The worst parts of working in retail over Christmas

Those working overnight trade, I salute you.

As Christmas approaches a mere 32 hours away, so too do the swarms of buyers heading to the nearest shopping centre en masse. 

It’s a tough gig, working in retail over the holiday season. 

I’d imagine it’s not dissimilar to fighting in a war zone, except the people walk slower and everyone wants a refund without proof of purchase.

I know, because I’ve worked in retail the majority of my post-high school years and would call myself a veteran. I’ve stared down the barrel of a Chadstone Shopping Centre 24/7 shift and have come out the other side. I’ve learnt the hard way that people are just generally the worst. I’m all the better for it. But it wasn’t pretty.

As we arrive at the dreaded overnight trade that December 23 inevitably brings, here is a list of the worst parts of working retail over Christmas. Period.

Everything is messy, all the time

Forget those crop tops you’ve spent tireless hours colour-coordinating, you may as well just cut to the chase and sprawl them across the floor. Christmas shoppers are basically wild coyotes searching for a piece of meat, and that meat is a khaki pinafore dress in a size 8. 

Boxing day sales – that now conspicuously start waaaay before the day after Christmas – are the absolute worst for this. Finding the floor among the cotton tee carnage becomes a hopeless endeavour. Just like my holiday fave Home Alone 2 tells us, people are filthy animals and Christmas time brings out the inner slob in everyone.  

Being forced to listen to Christmas carols on an endless loop 

It’s the most wonderful time of year. Is it mate? 

I’ve found, instead, it’s the time of year at which retail workers are stuck within a nonstop inescapable cycle of Christmas carols. Sure, the everyday shopper may look forward to such seasonal tunes. And admittedly, hearing ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ the first time is fab. 

But by the 41st time, boredom quickly crosses over to red-blooded rage-filled and eventually the sounds of sleigh bells and drummer boys start to drill a hole in your skull. 

This is especially bad when it hits 5am and you haven’t slept since you can’t remember when.

Dealing with constant, inane questions 

It sometimes feels like as Christmas nears, shoppers’ IQs drop and people just become, well, stupid. The kind of questions that we, as retailers, must withstand is ridiculous. For example: 

“Is parking always this difficult?”

“Can you tell me what’s going on sale for Boxing Day?”

“If I buy it today, can I bring it back on Boxing Day and put it through as sale price?”  

“Can I buy a gift card with my gift card?”

“Can I pay for each of these outfits individually and get a separate receipt for each?” 


Everyone assumes you do gift wrapping 

This does my head in. No matter which store you work in, customers expect you to be a gift wrapping extraordinaire. Like we’re not busy enough putting through a zillion transactions per minute with a can-do attitude.

No, that gift wrapping section you passed on your way here was not a Christmas mirage. Just because my hair is covered in glitter and I’m slightly enveloped in tinsel from the window display, doesn’t mean I can wrap your presents. Unless you want them covered in my tears. 

Screaming children and distracted mothers

It doesn’t seem to matter where you work. There will be kids and they will be everywhere. Mums become distracted by never-ending present lists, while their screaming children run wild through the shopping centre, demonically possessed with Christmas spirit. It’s a sight reminiscent of Children of the Corn

However, there’s a strong argument to suggest that demonic children at Christmas time are not half as bad as The Prams.

The Prams are planted down every aisle. You can’t walk more than 10 feet without tripping The Prams. Worse still, The Prams are often attached to mothers that have no intention of moving or acknowledging your presence as a human person. A human person that needs to move throughout the store, rather than stay cornered inside a change room.

To stop yourself going completely nuts, you have to drown your sorrows in your 56th coffee of the day. 

I never used to hate Christmas. But the longer I’ve dealt with intolerable shoppers over the holiday season, the more inclined I’ve been to replace their purchases with a pile of coal. 

Tara Watson is a Melbourne-based journalist and editor. Follow her on Twitter at @tara_watson_ 

Illustration by Twylamae

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