In 2013 I became an employee of one of Australia’s largest industries. It is not mining or forestry or any of those generally hot topic industries, but the average person takes advantage of this industry daily.

The industry makes up 20.9% of Australian employees alongside Wholesale Trade, Transport, Postal & Warehousing and Information Media & Telecommunications and experienced a relative growth rate of roughly four percent from 2014 to 2015. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, you are more than likely to have experienced working in this industry if you were employed in high school or commenced work straight after high school, particularly if you are female.

The industry accounts for 19% of all casual workers in Australia and 16% of people who have more than one job also work in this field. It is not just an Australian giant, it is global. In the last four years Australia has opened its doors to a growing number of international derivatives in this industry. GAP, Topshop, Zara, Hollister, Uniqlo, H&M and Costco entered the Australian market, and yes you guessed it, have challenged the Australian retail industry on unprecedented levels for market share.

I am no economics expert, but if that is true, I would expect retailers to have some form of educational accreditation on which to base the development and growth of their businesses upon. However retail is an area where the majority of the highest employing occupations require no formal education. For people who combine part-time/casual work with full time study, entering the retail industry is almost a default undertaking if they have any chance of surviving university hunger or gaining some form of financial advantage before they graduate.

While no formal education is required, there is a remarkable amount of work that goes into keeping retailers alive and well. There is an unwritten, unassessed education that all retail workers need if they have any chance of making it through those busy shopping periods. As an employee of Australia’s largest lighting retailer, here are some very, very, very important lessons I have learnt in the past three years:

  1. The customer is rarely right.

The return policy is on the receipt. If you have exceeded the length of time in which you can return or exchange an item, the likelihood of a retailer providing you with a refund or allowing you to exchange the item is minimal. It is not because we are mean, angry salespeople who do not want to satisfy your shopping needs – it is because that is what the policy says.

  1. How to communicate.

While we might learn how to speak in school, we do not learn how to communicate. In retail, you will be exposed to every type of customer; the haggler, the arrogant, the not fluent in English- the list could go on. It is your job to simplify the unsimple and eloquently put twenty online training modules of information about light bulbs into a few sentences for the customer to understand. Like I said, communication.

  1. It is not as easy as it looks.

Customers look to you for information about style, electricity, fans and the works. There is a substantial amount of training required before you actually get the hang of things. Customers, please take that in mind when dealing with trainee employees. Even using an Electronic Point of Sale System or an Eftpos machine is not as straightforward as you would assume.

  1. Patience, limitless patience.
  1. If the work environment is not fun, your work life will be miserable. It is your job to make it fun.

Balancing work with study and the remnants of a social life is one of the most difficult feats for university students. Waking up early on the weekend is not an incentive. Sometimes not even money is enough. But when there are people at work you you genuinely enjoy spending time with, working no longer seems like a burdensome exercise.

  1. You are basically always hungry.

Even if you just had your lunch break. But time has taught you how to sneak food into  your rumbling belly in four hour shifts that do not entitle you a break. Always bring food to work. It makes people happy.

  1. How to deal with people who think they know more than you.

There will be times when customers have done a Google search and are intent on using that research as a basis for their purchase. A simple Google search does not provide the best guide for purchasing specialised lighting products. I recall one customer (among many) trying to convince me I had no idea what I was talking about and so resorted to asking my workmate. I was unsure if it was because I was young or it was because I was female, but I provided the exact same solution as my older, less experienced male workmate.

  1. You are also a mediator.

There is no question about whether designing a home is difficult. It requires time, money, negotiation, money, compromise and more money. Sometimes you may be put in situations where you are stuck in the middle of a couple arguing about which lights they want. It is your task to put principles (of how people should treat each other) aside and continue to provide an objective solution to their quarrel.

  1. People will try to haggle with you, especially once they realise they share your ethnicity.

Please don’t be one of those people.

  1. Work is a love-hate relationship.

No matter how much people will get on your nerves, it is strangely rewarding to see the end product of something you created or to see people happy with your service. Sometimes customers will show you photos of their end product and they really are House Rules-worthy.


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