Those who started working in retail these past 18 months will someday look back and remember well the long days of mask-wearing, belligerent employees, safe social distancing, and much more that marked this time.
Many people who went on to become all kinds of professionals worked retail at the start of their careers. Johnny Depp confessed he was a really bad pen salesman, Kanye West worked at GAP, and Ellen DeGeneres demonstrated vacuums in front of customers.
Back then there were all kinds of technologies, processes, and cultural norms that don’t exist in retail today.
I asked for people to “Take This Quiz” and share those memories on social media. Take a look back at what retail frontline workers had to deal with and check off as you go how many you remember as an associate, manager, or shopper…
- Place wholesale orders from a catalog by either calling it in or mailing it and paying COD when UPS delivered it!
- I worked at JCPenney. If someone wanted something from the catalog we wrote down the order and called it in for them. We got a $.25 bonus per catalog order and a $.50 bonus per credit card app. Better yet we were paid bonuses each week with cash. Just a little brown envelope attached to our check.
- In retail banking, we had to greet customers by name.
- We had to count the inventory at Macy’s.
- Sweep cigarette butts up off the floor.
- Carry their purchase out to the car for them.
- We kept little black books with customer information and account numbers, birthdays, anniversaries, and family members’ names so we could send cards.
- Bag groceries and take them to the customer’s car and unload for them.
- For women, wear pantyhose and heels with suits or dresses.
- If working in a department store you were required to wear black so the customers knew you were a salesperson.
- Wear jackets and ties.
- We had to wear three-piece outfits and always nylons.
- Men had to wear white shirts and ties.
- Hair and makeup, done, no runs in your stockings, nails, and hands groomed!
- I could only wear black, navy blue or brown DRESSES to work.
- Had to wear my long hair tied back in a ponytail.
- Calculating sales tax in my head because the register couldn’t!
- Remember what was a taxable item vs. a non-taxable.
- When you had to look up sales tax on a chart
- Having to manually type in every number of the UPC for each item purchased.
- Count down the cash register till.
- Key in the price in the register.
- Send the cash and the tag through a chute to the office upstairs, then wait for the receipt to be sent back down. (Like at the bank drive-thru.)
- Total up the purchase, add in the tax using a tax table, and then ring that total into the register.
- Inventory cards for tracking stock.
- Put charges “on their account” – no money ever changed hands!!
- Put money in and out of the safe. Being robbed is not fun.
- At Taco Bell in 1988, we used a grease board to keep track of orders. This was after I had worked at McDonald’s where we just tapped a picture of the menu items.
- I remember a binder with SKUs and having to keep it current for merch without tags.
- Make up the price if the item wasn’t marked. Long before scanning was even invented!
- While ringing up beer, had to have the customer press the alcohol button on my cash register because I was 17.
- We didn’t take credit cards.
- Writing social security numbers on the checks!
- Count back the change as you handed it to the customer.
- Break your knuckles on the credit card machine.
- You had to call upstairs to the credit office to see if the customer had enough credit to make a purchase this month
- Calling in each credit card to get approval. The lines would be to the back of the store all the time.
- I remember the machines you had to put the credit card in and put carbon paper slip in there and manually slide the bar over it to make the card impression, then they had to sign that and they keep a copy and store keeps a copy.
- New books updated weekly. If the card number was in the book you called it in and in certain circumstances, you were instructed to keep the card and not return it to the customer. Stolen cards = special bonus payments to the associate.
- When you had to know how to make change back to the customer without the cash register telling you what to give!
- Write down the driver’s license number on their check. And most everyone wrote a check.
- Batch out the credit card receipts at the end of every day.
- Having to look up people’s credit card numbers in little books for Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. If you found one, you were to call and may get a reward up to $500 for a fraudulent card being used.
- One time when called in a card, they said to stall person as the card company had called police. But the customer using the card knew something was up, and slipped out before the cops showed.
- Had to use a rotary phone to call in a charge at Jelleff’s at Tyson’s Corner in the 1970s. They made you cut up a card right in front of a customer if there was an issue. A tough thing for a 16-year-old to do!
- Take a lie detector test before being hired.
- Fill out a job application in person.
- Pass a test that showed you knew how to make the correct change before you got hired.
- Set up a card table, chair, and ashtray on the sales floor for my manager to calculate my paycheck by hand – Saturday afternoon and was paid directly from the cash drawer.
- Stickers were on the bottoms of shoe care items. Sell one – peel off the sticker and it was worth a quarter pre-tax. PM = prize money.
- Punch your time card!
- Get excited about working 4 hours and your boss giving you a $20. (Minimum wage was $3.35 an hour).
- I was a high school student and made $1.35 an hour.
- Empty the ashtrays for cashiers who left cigarettes burning while serving customers.
- Work your butt off or get fired
- Clean your department
- I sold yardage and measured it with a yardstick
- Lunch was 30 minutes.
- Mark the sale price on the sticker by crossing the original price out and writing the new sale price . . . With a purple pen. ALWAYS in purple!
- You had to know the price per pound of all the produce that wasn’t sold “by each” and you memorized the entire weekly ads for the store.
- Used a “Garvey” price machine to ink price almost every can in the store
- Cleaning ashtrays all over the store, People smoked while they shopped
- All lightbulbs had to be in working order – DM store visits were possible on Saturday and if a light bulb was burned out and not replaced it was documented and was a significant offense.
- Have your work performance monitored by the owner who worked 7 days per week. He was a tireless advocate for customer service.
- Turning the handle on the bow machine to make bows, then pulling each loop out to make the bow full and pretty. I still have the bow machine and some of the sateen ribbon on those big round spools!
- When “If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean” was the way of life.
- Sell a certain amount of store credit cards per week.
- You had to wait for your merchandising and Promo guidelines to arrive in the mail.
- Do inventory with pen and paper
- Having to call your store Sunday morning after the Springtime time change to make sure you were open!
- No sick days..lol You showed up
- Batch out the credit card receipts at the end of every day, do inventory by hand, writing receipts on carbon receipt pads.
- Work 3, or even 4, weekends a month. Work the Thanksgiving weekend, all 3 days….
- Price items by hand – write price w/ a marker
- I missed many family gatherings and other occasions because I had to work. Sometimes you have to miss a wedding because it was the 4th quarter and super busy!
One thing that hasn’t changed is the need to make someone else’s day before they’ll make your day with a sale.
Technologies come and go but the customer is the most important person in your store.
Without them, you’re pretty much a warehouse for products.
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