Shopping Smart/Work/Life Balance

4 Observations I Made While Working In Retail, & How They Made Me Better With Money

By | Wednesday, April 10, 2019

1. A lot of people don’t know what they are looking for when they walk into the mall, and therefore end up with stuff they don’t need.

When I worked at a large department store, I would see the same people coming in daily, leading me to wonder what requirements a person has if they need to come into the same store several times a week. I came to realize that for a lot of people, going to the shopping mall was just an activity within their day, and they weren’t necessarily there with any type of purpose. They were just looking for something to do out of boredom. But they always walked out with at least one purchased item.

In the past, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of going to the mall out of boredom. And as a result, I was way too receptive to the glowing neon signs of never-ending stores and way too willing to let the pretty window displays tell me what I was missing from my life. But working in retail put me on the other side of the register and allowed me to see those shopping habits play out in front of me. It made me really eager to be a planner when it comes to going shopping and motivated me to decide that I would only ever go shopping if I had a clear idea of what stores I needed to visit, and what products I intended to buy.

I try to apply the same principle to online shopping, and only go on a browsing-spree when there is a specific item that I have in mind to purchase.

2. Many people aren’t happy about spending big on holidays and special occasions — but do it anyway out of tradition or expectation.

Whenever big events such as Christmas, Easter, or even kids’ birthday parties would come up, I would constantly hear customers uttering how expensive these occasions are, and I would see them cringe at the total price for all of their decorations and gifts. You could see on their face that they weren’t excited about spending their hard-earned money on table confetti shaped as snowflakes that would end up in the trash, neither were they ever thrilled about taking home packets of balloons that would soon be slipping out of the hands of children and floating off to land in an ocean somewhere.

In retail, I would constantly be serving resentful customers whose precious dollar bills were being pried from their hands by societal expectations. Observing this really inspired me to have a conscious approach to gift-giving for holidays and birthdays. For Christmas, my extended family decided on a system where we would each buy one gift for one other person in the family, and the gift would be chosen from a wish list. There would be no more generic body lotion gift sets wrapped under our family tree! For hosting and decorating, I’ve learned to put more focus on creating a great atmosphere with things such as a curated playlist or a perfectly presented spread of food, instead of going out to buy decorations that will likely only be used for a one-off occasion. It’s way more fun and personal that way, plus it’s better for the environment!

3. People will buy extreme and unnecessary amounts of something if they think they are getting a good deal.

While working in retail, nothing sent me into an existential crisis more than seeing people blindly filling up their baskets with stuff that was cheap or on sale. When you hear the conversation behind the scenes about tactics to get people to buy more products, such as offering multi-buy deals, or putting sale products by the entrance to entice people into the store, it really makes you realize how manipulated we are into parting with our money. I would see how crazy people would become over the idea of getting themselves a bargain. Suddenly they found it reasonable to buy seven baking trays, three printers, and eighteen packets of ballpoint pens, simply because the items were advertised as being on sale.

I’m guilty myself of being drawn towards shop windows and aisles with “SALE” signs screaming out at me, but I’ve learned to not let the idea of getting a bargain distract me from making the conscious decision about whether I will actually get value out of the product. After all, no matter how cheap something is, it’s still taking precious dollars out of my bank account.

4. A ton of people get buyers remorse.

Remember those people I told you about who would buy copious amounts of half-price baking trays? Well, the funny thing is that I would often see those same people the next day at the returns counter. Customers would come back on so many occasions to get a refund after making the delayed decision that they didn’t actually need all that stuff they had bought. Many customers would be candid about the fact that they got home and realized they went sale-crazy. It would have saved them a lot of time if they made a more conscious spending decision the day before. Instead, they have to venture back to the shopping mall, queue for a refund, and face the risk of being enticed to do more browsing and spend more money!


Working in retail and watching the spending habits of hundreds of people every day really taught me a lot about what makes people fill their baskets, and it motivated me to put more thought into the products I choose to trade my hard-earned pennies for. If we view shopping as an activity to go out and do with purpose and not something we just “do” to cure boredom or fill a void, then it’s more likely we will only come home with items that we will actually value and not regret buying.

Chloe is a writer from Australia who is passionate about culture, travel, style, and letting her curiosity lead her through life. You can find her lifestyle blog here.

Image via Unsplash

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