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Highway To The Retail Danger Zone

, , , , , , , , | Working | July 20, 2022

One of my first jobs just out of high school is a retail position at a rather upscale place. All of my coworkers are relatively nice, but it’s the manager that bothers everyone, and he’s a real jerk. It’s about my first or second week in, and I am still learning. The manager comes in to explain that we’re going to work on Zoning for the new folks — aka me.

Zoning means there are one or two people standing and staying in certain places in the store, broken up by displays. Zone One is the display by the front door, Zone Two is the display behind it, Zone Three is the display behind Zone Two, etc. Oddly, Zone Four, behind Zone Three, is the cash wrap. Why the registers are in the middle/back of the store, who knows?

It’s a pretty slow day to start. I’m assigned to Zone Two, and I’m told to dust, clean, tidy, and make it look like I’m busy bustling around. I’m still nervous, so I do my best.

A customer finally walks in about an hour after open. I’ve done all I can to make my Zone neat and tidy, so I’m kind of standing around. I watch as my coworker in Zone One greets the customer and then goes back to their dusting.

The customer eventually asks where an item is, and my coworker gestures to me. I smile and help the customer get their item. It turns out my retail persona is better than I thought: the customer and I gab for a bit.

I decide (foolishly) that I’m going to help the customer a little bit more than necessary; I take them beyond my Zone Two into Zone Three, and then into Zone Four, and (gasp!) ring them up. The coworker at the register gives me a funny look but steps back once they see that I’m ringing the customer up by myself and even helps a little when I get stuck.

I hand the customer their bag and then walk them out of the store, holding the door for them. The customer is happy as they’re leaving, and I’ve just made the first sale of the day. Sure, it was for a spatula, but it was a good interaction, and the woman said she’d leave a good review. I’m beaming with pride.

Mind you, this takes no more than five minutes.

I go back to my Zone and begin to tidy up again (or at least look like it) when my manager comes bustling out of the back, red as a tomato.

Manager: “You left your Zone!”

Me: *Still smiling* “Um. Yes. Was I not supposed to? This customer—”

Manager: “NO! You can’t leave your Zone!”

Me: *My smile fading* “But—”

Manager: “What if someone else came into your Zone and stole the rest of these spatulas?!”

Me: *Now confused* “Um, but there’s another coworker up front—”

Manager: “That customer could have been a plant! They could have had someone else in to take these items! DO NOT LEAVE YOUR ZONE!”

Me: “But, that was the first sale of the day—”

Manager: “UNACCEPTABLE! YOU LEFT YOUR ZONE! What did I tell you? YOU DO NOT LEAVE YOUR ZONE. You do that again, you’re getting written up!”

He stomped away, and I was nearly in tears. I was in shock. What the heck had just happened? And I had another six hours of this? My coworker in Zone One hugged me and said that’s just the way [Manager] is, shrugged, and then went back to their Zone.

The customer did leave a very good review, which made my manager even more furious, but I didn’t last long in that job, and neither did many others. Last I heard, that manager was transferred to another store, the new manager was great, and Zoning was no longer a required task.

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