Retail jobs are known for their long hours, strenuous physical labor, relatively low pay and thankless responsibilities. They are certainly not for the thin-skinned or weak at heart. Despite the tough reputation, retail jobs teach valuable lessons to those who work them, and these lessons can be transferred to nearly any other industry or life situation.
Retail workers quickly learn the importance of patience in the workplace. Some customers in the retail setting can be impatient, demanding or downright rude, and the retail worker must endure some tough treatment in the name of customer service. Learning to handle difficult personalities gracefully is crucial to success. In any retail job, "the customer is always right," so seasoned workers have learned to deal with constant frustration and stay cool, calm and professional in some of the most uncomfortable situations.
Another critical lesson learned in a retail job is that it's important to be able to solve problems and think critically in stressful situations. In many retail businesses, employees work long hours with little supervision. When a problem arises or a conflict ensues, the employee must be able to think quickly to take control and diffuse the situation on his own. Critical situations in the retail setting might include delivering bad news to a customer, such as when an item is out of stock, when the customer's credit card is declined, or when store policy prohibits the customer from returning or exchanging an item. In the absence of a supervisor, it's the retail worker's responsibility to find an effective solution while keeping the exchange pleasant and professional. This type of skill is essential in both business and personal relationships.
One of the most important lessons learned from a retail job is that communication is king. A retail job requires top-notch communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal. In a retail environment, the worker learns to read customers' body language and pick up on nonverbal communication in order to decipher how to handle that customer. Some customers may be aloof or seem rushed or uninterested in talking. Still others may be needy, asking several questions about a product or policy or needing a lot of assistance throughout the point-of-sale process. Learning how to tailor behavior to the perceived needs of each customer results in a flexible, adaptable person who is comfortable communicating with all types of people in all types of situations. That is a priceless skill to possess in any life situation.
There's no denying retail jobs are some of the toughest and most thankless positions. While challenging, these types of positions provide a real-world education in emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication. The skills and lessons learned in a retail job — patience, critical thinking and communication — translate to virtually every industry and social situation.
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