Ups, downs of working retail

By Katie McNulty
December 3, 2004

Shawn Rice

Being a living, breathing college sophomore, I am all too familiar with the common phrase, I do not have any money. With the holiday season quickly approaching, the search for the perfect job over the Christmas break is in question. Where can I find a job that will hire me temporarily, give me a lot of hours and pay well?

For most people the answer would definitely be the mall. I am completely aware that every store in the mall during the holiday season is hiring like crazy, and for someone who has never worked in retail, it seems like a great opportunity.

However two years ago I worked at Express during the holiday season and found out working in retail is not so glamorous. It is more than just putting on a smile and selling a sweater. It is hard work and you do not get paid enough to do it.

When I applied for the job at Express in early November and got the job I was so excited. I would have to get dressed up for work and wear the clothes in the store. I would receive a 50 percent discount on my first purchase and I would receive a 30 percent discount during my employment at Express and all other stores owned by The Limited, which included Victoria Secret, Bath and Body Works and Express for men. For someone who loves fashion and trends as much as I do, this job seemed ideal. I would get paid to interact with people, sell products, get paid for it and also get a discount on merchandise from my favorite stores.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth. On my first day, I expected to work the floor and greet people as they walked in the door. Instead I was brought to the back of the store into a little room I never knew existed. It was called the shipment room. The room was filled with boxes of shipment and clothes that needed to be censored before they went out on the floor. My job was to take all of the clothes out of the boxes, take off all of the plastic, lay the clothes out, censor them and put them on a rack to be sent out on the floor. It was a long process and I felt like I slave, but someone had to do it. Occasionally, I would work the floor and greet customers as they walked in the door, but most of the time I was stuck in shipment.

My hours began to dwindle as the managers began to hire more people for the holiday season. I would not have any hours one week, but I would be on-call. To be on call means the manager writes an employee on the schedule as on-call. The employee must then call in at the time they are scheduled for to see if they are needed to come in that day. If I was on call that meant I would have to wait around all day and change my plans if I was needed in the store. I understand the importance of being on call if you are a physician, but a sales associate at Express, come on.

I was only getting paid $6.50/hr. and on top of that I had to buy clothes to wear to work. I began to realize that I was not making any money and that the little money I made was going right back into the stores cash register when I bought clothes to wear to work. I continued to work there through January and finally quit.

Last summer I received a letter in the mail saying that Express in Pennsylvania was being sued. I was shocked, but I felt like I was being served with justice. Express was being sued because they were violating minimum wage laws. Express, in requiring employees to wear their clothes and only paying $6.50/hr., brought an employee’s paycheck under minimum wage. I received settlement and received an $80 gift card to Express.

I still shop at Express and I would probably work there again just not as a seasonal worker. I am not discouraging students to work in retail I am just telling my experience. Retail is interesting and requires patience. My personal feeling was because I was new and inexperienced in retail, I was taken advantage of at that store. What I learned is that no job is perfect when you first begin it. You are going to have to start at the bottom and rise to the top.

Do not apply for a job because you have certain expectations and you think it might be easy. Find out what your tasks are going to be and what is required of you.

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Katie McNulty

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