Working in retail can certainly be challenging at times, if you work or have ever worked in retail you know what I mean! In this article, I will explain from my experience as a full-time University Student, how working in an electronics store in a sales environment, helped me and why it’s ideal if you’re either looking for your first job, you’re a student looking for a part-time job or you’re looking to change your career. In order for you to understand in more detail, I will begin with my story…
When I started University I found myself looking for a part-time job, being a tech enthusiast and a Computing Student I was hoping to find something relating to that so I decided to apply to my local electronics store. Having no retail experience what so ever I was doubtful whether I will get the job. A couple of days have past since I submitted my application, I eventually received the phone call I was waiting for and I got the interview. I was over the moon.
Naturally I was very nervous about going to the interview, especially since it involved a testing me out on the shop floor, but I was driven by motivation and this quote…
Every Mountain Top Is Within Reach If You Just Keep Climbing– Barry Finlay
As you can probably guess, I got the job, after all, I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t get the job. I aced the interview, that’s what my new colleagues told me anyway
The first couple of months
On my first day, I arrived as this little shy boy with no retail experience, but I thought to myself “I need to do this” and that’s what kept me motivated. I think to myself these days, I don’t know why I felt this way as it turned out better than I thought. I soon learned a valuable lesson of what selling means as, for some reason, I always believed selling something like a laptop meant to advise the customer, take it to the till where the customer would pay for it and that’s the end of the transaction. I was wrong as the colleague I was shadowing on my first week said: “They’re already here to buy a laptop, your job is to sell”. In other words, I had to learn to persuade customers, to buy something they might find useful with that laptop such as antivirus software. The colleague I was shadowing was very good at their job and I can definitely say I learned a lot, especially how to provide the customer with a personal service to meet their expectations.
After a few days of shadowing, I got put on the Audio and Accessories department, which according to my manager, was easier to get me started selling on my own as there were fewer targets to hit. That’s where I spent my first couple of months. I can honestly say that I enjoyed it, I was demonstrating speakers such as Sonos, radios, soundbars and many other gadgets. At the same time, I learned to sell additional services, which might aid the customer, services such as insurance and cables.
It taught me to always go the extra mile
I soon found out that it wasn’t all fun and games, especially since people are different, they have different beliefs and not all customers understood what you were trying to explain, maybe because they saw it in a different way to me. For example, when a customer thinks they know more than you, which I’m sure that in many cases they did, especially if it’s a tradesperson buying for their job. But the point I’m trying to make is about customer’s who look down at you thinking they know more than you when they obviously don’t. For example, an elderly couple wanted to buy a compact camera to take on holiday with them, naturally, since the camera did not come with an SD card I asked them whether they had one, to which their reply was “What’s that?” I explained that it’s used to store photos instead of film. To which their reply was “My son is a photographer and he said that we don’t need that because digital cameras have it built-in”. I was faced with the difficult decision of having to explain to them that the built-in storage is only enough for one or two photos however I was lucky enough to show them with a live display model which they appreciated. Or in another, example it was common for customers to buy brand new TV’s and DVD players and under every circumstance, refuse to buy an HDMI lead, connect the two with an old Scart lead and come back to complain that the picture quality was poor and after you demonstrate the difference only then do they believe you even if you already explained the difference. The overall point I’m trying to make is that you can try your best at making things right for the customer, but customers won’t always appreciate what you are trying to do at first which is why going the extra mile works well. This is one of the first and most important lessons I learned working in retail and it’s something I now do naturally without even thinking about it, simply because I had so much practice on the shop floor.
Troubleshooting difficult situations
As in many industries, you will face difficult situations which you have to learn to deal with to the best of your ability. Playing around with computers, learning how they work and fixing them whilst at College enabled me to learn the basics of troubleshooting problems. It wasn’t until I started working in retail that I learned the true meaning of troubleshooting problems. I soon learned that my job involved two types of troubleshooting including troubleshooting to learn the customer’s needs and troubleshooting to fix an actual problem. For example, in order for me to recommend a printer, the customer would be happy with, I need to ask questions to gain a better understanding of the customer’s printing needs, I need to know whether the printer is for occasional, moderate or constant use because there’s no good in me recommending a basic printer to a customer who needs to print every day. Based on questions like that I was able to recommend suitable products.
There also were situations which were actual problems, for example, a customer could have been unsatisfied with a product or service they have received or the price of an item they were looking to buy for many weeks went up. These things happen and whilst the customer may be understanding they may also be extremely frustrated. When I used to work there, even I had occasions where I was looking to buy something for some time and when I finally decide to buy it, the sale was over, it’s life. But in these circumstances, you learn to gain the customers trust back by doing what you can to solve the issue. You learn to troubleshoot, for example, if the product they were after was a fridge, you may say “I’m afraid that the price has changed now, but there is another similar fridge on sale” and you take them to that fridge, they may like it better or they may hate it, if they hate it, you recommend another fridge or if your company has the ability, you can offer them another way of paying such as a buying it on finance. I could go on, but as long as the customer can see that you are trying for them they should appreciate you.
It was through troubleshooting difficult situations where the customer was frustrated, I learned to provide outstanding customer service and I know that my customer service skills are good because I’ve been told by many customers on the shop floor and many clients in my current job which is nothing to do with retail. I can confidently say that I learned to become a troubleshooter due to this type of experience in retail.
Targets were a big thing in the organisation I worked for, I can’t speak for other retail environments as the only retail experience I ever had was in this store, but from what I found online targets are a big thing in retail and many other industries, to be honest. It’s what drives staff to do their best. However, I’m mentioning targets for a reason and that reason is that by working to meet targets, I was able to understand where I am, what works and what doesn’t, for example, I learned that making the customer smile or even laugh gained their confidence and as I mentioned before, I learned that customers appreciate it if you go the extra mile. The targets I had can be a number of things which the customer might find useful such as selling a cooker installation service with a cooker or insurance. I would recommend setting SMART targets, this is something I learned at University and it means…
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Attainable
- R – Realistic
- T -Timely
SMART provided me with a framework which enabled me to succeed. This is something that I learned to use by default in any type of work I am doing
So what has all this got to do with helping my career prospects?
Like it states above, you’re probably thinking to yourself how can what I mentioned above actually improve my career prospects? Well, These are the ingredients to success and I quickly found that out in my new job, wait what, your new job?
My new job
Unfortunately, since I was and still am studying a 4-year sandwich course at University with a 12-month work placement in the third year, I was forced to resign after two years because working at the store on the Weekends along with a Monday to Friday, 9 to 17:00 full-time job and doing coursework alongside my placement would have been too much for me to handle.
My placement was also in a field that interests me and that was IT, I became a full time IT Support Placement Student where from the start colleagues, and clients were commending me on my good customer services skills. In fact, within the first three months, I was nominated for an award 4 times! for outstanding customer service, which I can honestly say was due to the skills I learned working in the electronics store. In fact, even though, my 12-month work placement has finished, my manager has asked me to stay on part-time. It says something right?
My thoughts and recommendations
I honestly believe that working in retail, in a sales environment has helped me get where I am today. I was able to build my confidence up, learn new methods of working and most importantly of all, it has provided me with the knowledge of how to provide excellent customer service and going the extra mile. Sure, there were bad days, but there were also good days and at the end of the day I arrived as a little shy buy with next to no experience and I came out as a confident man. Yes, I know two years hasn’t given me as much experience compared to working there for 4 or 5 years, but any experience you get is good experience which you can use later in life.
If you are looking for your first job, starting University or just want to change career paths, I highly recommend getting a job in a retail sales environment, there are good times and there are bad times but it’s experience at the end of the day!
By the way, I left the name out of the organisation for a reason!
Have you ever worked in retail or maybe you currently work in retail, what are your thoughts on this?