This summer I worked as a brand associate at Athleta, a women’s workout, yoga and athleisure brand, owned by Gap Inc.
While I never imagined myself working as a sales associate, and although it wasn’t the glamourous New York City internship I had envisioned, I feel as though I walked away with an invaluable experience.
I truly believe at some point in life everyone should experience working in either retail or food service. There are countless times we walk into clothing stores, restaurants or grocery stores and witness customers mistreating employees. Working in a retail environment not only taught me personal development skills, but led me to re-evaluate how I treat employees when entering their workspaces.
Never again will you catch me leaving a dressing room messy or taking employees for granted.
Here’s what I learned after my first summer working in retail.
How to work with all types of customers
In a retail environment, you are going to meet a variety of customers with different preferences, needs and wants. In order to accommodate every person who walks through the doors, you must clear the slate each time, making sure to treat everyone as an individual. What helps one customer may serve as a complete turn off to another.
Knowing how to work with customers will ultimately help in any career path. The working world is centered on interacting with all different types of people, and experience in retail will certainly introduce you to every type of person.
While most interactions in a “typical” office job are done over phone calls or via email, gaining face-to-face experience that you do in retail is an extremely valuable addition to your skill set.
While I spent my summer helping women find activewear clothing to help them feel confident, powerful and like a badass b*tch, I believe these skills will translate to my future career in helping my customers feel as though they are receiving the best quality work.
How much work goes on behind the scenes
Odds are when you walk into an Urban Outfitters store to buy a dress for your date party, you aren’t thinking about all the work it took to get that dress into your hands.
Working in retail opened my eyes to how much goes on behind the scenes in every clothing store.
Initially, I assumed I would be out on the floor helping customers the entire time, but boy, was I wrong!
Retail stores have a constant rotation of employees working on the floor, manning the cash register (the MOST difficult thing you could ever learn how to do), and restocking and unpacking shipping orders in the backroom.
The challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the addition of even more roles to be done in the retail industry.Now, all dressing rooms must be wiped down after each customer, all clothing items tried on must be steamed, and additional sanitation and social distancing measures have been implemented throughout stores (as well as wearing a mask at all times– shameless plug for the Athleta masks, the most breathable masks in the game).
Statistics of customers are tracked in each store daily, including how many customers enter each day, how many of those customers actually purchase items, how many items are in each transaction and so on. Each day, the revenue is compared to that of the same day the previous year as a means to track the stores success. Lots of things you would never think of are taken into consideration to evaluate a store’s performance.
Running an efficient store entails way more than having great folding technique and assisting customers. There are many roles that must be filled for the store function at its highest potential.
How turbulent the industry really is
The coronavirus pandemic exposed how ever-changing the retail industry can be. Stores had to entirely remodel, implementing practices to accommodate social distancing measures and ensure a safe experience for customers and employees.
COVID-19 has impacted every facet of life, and I was particularly interested in understanding how it was affecting the retail industry– specifically Athleta.
I found that after months of the store being closed during quarantine, people were more excited than ever to come back in and shop. While you would expect people to be afraid of venturing into stores, customers seemingly trusted the protocols in place and felt safe shopping.
While COVID-19 undoubtedly affected the retail industry negatively, as many people were not shopping for weeks and some were more conscious of their spendings in a downturning economy, there is now an entire new sector of masks being sold.
Every time we received a new shipment of masks, they would sell out within days. The mask industry is certainly one that is here to stay and will change retail for years to come. Who knows, maybe one day there will be entire brands or stores devoted solely to masks!
I had a great experience learning from my fellow employees and managers at Athleta this summer. I highly recommend the retail experience as a way to refine old skills while gaining new ones.