Richmond Proper: On retail etiquette

Someone once said that if you really want to make the world a kinder place, require that all people work one full year in retail. That way people get to see first hand how unmannered and rude people can really be, thus inspiring workers to go into the world with a more munificent demeanor. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. Luckily, we have Richmond Proper to right our wrongs.

The following treatise on shopping etiquette was submitted by a local retail maven who kindly sacrificed some of her time to fighting the good fight. It’s been a few million years since my own foray into working retail, but these tips send all those t-shirt-folding memories flooding back. Read it well, and then go spend all your money at local businesses.

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I prefer bad news first, so I’ll start there.

Do Not

  1. Do not arrive early or stay late. The smaller the business, the longer our individual days, and the shorter our breaks. As a general practice, I never bang on doors before a store opens, and I try to leave other stores at least 10 minutes before closing. Staying late shows that you assume employees do not have obligations after work and that their time is not as valuable as yours.
  2. Do not ask about the security of the store. Even if you are a loyal regular, that is both worrisome and far too invasive. It’s fine to ask if we recommend our security company if you notice the sign, but understand that we might not want to talk about it. Please, please don’t ask how often we use the alarm, if we have a panic button, or if the security camera video records over itself after a certain amount of time. I am immediately creating a police sketch in my head at that point.
  3. Do not assume someone is playing a riveting game of Angry Birds instead of working. I find that when my job requires the phone or computer (and, no, I’m not rudely ignoring anyone), customers go out of their way to interrupt me, often taking time away from an important task. I have received numerous complaints that employees were using their phones, however, store policies should be determined and enforced by the supervisor, not the customer.
  4. Do not call yourself fat, scoff at a size larger than yours, or hold something up and say, “how many people does this fit?” Someone in the store might wear whatever size you are ridiculing, and I cannot put your foot in your mouth for you. You create an uncomfortable environment for someone else who may unconsciously associate that with the store. If you decide to try on a piece of clothing that is too small for your figure, be realistic when it offers some resistance. I once stood two feet from a woman trying on a shirt on the sales floor (see “Do #6,” below) and watched it rip down the front. She asserted the that shirt was poorly made and absolutely refused to pay for it, almost knocking me over in her hurry to leave, as though I might tackle her for her wallet. There’s nothing wrong with your body, and there’s nothing wrong with whatever size you wear, just own what you’ve got and you’ll look divine.
  5. Do not use your phone when checking out. It takes approximately 30 seconds to two minutes to ring you up for a small amount of purchases, but I assure you it will take at least twice as long if we have to interrupt your conversation repeatedly. Or we might just wait patiently until you’re finished gabbing. In fact, having a loud personal phone conversation anywhere in a store is not advisable.
  6. Do not ask for a discount unless you have coupons or a discount code. Do not plead, do not tell me the nice things you have done for others today. Do not tell me how poor you are. And especially do not ask me to call the owner of the retail store to ask their permission to give you a discount for no reason.
  7. Do not assume that retail is an inferior job or not a career; I cannot count the number of people who assume that I am either a student working a side job until I get a “real” job or that I have children and work “for fun.” No one should have to qualify their position! What if their boss is nearby? Need I mention the economy?


  1. Practice preparedness. Check out the website, call the store, or just stop by and ask questions! If you’re lost, we’d love to give you directions. No one gains a thing if you don’t even make it to the store.
  2. Clean up after yourself. If you try on clothes, leave them on hangers (right-side out) in the dressing room or on a rack designated for rejected clothes. It is a much more contained mess than shoving them on a random rack on the sales floor to be discovered later. Better yet, ask where they should go! Often, putting your own things back isn’t as helpful as it seems.
  3. Engage in polite conversation and make eye contact! We listened to your story about the dress you need for “that wedding for the crazy bride whose sister’s boyfriend’s dog’s vet saw this really great movie…” and maybe we’re in the process of recommending a movie that you would love based on that story. We may not have more than a split second for a chat, but when we say more than, “credit or debit?” it’s ok to listen.
  4. Hand us your form of payment. Tossing change or your card our way honestly makes me sad. Think about how it looks, you tossing something towards our patient, outstretched hand. The smallest forms of respect are often the most appreciated.
  5. Understand that our jobs might require a certain customer approach. Some businesses require a certain greeting, counting your items before you try them on, following you around like a lost puppy, or jumping in the fitting room with you. We’re doing our jobs! If we ask if you need any help, you’re allowed to say no. Maybe we can back off, maybe we have to ask again later, but either way we appreciate kind words in response to our kind questions.
  6. Do change inside the dressing rooms. I could write a book on how everyone should practice positive thinking about your own body, but stores are public places and if you find yourself in your undergarments, it’s probably best to slip behind a curtain or door.
  7. Do ask for our opinion, but be prepared for a little honesty. I personally try not to let people leave in things that truly do not flatter their body. Why not suck up to customers regardless? Because you will get home and look in the mirror, or someone else will say something, and your money will be wasted. If I say, “you look amazing, look what that shirt does for your shape,” I want it to never be doubted as truth.
  8. Insist that your children follow your lead, and then set an excellent example. For their benefit, do shop quickly with children who are not also accommodated by the store where you’re shopping. I like when kids come into the store! They make cute faces and I love a chat about Pixar movies. I do not love to see them tearing clothes off of hangers, breaking things, or running their sweet little hands across every smudgeable surface. If your kids hate shopping and take away from your experience, do hire a babysitter or swap afternoons with another parent.

Need some advice or want to share your own harrowing Carytown story? Hit us up at Richmond Proper on Tumblr.

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her husband, Dan, and their two cats.

10 comments on Richmond Proper: On retail etiquette

  1. I have an etiquette request for every retail associate out there, to flip the coin a bit. Do not ONLY be visibly polite to the person in the store who happens to be dressed to appear affluent. If I come in wearing jeans, at the same time as a lady in business casual, and the associate follows her around like a starstruck puppy and totally ignores me (no greeting)…I’m going to take offense and LEAVE. And there have been times I’ve left carrying thousands of dollars I’d planned to spend. It doesn’t matter how snooty your store (in the mall) happens to be. No one likes to be treated like that.

  2. Tobias Funke on said:

    Assume that every local clothing store owner is a West Richmond housewife who got bored and whose store makes little to no money and is entirely financed by their husbands.

  3. Tobias Funke on said:

    All the rest are Richmond hipsters, usually transplants, and their stores are entirely funded by their parent’s money.

  4. I’m flipping the coin too: Don’t act like I’m committing a crime against humanity by having the gall to shop at your store, thereby entering into an unacceptably unbalanced social contract with its employees. Jesus Christ, one of us is paying money for the interaction and one is getting paid – cut it out with the negativity. You’re not a martyr, you just have a shitty job. Not my fault.

  5. Marsha Killington on said:

    Yeah, this is all good advice but it clearly comes from a retailer who thinks she’s God’s gift to the world. Try inhabiting the real world populated with surly, lazy, and abusive clerks like the rest of us do!

  6. Actually, a big part of the “surly, lazy, and abusive clerks” thing is East Coast mentality. I grew up in Northern VA then moved west, to Ohio (not much better), Iowa (totally different) and now Washington state (another planet.) In Iowa, the first time a cashier at a fast food joint greeted me with a smile and pleasantries I was nearly offended. I wondered if she was laughing at me or something. I wanted to say something like “what the F are you lookin’ at??” Turns out people totally do that in the midwest. Like smile and things. Weird. Then the West coast…oh lordy. Every retail worker wants to be your friend. They are darlings, all of them. And there’s a pizza joint up the street where they have “NY style” pizza with “East Coast attitude”…that’s right, they think it’s some sort of novelty…but they still smile way too much to pull it off. Hippies. It’s cute that they try, though. And the pizza IS good. :)

    I don’t know why folks back East hate life so much. There’s a lot to love, especially in Virginia. Too much proximity to DC’s political crap-scape, perhaps?

  7. Hey guys, love the idea of publishing a second edition on etiquette for salespeople! Thanks for sharing your tips.

    And I’m so thrilled that you all took the time to read our previous RP column on trolls:

    I haven’t worked retail in forever, but I felt like this was a great list of very basic common courtesy to use while shopping. A pleasant salesperson is assumed. Perhaps I should have listed that at the top of the article, but silly me, I thought it was implied. If a person can’t be bothered to extend basic, *basic* respect to others, I think that’s okay and none of my business — as long as they agree to live alone, outside of civilization of course. Would love to hear from others who work retail or in the service industry. Any other items we missed?

  8. The Author aka "Local Retail Maven" on said:

    I’d love to know where all of you are shopping that built up this frustration with retail employees! Sounds like a battle to get good service. While I agree with some points, I’ve also had some really excellent shopping experiences with people who love what they do. Tell your friends about places that treat you well, shop there often, and help reinforce good etiquette!

    My point in writing the article was not to put myself (or any retail employee) on a pedestal, but rather to bring to light the issue of employee treatment. For every customer who treats me like a human being, there are 3-5 who do not, and that’s a pretty excellent ratio compared to other jobs in retail. Naturally, clerks should treat customers with respect, and the article was not meant to dispute that fact.

    @Julie1: I wholeheartedly agree with you on the rich customer/poor customer issue. I want to get the same amount of help when I shop whether or not I look like a big spenda (and usually I do not, shopping occurs most often my day off so yoga pants in non-gym settings might happen). Please pull a Pretty Woman next time!
    @guest: Are you implying that all retail jobs are shitty? I quite like mine. Please see “Do Not” #7.

    @Marsha: I’m living in the same world! I just experience both sides of the checkout counter. It appalls me equally if customers or clerks are rude, and my article was to point out the things that customers do that they might not think about. I’m especially aware of the way people treat other customers (ie. “Do Not” #4, “Do” #s 2 & 6) and think that shopping could be improved if clerks are not the only people who care about the comfort of other people in the environment.

    @Julie2: Isn’t it sad when we’re creeped out by a smiling face? Too much Law & Order maybe. When working, I get crazy looks when I ask someone how their day is going. Interactions with people on the street are my main determining factor of the friendliness of a city… Do people say hello or make eye contact, or do they just cross to the other side of the street? It’s a little preview of how you’ll be treated in a store, and I think Richmond fares pretty well compared to a lot of places. I’d love to experience West coasters imitating an “East coast attitude”! Are there any fake NY accents involved?

  9. @Retail Maven:

    No, I haven’t heard them try to imitate the accent, but it would be awesome if they did! The shop is one of those cool local greasy spoon dive sorta places, with pop culture posters from decades past, old arcade machines, and loud music. I guess the employees figure that having to yell at each other over the tunes qualifies as being somehow “East coast attitude”…? But they did get the floppy, greasy pizza right, yum! :D if you ever happen to be in Olympia, WA.

    One thing I love about being a military wife, I get to experience different locales long enough to scratch the surface and see how it really is. My next adventure: Colorado Springs, this December! I’m stoked ’cause I’ll get to make road trips home to VA in the summer. Can’t wait to see how people are in CO, should be interesting!

  10. The Author aka "Local Retail Maven" on said:


    I’m glad you find me pleasant! It counts for so much in retail, so I try to stifle the sass and smile through some pretty terrible situations. It’s *nothing* compared to the abuse endured at an answering service, so I’d like to shout-out to everyone glued to a phone with a screaming person on the other end. I’ve been there! That’s certainly another job everyone should hold at least once, it’s an eye-opener.

    I too would love to hear from other retail and service industry folks. Crazy etiquette stories? Anyone leave you their fortune in their will? (That really happens, right? Because I’m sort of holding out for it.)


    I hope to find myself in WA soon! That beautiful rainy weather! I’m not being sarcastic, I’d love it.

    Colorado Springs is one of my favorite cities! I love Pike’s Peak (hiking it is brutal, the homemade doughnuts at the top are magnificent), it’s near Denver, Cripple Creek, Boulder, etc., and the outdoor opportunities (white water rafting, camping, road trips) are amazing. I honestly don’t remember much about the service, but I assume that is because it wasn’t bad, but you should report back to Richmond Proper with your findings! Maybe a country-wide etiquette report is in your future?

    I appreciate your replies! I hope your travels are safe and lead you to the kindest retail mavens possible.

    “Retail Maven”

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