  Hugs and love! 

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