If you’ve worked in retail at any point in your life – and we imagine most of you have – there’s every chance you’ll have done a dreaded Christmas shift.
Whether it’s during the heart of present shopping season or the height of the sales from Boxing Day onwards, all big shops will draft in extra staff for the busy festive period.
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than a million people in the UK were estimated to have worked on Christmas Day 2014, and more than 1.8 million on Boxing Day of the same year.
The latter figure includes an estimated 365,000 in the retail sector, as people continue to shop in person despite the ready availability of online sales.
If you find yourself in the position where you’re taking one of these shifts, it’s probably because you don’t have another option. Money’s probably tight, so you’re willing to brave the apocalypse of Christmas shopping season as a trade-off for the knowledge that things will be better once you come out the other side.
And get better they will. Eventually. But first, they’ll get a whole lot worse.
We’ve spoken to several service industry veterans, who have put themselves through the wringer that is Christmas shift work and lived to tell the tale, and asked them for their worst horror stories associated with the period.
From department stores to designer outlets, fancy bars to chain restaurants, there’s a common theme throughout.
Simon – worked at a garden centre
One day a man called up and asked if we sold reindeer. I talked him through the range of LED light reindeers we had. He then explained he meant real reindeer at which point I put the phone down thinking he was a mate playing a prank. He then came to the shop asking why we’d put the phone down. He really wanted to buy a real life reindeer. From a garden centre.
Char – worked at a major retailer
The one I will always remember is the year that Toy Story 3 came out, we stocked a bunch of toys for it, including a lot of the side characters (Trixie the Dinosaur, the Unicorn, Mr Pricklepants the Hedgehog).
The week before Christmas, a man came in demanding Mr Pricklepants. We were out of stock of Mr Pricklepants and he was livid that we didn’t have Mr Pricklepants. I ended up doing my job and phoned a local store to check and reserve Mr Pricklepants for my guy and all was well, but I will never forget a grown man trying to sound angry while saying the name ‘Mr Pricklepants’.
Chris - worked at a book shop
I didn’t have too much in terms of nightmare customers (excepting the standard ‘I’m looking for a book, it’s blue’ lot), apart from one who stood out. They came up to the counter as we were closing the doors on Christmas Eve and bought 76 books. And changed their mind of half of them halfway through and replaced them. And I nearly beat them to death with a till.
Sian – worked at a high street retailer
We got a new manager who used to do tannoy announcements every day like a proper dictator telling us what she expected of us. One morning she did it later than usual and customers were already shopping in the store while she was screaming SELL SELL SELL over the announcer.
Another Chris – worked at a different high street retailer
I was working on Boxing Day during the sales when the rain caused the store roof to collapse and water to leak in everywhere. Customers refused to leave their sale shopping behind even though plaster boards we’re smashing down left and right.
Sophie - worked at a lingerie store
A guy came into the store dressed in a suit and quickly grabbed some PVC underwear and ran into the changing rooms (which he wasn’t allowed to do as there were separate changing rooms for men) and then when he finally opened the changing room door he was fully dressed in the PVC lingerie and having a wank. A few weeks later he sent an apology letter which said he was getting help. Oh, and on a separate occasion a woman took her child into the changing room to have a poo.
Andy - worked at an electronics store
Christmas brought some of the worst, most impatient people to the store. People who would click their fingers at you, like you were their butler. Uninterested, rich parents who would whip their platinum card out for whatever their grossly spoilt little bastard kids would want. I used to like to play a game with these now and again:
A spoilt kid would come in, demanding the most expensive computer possible. Mum and Dad would be ready to pay - but the game would begin. With my best customer-service smile, I’d explain in detail why little Timmy probably didn’t need a £2k laptop for “Facebook and stuff”, before suggesting cheaper alternatives. All the while, spoilt little Timmy would simmer and whine that his parents weren’t spending over twice my monthly wage on one of his presents. Small pleasures.
Emily – worked at a supermarket
I was working at a major supermarket on Christmas Eve when a woman came in and asked if we had any turkeys for sale. We didn’t, obviously, because it was 5pm on Christmas Eve. She got really mad and yelled at me for not having turkey at 5pm on Christmas Eve. No, I’m not sure why she left it until 5pm on Christmas Eve to buy a turkey. Or why she yelled at me.
Paul - worked in the cash office at a high street retailer
When I worked in the cash office during the post-Christmas sales I had a few jobs - mostly paperwork (filing return receipts), counting and logging cash, that sort of thing.
There was a lot of logging. Cash comes into the office, it’s logged. Cash gets counted, it’s logged. Cash gets bagged, it’s logged. Cash goes into this massive 1960s-style safe, it’s logged. Getting logged means literally signing a piece of paper to give it a paper trail.
Well, have you ever lost your keys? What happened to me was a little like that.
The money came in, I logged it, counted it (by weighing, it was £20k), logged it, bagged it, logged it, put it in the safe, logged it, and then turned around and it wasn’t in the safe.
Obviously I hadn’t put the money in the safe, I’d put it on top of the safe, and somehow I knocked it off, so it was behind this massive two tonne safe which I had to climb on top of to retrieve. It took me about 20 mins to find it - I was on CCTV the entire time so had to look like I wasn’t panicking otherwise someone would have checked in on me.
Parker – worked at a toy shop
I had to dress up as various book characters or children’s TV characters and read to [children]. This normally went really well, we went into libraries, did charity stuff and it was all very nice, but at Christmas I had to dress up as The Gruffalo and do a reading.
It all went tickety-boo, loads of the kids enjoyed the reading and came up to hug the Gruffalo afterwards, though one child doesn’t seem to take to the ending of The Gruffalo very well and actually punched me in the crotch as I was wearing the suit. I initially had to hold in my anger, because they’re six-year-olds, they’re young kids, you can’t really get that mad. But then I thought ‘here’s a good way to get back at the little shit’…
When they were all leaving, the kids and parents from that reading, I went out the front of the shop for my cig break. Wearing the Gruffalo outfit I then took it off in front of all of the kids, so they began to scream and question themselves and everything that they believed, looking at this scrawny teenager, very hungover in a Gruffalo costume, puffing on a cigarette. And as the little child who punched me walked away, I saw his head drop. I ruined some dreams that day, man, that’s a real horror story.
(Images: iStock/Rex Features)