Customer Etiquette


I wrote this back when I worked in retail. Start your Thanksgiving holiday off with a good laugh, and remember, retail workers are people, too!

Customer Etiquette: 10 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer

As you gear up for your holiday shopping spree, keep in mind that as soon as you step foot inside a store you cease to be an average law-abiding citizen and you instantly become a dreaded customer who is the cause of raised blood pressures amongst retail workers everywhere.

But you don’t have to be a loathsome customer. You can make the decision right now to be a customer who takes retail workers by surprise and actually walks in and out of the store with little or no lasting consequence to anyone. Below are ten tips to help you be that most coveted, invisible customer. Remember, it’s not because retail workers don’t like you as a person, they just don’t want to deal with you as a customer!

1. If someone is wearing a nametag, don’t ask if they work there.

Do you ask Will Ferrell if he’s an actor? Do you ask a monkey if he’s an exhibit at the zoo?

2. Look for your product, not for a worker.

Sure, you might be in a hurry, but you’d be surprised how easy things are to find in many stores.  In fact, positions are held at corporate levels specifically designed to determine in-store placement of every product to help make your shopping experience as quick and easy as possible.

3. If you have to ask, at least know what you’re asking for.

Retail workers don’t want to shop with you and you shouldn’t expect them to. Don’t ask their opinion on what toy Johnny would like best. They’ve never seen Johnny, and they don’t care what you get him as long as you buy something. If you’re looking for a book, know the title and – equally important – the author. If you simply give the description of the cover, then know that when you’re laughing with somebody at your Christmas party, someone’s laughing at you at theirs.

Helpful hint: If you can’t read your child’s wish list, don’t expect anyone else to be able to. Confirm items in question with your child or just get them a spelling workbook for their stocking.

4. Don’t interrupt someone’s work to ask a question.

If a worker’s arms are full while balancing on the top step of a ladder, be considerate; don’t bother them with your question. Instead, if you find yourself approaching that dutiful worker, stop and ask yourself three things: 1) Will I look like a jerk for interrupting this person’s work? 2) Is there anyone else I can ask? 3) Have I exercised tip 3 on this list?

5. Be patient. Retail workers understand you have to shop. Please understand that they have to help everybody else.

Yes, yes, I know you’re a customer, but still, the world does not revolve around you, and despite that old slogan, you’re not always right. No one wants to see your impression of Scrooge. If you’re going to be pushy, impatient, or irreverent, then stay home and don’t come out until you can at show some Christmas cheer.

Helpful hint: If you’re showing signs of aggression or odious behavior, a cunning retail worker will recognize this and deliberately take their time with the customer ahead of you. Yes, just to tick you off even more.

6. Just because someone is wearing a nametag does not give you permission to call them by their name.

Retail workers do not choose to have their name displayed on their shirt; it’s company policy. Do not, I repeat, do not repeatedly use their name in a conversation or to get their attention lest they think you’re going to stalk them on Facebook. Despite what you’ve heard from so-called experts, it’s really the creepiest thing in the world and you will be resented for it. Only if the worker offers you their name are you permitted to address them by such.

7. Open your eyes. Read the signs. Follow the directions.

If you’re standing in the checkout line waiting to ask the cashier a customer service question, you are sorely misusing your time. But do the world of retail (and the customers behind you) a favor while you’re standing there. Look at all the large-print signs they put up just for you and consider for the next few minutes whether you should really yield to their directions. When the cashier doesn’t leave her register unattended to lead you to where you want to go, don’t throw a fit. Instead, reflect on the valuable lesson you learned about time management.

8. Cell phone usage… where do I start?

Other than advising customers to use their inside voice (no one wants to hear about your digestive disorders or how your boyfriend hates your cats), I’m just going to address one overlooked issue out of the plethora of misuses with this devise. You might be able to afford that fancy phone you’re showing off, but that retail worker you’re refusing to hang the phone up for is likely struggling through college or has been affected by the economy (hence, they’re working in retail). You don’t need to show your fancy gadgets off to them. Hang up the phone and speak to them as an equal human being.

Helpful Hint: Bluetooths make you look like you’re talking to yourself. Sensible people will mock you.

9. Put things back where you found them!

Retail workers are not maids. They have enough to do without cleaning up your messes (really, they do). Throw your trash away. If you can’t remember where you found an item, return to the general area, stare at the shelf and match the picture of the item in your hand with the item on the shelf. Don’t place it next to, or on top of it. Instead, place the product directly in front of the matching item. If you don’t know how to match pictures and put things back where you found them, then find a time machine, go back in time and repeat kindergarten.

10. If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, don’t take them to court.

No one celebrates every holiday observed in December, so “happy holidays” is not an applicable greeting for anyone (plus, it just sounds like some sappy Hallmark special). If someone wishes you a happy Hanukkah and you don’t observe Hanukkah, don’t take offense – just feel free to wish them merriment and joy in the name of the particular festivity you represent.

Merry Christmas!

Want a free ebook? Here you go! My gift to you.

Stressed about dealing with your family this holiday season? Read this helpful post by Dr. Russell Moore. 

Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

56 thoughts on “Customer Etiquette

  1. /gasp you wished me a Merry Christmas!
    I’m offended! Merry Christs-mass indeed!

    🙂 Merry Christmas back at you. I have seen Sarah thank workers by their name and even seen her tell a manager how nice so-and-so was to her by name. I will have to tell her about the good customer rules.

    Silly shopper names are for tags! 😀


    1. Personally this is an automatic thing for me I just assumed everyone said please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am no ma’am. Basic manners 101. Good addition but make it #11 remember your manners please and thank you are great additions to your vocabulary.


    2. Always a nice touch. It’s weird to me that people don’t just automatically do that. Maybe we’re just old-fashioned?


  2. One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. I personally don’t like how employees are expected to bend over backwards and do ridiculous things all in the name of “customer service.” If you’re a successful enough business, you can tell those customers who request or demand excessively special treatment to jog on. In fact, I wish more places of business would.


    1. Actually the places with the best service in the world and the most satisfied customers (Like L L Bean) will never tell you to jog on. If you can’t handle a request for help perhaps customer service is the wrong line of work for you. I am in Information Systems Security and as such service the needs of my customers (fellow employees, vendors, ect..) I am polite and helpful to all reguardless how stupid the request maybe. To me I treat everyone as I would like to be treated.
      1) Assume the person honestly doesn’t know and needs help
      2) Do you best to help them
      3) Thank them for coming to YOUR business after all they pay your paycheck.
      4) Not everyone knows everything about what they seek. Look at the grand mother looking for an iPod fr her grandkid?

      Everyone needs manners and everyone deserves equal respect even if you think they are expecting the unexpected orabsurd.


      1. 1. L.L. Bean may be at the forefront of customer service for you, but that is not even in the top 10 list of companies that come to mind when someone mentions “customer service” or “customer satisfaction.” Regardless, the fact of the matter remains. To be a successful business, one does not need to pander excessively to every whim of every customer. And, in fact, it would be foolish to do so. There’s a large chasm between customer service and lunacy. I have no problem providing excellent customer service; however, I refuse to participate in lunacy.

        2. I do treat my customers how I expect to be treated. I expect them to understand that it is a place of business, not a daycare or a charity organization or a hang out spot. I expect them to have some kind of knowledge about the product or service they are seeking, even if it’s rudimentary. I expect them to be quick and efficient just as I will try to be quick and efficient in assisting them. If these standards are too high for the average customer to meet, that is on them and not on me. I hold myself to these standards and follow them religiously; they can too.

        3. I don’t instruct you on the proper documentation process for logging tickets or the proper methods for troubleshooting a potentially faulty information system or piece of software. Please do not insult my intelligence and experience by actually giving me guidelines to follow with customers. Thank you.


    2. I used LL bean as an example rated number 1 for more than 15 years by Forbes, rated number 1 many years by cocummer report, they receive countless awards for customer service year in and year out.

      My point were that points. Judging by how upset you got I’d say I am happy you are responsible for my service. /

      Maybe one of the points hit home? Not everyone is an expert on everything. Sometimes they want a TV and honestly don’t know 1080i vs 1080p or 720p vs 1080p. Maybe they just want a good TV and some education. Sorry but I take the time it takes to please my customers. I don’t rush them or belittle them ever. Is it nice when they know what they want? Yup sure it is. But do they always? Not a chance. Each still deserves my best.

      Thanks for reading enjoy your shopping experience.


  3. This is a fantastic compilation of all of the things I wish I could have said to my customers! I worked retail for years and was always frustrated by the sheer audacity of many of the guests. Needless to say, my experiences have given me a deep sense of appreciation and understanding for those still stuck in the retail grind, especially during the holidays. May your words of wisdom make those who haven’t had to cater to the shopping masses more empathetic!


  4. This reminded me of a time at the holidays when I was in a Half-Price Books and I overheard a customer asking for help with book such-and-such. Of course, the customer had no idea who the author was. The befuddled worker says, “OK, any idea what category that would be in? Is it a mystery or romance or just fiction?” I swear to you, the man said “Well, it’s almost fiction.” I tuned it out then. My heart went out to that poor worker. Almost fiction indeed.


    1. Perhaps he was shopping for a book for someone else and forgot the name? Perhaps he has altimers or some other short term memory issue? There are a million reason he may have needed more help. It seems stupid but perhaps there is a reason. The odds are that he wasn’t intentionally being a jerk.


      1. I hate to point this out, cause you’re a very sweet lady and I agree with nearly all the points you make, but I can’t stand it…

        The disease is called “Alzheimers”

        It’s common mistake, but I can’t pass up a chance to correct it.
        Happy Holidays, and Happy Belated Birthday.


  5. My husband works in retail, for a large chain Pet supply store (you can probably figure it out) and MAN alive the stories I hear when he comes home, especially around the holidays…ugh! I agree 120% with everything you’ve put here! Many years ago I found a bumper sticker that said ” I know there’s a Hell, I work in Retail” at the holidays this is applicable!


  6. I only spent a couple of holiday seasons in retail (in high school- thank God it was in the days when i still had patience.) On the flip side I spent six years in a busy restaurant locate in a mall parking lot- I think you have just inspired me to write about how to treat your food service workers during the holidays. It may be on a different level, but people are just as nasty when they go to eat. I don’t feel much like working yet so maybe that’s what I will do now. Great blog!


    1. There is often no reason to be rude though I can say I’ve had rude service in restaraunts. One waitress was especially rude being deaf I wrote what I wanted (neatly on the napkin complete with potatoes w/ gravy, my selection of vegiatable and soup French onion) and she got snippy saying too good to talk to me and called me a B_tch. Needless to say I walked to the manager told her the story (On paper of coruse) point to my server and left. Politeness goes both ways to. Customers who are rude are infuriating at times but again I treat even those as I’d like to be treated always. I say please and thank you, yes sir/ma’am no sir/ma’am. Maybe that is why are work on peer reviews i always score high 90% when the average for my department is 75%. /shrug


      1. I’ve honestly never been rude to a guest in a restaurant I worked at. The things that bother me most are lines like, “sorry I cant afford to tip you. It is the holidays you know?” Or who think on black friday they shouldn’t have to wait to be seated/ that their food should be out quicker than is possible (without being raw) because they have too much to do. These people that dont know how to act determine servers income. That is the difference in the two to me. 2.13/hr in my state is server pay and taxes eat that part up. Off topic one of my fave guests ever was deaf – I cant speak sign language but I learned the alphabet and a few other words for her- we’d pass notes the whole meal whether she needed something or I just had a joke- even recovered her service when the host offered her a braille menu…


        1. Wasn’t suggesting you were rude. Please don’t think that. I was just pointing out polite goes both ways. I have seen rude guests and even seen the sorry not enough money excuse. That is rude indeed.


  7. Interesting article. Most of your points make perfect sense. However, I never thought about the name tag/first name conundrum. I call the checkers at my local grocery by name on purpose. That purpose is to let them know that I appreciate their service and recognize them as a fellow human being worthy of consideration and respect. Having worked in CR I have to say I was never offended that someone took the time to read my name tag and use my name in. It never occurred to me that they had some creepy secret knowledge or that they were stalking me. I thought that they read my name tag.
    Not that I disagree with the post. People on both sides of the customer service counter are often incredibly selfish and rude, and the balance of rudeness is probably heavier on the customer side. Human nature combined with stress is often a recipe for such things. It’s just that, on that particular point, I wonder if it isn’t a bit unreasonable to expect people not to use the only name for a service representative that they’ve been given? What would be a better alternative? I don’t feel that, “hey you,” is polite either.


    1. I’d suggest saying, “Excuse me” and then introducing yourself. Some customers did that for me, and it broke down all barriers, and I shared my name as well and we ended up talking for forever and finding common ground!


      1. Ok, that’s an alternative. My objection is this: granted, they are probably delightful people who would make great friends, but there is a time and place for everything, and I can’t see myself assuming they have time, while working, to stand and chat with me, nor that their boss would like it if they did. The last thing I want is to get someone in trouble. I have, on the other hand, used the name I read on the name tag to let said boss know that he/she has an exemplary employee. Would the employee object if I used their first name to do that, do you suppose?

        I don’t mean to sound overly intense about this, but the idea that a person would be offended that I made use of the name on their name tag to thank them strikes an uncomfortable chord with me. It seems to me that people are entirely too quick to assume offense where none was intended. If they had their last name on their name tag, I would say Mr. or Ms. (Insert last name here.) but, as they don’t, and I’m probably just wanting to thank them for their assistance, I don’t think striking up a long term conversation when they are presumably busy trying to work, is the polite thing to do.
        Of course, it occurs to me that some people might use the name to be unkind, and I agree that no one should do that, but my Mama always taught me that gratitude should be real and personal. In the shopping world, that’s hard to do without attaching a name – or at least it seems that way to me.


        1. Some good points you bring up. I think maybe I had too many customers use my name maliciously or it was just way forced and just didn’t feel natural, so it was off-putting.


  8. I like the list, but I don’t see anything wrong with “Happy Holidays”.

    Even though no one celebrates all the winter holidays there are in fact more than one holiday per year that someone will likely celebrate and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again, so that gives me a chance to also wish them a happy easter, valentines day, arbor day and 4th of july (or whatever else they may choose to celebrate for the rest of their lives) in one full swoop…

    at least that’s what I mean by Happy Holidays.

    By the same token, sometime I’ll say “Happy Belated Birtday” to people when I first meet them, just to cover my bases and get on their good side right away, cause everyone you meet has had a birthday, and if you just met them, chances are you missed it.


  9. Some great tips. One wonderful thing about knowing the salesperson’s name is … when you get a survey from the store, or have an occasion to talk to their boss, you know who to compliment. I’ve done that because I’ve been both a shopper and a salesperson. 🙂


  10. After working for 10 years in retail myself, I got a chuckle out of this. Thank you for the laugh. I remember standing at the cash register many times with a line of people behind them and they expect me to leave and show them where the shampoo is! lol! 🙂 Merry Christmas to you too. PS the shampoo is in the Health and beauty section, See the big sign , OK?


  11. Whenever I shopped during my lunch time, I did not remove my name tag. On several occasions I was asked for assistance. Sometimes I could help them and other times not. My name tag had my name and the home health agency I worked for. People never bothered to truly look at the tag!
    As for not asking the clerk to help you, I disagree. When my hospital admission date got moved up, I had to hurry up and buy blouses that buttoned since my head was going to be wired up. I spent one day running from shop to shop trying to find suitable clothes. It was nearly impossible to find button-down blouses in Women’s size. I found PJs at one and two blouses at another. Nothing at a third store. We spent 45 minutes driving to the next place–Catherine’s. I’d never heard of them, but I will definitely shop there again. Shopping used to be a fun thing to do, but since developing MG, it’s a chore. I was exhausted by the time we got there. It was a small building and would not have taken 2 minutes to find blouses, but a clerk greeted me and asked if she could help. I took her at her word and explained what I needed. She walked with me to the right area, pulled several blouses down for my perusal. Since I was too tired to worry about changing, I tried them on over top of the one I was wearing. One I liked wasn’t in my size. She went to the back room and found it in my size. I bought 3 blouses which gave me 5–one for each day.
    She was warmly courteous and knowledgeable. She tolerated my snippy attitude. I just wanted to get done, go home and lie down awhile.
    My first job was in retail, at a five and dime. However, as a nurse, you’re always “in service” to the public. Occasionally, I performed trivial chores while doing my job. I did draw the line at being the hooker some of the men seemed to think was part of my job duties!
    I am glad to see your list of helpful tips. I will pass it along. And, this also will help me when I write about some of my characters. Great post!


  12. My son who worked retail was just talking to me about this yesterday and is very grateful not to be working retail anymore for many of the reasons you mentioned. He left retail as an assistant manger of one of the large stores.


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