August 24, 2015

Beatrix Payge

Customer buying food at supermarket and making check out with cashdesk worker in store

When I think of shopping I think of friends and fun or frustration when I can’t find anything I like. I think of helpful sales assistants who can sometimes be a little pushy, but who generally seem to be happy to be at work. Well, as happy as sales assistants can be when they’ve probably spent at least part of their day dealing with nasty customers.

Since I started working at a bakery last year, I can tell you that it is quite absurd how angry people get over bread. I had no idea that bread could be so instrumental to the happiness of first world people. Seriously, the reaction from some customers who haven’t been able to get the loaf or rolls or scroll that they want is ridiculous. One of my colleagues had a hot cross bun thrown at her face because she was made to slice it while it was still hot, and unsurprisingly it came out mangled, which was not a suitable condition for it to be in at all. My colleague had already told this to the customer who had refused to listen. Amazingly enough we don’t try to be annoying and to try and refute the statement that ‘customers are always right’ (though this is used to show how customers should be treated by sales staff, it is used to reiterate the sense of self entitlement some customers have). There actually tends to be a reason behind why we can and can’t do certain things.

Where I work, the bakers aim to have the ovens turned off by 12-12:30pm, yet the store is open until 9pm on weeknights and 8pm on weekends. This means that depending on what the customers buy, we sell out of things throughout the day. We have no way of knowing what will be sold out, or what time they will sell out. Some customers accept this quickly and easily, while others don’t seem to understand. Here is an exchange that I have had with many different customers way too many times:

Customer: Hi can I please have [insert type of bread, roll or scroll here]?

Me: Sorry, but we’ve sold out of that today.

Customer: What do you mean you’ve sold out?

(Internally) Me: ……… what?

It’s a bit like I can’t really make it any clearer why we don’t have whatever the customer is asking for. One customer asked me to make the loaf of bread they were asking for. Making just one type of bread can take almost a couple of hours, which includes mixing the dough, letting it rest and then cooking it, and this is by people who do it for a living. I have never made a loaf of bread in my life, so it would take even longer. The bread then needs time to cool down before it can be sliced. This also happened to be nearly 8 o’clock at night. When I then told this customer that I couldn’t do this, they stormed off huffing like a four year old who has had their favourite toy taken off of them. Because not being able to get a loaf of bread, which mind you there was another very similar loaf for sale that I had suggested, is absolutely unacceptable when the shop is meant to be able to psychically predict exactly how much of each type of bread is needed on any given day.

Contrary to popular belief, there is not endless amounts of stock at the back of the store. I have friends who work in retail stores who also experience this assumption, though it is slightly different for my work. Sometimes there is extra stock out the back in the bakery, particularly when the bakers are still there and even sometimes late into the afternoon when we haven’t brought all of the stock out to the front. However, eventually everything is either sold or out front waiting to be sold. This means that no, I cant just ‘nip out the back and check’. When I say there is no more extra stock out the back, I mean there is actually no more stock out the back and no amount of asking me to go check is not going to make it magically appear.

Yes, there are lovely customers that I interact with every time I work and I love having a chat with these people and yes, I also do know that there are retail and sales assistants out there who are horrible and extremely unhelpful because I have also had to deal with them. However, being nasty to retail and sales staff will get you nowhere. Instead, nasty customers make my job much more difficult than it should be and then they become the butt of jokes and stories that I tell to family and friends over dinner. That’s the real legacy of nasty customers.


Beatrix Payge is an Arts student at La Trobe University. She likes writing, reading, pondering the meaning of life, watching movies/TV shows and planning her future trips abroad.


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