On Christmas Shopping Etiquette


So it’s about a week till Christmas – all sorted yet? Me too. This year I’ve had the pleasure of working in two retail xmas temp jobs which have been pretty enjoyable on the whole (not least the staff discounts; between both shops I got all my gifts covered). One is a local geeky shop, and the other a branch of a national tea and coffee merchant. (They’ll have to up my pay, though, if they want a proper product placement here.) The only downside is the occasional rude customer. Over the last couple of weeks, though, the number of of them has gone up so much as we get nearer to Christmas. There are some behaviours that I’ve noticed more and more, by people who I’m sure would be polite on any other given day. I get it, you’re stressed and I’m the face of a capitalist machine you feel obliged to visit, but please, I’m human too. (I do really think that everyone at some point should have to work in a shop, bar or restaurant, just to get the experience of customer service. It is a truth universal that those who work in retail are a lot more understanding and patient in other shops’ queues.)

I must stress that about 99% of customers are really lovely, and I’m sure that you, dear reader, are absolutely charming to service staff too, but anyway, here’s a few tips on how to avoid being known as “that wanker” in your local shops. Though there are many lists of this ilk around, here’s my tuppence. (And with the disclaimer that these suggestions assume the assistant you’re dealing with isn’t being an obnoxious dick. Unfortunately, there are some who act like that, and if they are, by all means don’t take it. From personal experience, though, I’ve come across many more tricky/malicious customers than shop assistants…)

  • First off, I am sorry for asking if you’re interested in signing up to anything. Please don’t be affronted, it’s company policy to do this, and yes, it’s awkward for me too. Hey, sometimes they’re useful – if you’ve been telling me about your mother in the US who loves tea and I mention we do international shipping, that’s me trying to be helpful, please don’t shut down and look grumpy at me. Otherwise, a simple ‘nah thanks’ is sufficient.
  • Yes, being greeted is also a little awks but a small hurried smile and hi, or other acknowledgement, is just dandy. Completely ignoring when someone says ‘hello’ just marks you out as an asshole in any social situation.
  • Loud queue-tutting never impressed anybody. It just means people who are around you can see the neon ‘My time is more important than yours because I’m an arrogant wanker’ sign light up above you. Rest assured, if something’s taking a while at the till I’m doing my hardest to sort it quickly, or it’s another customer who – the horror – has as much right as you to take time, and happens to have a large or complicated sale.
  • Can you hold your phone conversation for one minute while I serve you? It’s basic manners. And don’t give me a glare when I interrupt you to ask if you’d like a bag.


  • I appreciate that sometimes prices aren’t clear or you don’t want to move stock to check the bottom of the box, but could you please at least look for the price before you ask me? A lot of the time it is there, somewhere obvious, and alas I do not have all the prices memorized. Similarly, please don’t point to random things and ask me their prices while I’m scanning your order, or serving another customer, because I can’t look up prices and scan at the same time.
  • The above goes for open and closed signs too. Our clocks inside say closing time, we’ve not shut early on a whim. If your watch suggests there’s a minute of shopping time left then tough.
  • Please mention that you’d like a student discount BEFORE you’ve paid for your shopping. I can’t retrospectively give you discount cash back, and I’m honestly not sure how you thought this was going to work.


  • I will try and help you find that item you bought last year and can’t remember the name of, but please don’t make your descriptions as vague as possible and then get annoyed when I can’t work it out. Similarly, if we’ve stopped making it, please don’t shoot the messenger. I get that you’re disappointed but berating me that it was a great item, I’ve let you down and that we should carry the same stock as we did 10 years ago cause you liked it, is not gonna mean I can suddenly remember that we’ve got one special one left in the stockroom. We haven’t.
  • Also the stockroom is not that big warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s tiny, and just holds more stock of whatever’s already out (and the bodies of customers who tested our patience…). If I’ve checked the system and we ain’t got none left in there, you telling me to look in the stockroom means I will just go and have a minute-long break. Ta.
  • “Why’ve you sold out? I really liked that drink!” You weren’t the only one, hence we are sold out.
  • Tip: if there’s an item on the shelf, and more of that item behind it in boxes or packaging, then please take the boxed item to the till. The open one is for display and it saves me the hassle of running and grabbing the boxed one while the till queue increases. Also, you don’t get an item that’s had everyone’s fingers all over it. Don’t harrumph at me, I’m helping you get something nice.
  • For the love of God, please follow the instructions on the pinpad. Please don’t put your card in or take it out too early, because some machines are temperamental and this can totally scramble them. Pulling your card out early also stops payment, and then you’re gonna get grumpy at me for having to put it through again. Don’t blame the pin machine, it was doing its job. You weren’t. And I bet now, when skynet happens, you’re on the naughty list.

Looks like they’re cracking on. (Pic from vitamin-ha.com )

  • If I say we can’t get the last one of a certain item because it’s in the window display, please believe me. I’m not being lazy, I really would like to lighten your wallet and sell you things. I will have tried to feasibly get the thing out of the display, so if I say we can’t get it out without wrecking the whole window then I’m not lying.
  • I hate this Christmas song too. Thanks for bringing my attention back to it.
  • By all means, continue a family argument at the till, but please don’t try and bring me into it. I don’t care who pays as long as someone does. (FYI, teenagers, you aren’t as grown up and impressive as you think you look when you’re talking back to your folks. Your stroppiness is adorable. Bless you.)

This is you. (Pic from Pinterest.)

Happy holiday shopping!

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