Why I Think “Pretending You Care” is Great

Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook
Norm Feuti
2007 (Hyperion)

I worked in retail for a very long time (almost ten years, starting when I was in high school), and like most people who have done so, I can tell you that it’s a very mixed experience. In some ways it’s really nice – you have flexible hours, often you can have a lot of fun with your co-workers, and very occasionally you get to feel like you really, honestly helped someone. In a lot of ways it’s not so nice – you don’t actually get paid that much and still have to clean up weird things sometimes, retail stores don’t have holidays off so you almost certainly have to work at least some of them, and many, many customers treat retail employees like they are some kind of incompetent hired help that need only be barely tolerated and certainly not treated as human.

Still, we live in a consumer society that has yet to completely forgo the need for brick-and-mortar stores with flesh-and-blood customer service employees to wait on customers hand and foot. As much as I would love to be able to get corporations to realize and appreciate the value of their first-line customer service representatives and salespeople, that’s not going to happen any time soon (in fact, it seems to get worse rather than better every day). Likewise, I’d like to convince customers to keep in mind that the people behind the counters and on the sales floor wearing name tags are normal, regular people just like them who deserve respect. I’d like for it to become understood that when you treat someone well, they will be more likely to give you better service, even if they never meant to give you poor service in the first place. People just like being treated with respect and respond to it.

The best book that I’ve ever found speaking to the experience of working in retail is Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook by Norm Feuti. It is funny and packed full of useful information about working in retail environments. Feuti sprinkles the book with excerpts from the run of his comic strip, Retail, which focuses on the staff of a fictional department store and the things that happen to them. Feuti uses stories from his own experiences working retail as well as stories submitted from readers in creating the comic and that wealth of knowledge clearly contributed to the book as well. The book covers everything from getting hired to the different aspects of the job itself and even common retail myths. There’s even a section on retail employee etiquette (“How Not to Be the One Everybody Hates”).

One thing that I wish is that I had known more about what I was getting into when I started working in retail when I was fifteen. This book would have been perfect. It’s a fun, easy read and it speaks directly to the reader about things that will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked retail. I would absolutely give this book to any teenager working retail, even if they’ve been doing it for a while. Even for the retail veteran, it’s a good read and sort of a comfort. It assures you that your experiences aren’t unique, that the good and the bad of retail happen everywhere, and that maybe if you can laugh at it the bad days won’t be so depressing. And when you’re a teenager, it’s a lot harder to believe that things aren’t depressing or that you aren’t alone. I think this book might even make more of a difference to some teenagers (and even some adults) than Feuti even imagined.

People are what they are. I don’t see customers, as a group, changing for the better any time real soon. There are gems and they stand out and make your day. I still have favorite customers and moments from my experiences that I’m sure I will remember for years to come while most of the bad customers are forgotten. Still, the fact that most hours consisted of ten customers dismissing me out of hand as useless or stupid while one spoke to me as a person isn’t forgotten even if the faces themselves are. In my experience, most retail employees really do care and really are trying to do the best they can, but sometimes, you just have to plaster on a smile and pretend. That’s when you need this book to remind you that you aren’t alone.

- Publisher’s Description
- The Official Retail Community

- Norm Feuti’s Blog

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