Ten Things Retail Workers Absolutely Hate

Ten Things Retail Workers Absolutely Hate
Image: iStock

Evil Week is coming to an end and it’s time to get a few things off my chest about working retail for 25% of my life. Over the journey, I heard the same jokes thousands of times and saw the same things happen again and again, which truly boiled the blood. So now I can impart that knowledge on you, dear reader and you may do with it what you will.

It’s Evil Week at Lifehacker, which means we’re looking into less-than-seemly methods for getting shit done. We like to think we’re shedding light on these tactics as a way to help you do the opposite, but if you are, in fact, evil, you might find this week unironically helpful. That’s up to you.

“This one doesn’t have a price tag/this one isn’t scanning? Must be free then!”

Sounds like you recently crash-landed on Earth from a distant galaxy and are trying to assimilate with the natives. Also, in your part of the universe, humour was never created. This is truly the worst of it. This ‘joke’ is likely as old as humanity. When cavemen forgot to draw prices in the soil at the local Club Shop, fellow prehistoric humans must have grunted and said ‘this must be free!’

To remedy this requires a concerned effort from all retailers reading this article. Stop laughing when customers say this. The pity laugh doesn’t help any body. It’s embarrassing for all involved and only spurs them on. Let them know this joke isn’t very good by saying “I haven’t heard that before!”

The sarcasm does it.

“Do you work here?”

I understand why as a customer you might want to ask this question, but if you’ve actively ignored the employee’s uniform, badge, lanyard or any other identifier, you should be banished from the store for life.

This ruffles so many feathers because it’s a weird way to start a conversation that basically says: “You’re here to serve me, aren’t you?” as opposed to the traditional human greeting of “Hello”.

Putting your money on the counter instead of into the cashier’s hands.

The cardinal sin of the cash register. If you are handing someone money and they put their hands out, don’t put it on the counter. This is like going to shake someone’s hand and doing the old slick-back-your-hair trick. It’s just rude. Those workers on the registers absolutely hate this one and it’s a surefire way to get them to talk about you long after you’ve left the store.

“Can you just check out the back?”

If you’ve been told that there aren’t any in stock, then there’s such a small chance that there actually is any stock out the back.

During Christmas period, I will concede that it’s worth getting the salesperson to check because of the sheer amount of stock pouring into retail outlets. In general though, there is absolutely no reason for stores to be hoarding stuff out the back they don’t know about. They want to get it out. They want to get rid of it.

Thinking Buy One Get One Free means you get the most expensive item free.

Buy One, Get One Free promotions never, ever let you get the most expensive item for free. You will always get the cheapest item for free. Same with Buy Two, Get One Free or Buy Ten, Get One Free. The system isn’t really designed in the customer’s best interests.

So if you ask “Why isn’t this one free though?” or say “I want to get this one for free”, the inevitable salesperson groan and sigh will fill your ears.

“I’ve been waiting for THIRTY minutes for help”

Want to aggravate a retail employee? Start with this line.

First of all, I don’t think anyone would stand around waiting for help for 30 minutes. If you’re flustered and grumpy straight off the bat, employees aren’t going to be too satisfied with you and are less likely to give you those generous discounts you’re after.

The likely reason you’ve been waiting in the first place is because the store is busy and you aren’t the only customer there.

“Where’s the register?”

This will send chills up an employees spine. They’ll see red. Their nostrils will flare. Their eyes may even roll into the back of their skull.

But they will smile and point you in the right direction.

Retail stores aren’t built like mazes. There’s a high chance that the register will be in one of three places: the back of the store, the centre of the store or by the exit. If you’re having trouble finding it, you probably didn’t play enough hide-n-seek as a kid.

“Can I get a discount?”

Probably not. I mean, have you done any research at all?

This is the feeble middle ground – asking for a discount is akin to saying “I have no idea what I should be paying for this but you’re a good person right? You want to help me out, right?”

Arm yourself with the RRP and some credible price matches. That way you can take the high ground and smile down on the retail assistant like you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi on the lava banks of Mustafar.

Not putting stuff back where you found it

Contender for the number one Deadset Flog move. If you take something off a shelf or a wall and don’t want it – put it back where it was. You know why people aren’t serving you? They’re too busy fixing up all the stuff you’ve moved around.

Finding random items far from home, in different parts of the store, is one of the hidden joys of retail.

And by ‘joys’ I mean ‘soul-destroying acts of cruelty manifest’.

Taking a display item to the counter and asking for it.

I love this one because there are so many fun variations. Customers used to always bring empty video game boxes to the counter but that empty box was usually from the Pre-Order Now section. When they slapped it onto the counter and said “just this one, thanks”, I’d usually stare for a few seconds and then tell them, politely, “sorry this hasn’t released yet”.

The inevitable rage-fuelled retort would come next:

“Why is it on the shelf then?”

“So you are aware you can pre-order it!”

“That’s false advertising”


There’s also the customers that will physically take small appliances, like microwaves or vacuums, to the counter and try to pay for them. Word of advice: Those kinds of appliances will be in boxes either underneath or above the products or elsewhere in the store. Grab an employee and ask them to retrieve one for you.

Now you know what really grinds a retailer’s gears, you’re free to do as you will.

Enjoy the Christmas period!


  • “Where’s the register?”
    Albert street JB HIFI in Brisbane. the store is not a square, and the counters are in a far back corner that you cannot see from 80% of the store. I legitimately had to ask and then lodged a complaint because that is just dumb. want my money, make it easy.

  • Goes both ways.
    * Putting all of my crap on the conveyor belt only to have the checkout person close the register on you. (I just leave my crap there and go elsewhere)
    * Asking where to find item X in a large department store only to get a shrug from an employee that is only there doing the bare minimum in order to get paid each week.
    * Trying to get help from an employee who is deeply engaged in conversation with another employee about their social life.
    * Trying to sell me crap I don’t want, don’t need, gives them the biggest commission, etc…

  • Cash registers in the centre of the store like Kmart are stupid and piss me off every time i go there, i guess it gives the staff at the exit something to do, checking everyone’s receipt.

    • Agreed! Dumbest idea ever. I avoid K Mart for this reason and also because their new store layout is a maze! I used to shop there lots but now on purpose go to Big W.

      • My local one added self checkouts at the front as well so its not as bad as it used to be, but my 3yo loves going to Kmart to “look at princesses” (the princess toys)

  • As someone who worked in retail (phone shop) for many years, my biggest gripe isn’t even on the list.
    It infuriated me when someone would walk into the store at 8:50pm on a Thursday night (late night shopping) and decide they wanted to sign up to a couple of mobile phones and home phone/internet package. Would turn my 12 hour day into a 14 hour day with absolutely no benefit to me at all (wouldn’t get paid for that overtime).

  • And this is exactly why I shop online.

    Don’t want to sell me something at 8:45? Shut the shop at 8:30.
    ‘Can you check out the back?’ is usually from experience with retail staff that are too lazy to check out the back. I would say 75% of the time I have asked this, there IS stock out the back.
    “I’ve been waiting for THIRTY minutes for help” – if this is any major Australian retail store, then it’s probably completely true.

  • My biggest gripe is when people give credit card details on the phone. They say the actual month instead of just a number when saying the expiry. Saying “August 25th instead of a number like 25/08 just waste my time and yours seeing as i have to type in a number anyway.

  • Although, i used to be one of those people who would pick up an item off the shelf that was an empty box, i mostly did it with consoles.

    But come on shops, how hard is it instead of having a whole empty box have a slips of paper you hand to the cashier.

  • The first one about the (not) scanning (in)correctly comes from a Woolworths (also Coles??) policy that they apply to themselves. You can find it displayed near registers sometimes (I used to work for Woolworths).

  • Can’t forget the people who must be convinced that my only job is to sit around and wait for them to need help, as if I have no other duties. Maybe 30 years ago that could have almost been true, but now, in the day and age of more work and less pay? Forget it.

    Had some lady pull an attitude once because I wasn’t there immediately when a cashier paged that the woman needed assistance. It was a quiet hour mid-week so she had to make a snide comment based on the fact that I wouldn’t have been tied up with any other customers. It never occurred to her I guess that I actually have MANY job duties, not just taking care of customers, and even when it’s quiet I still have plenty of work to get done and I’d been tied up in other things; not to mention the loud air overhead where I had been made me miss the first page from the cashier.

    The only up side was that this woman must have realized she sounded like a jerk and surprised me by apologizing before she left.

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