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 daughter, Morella.

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