50 Things Specialty Retail Employees Should Never Do During the Holidays

by Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor®
  1. Never come to work sick—ever.

  2. Never complain about Christmas music. It’s playing for the customers, not you.

  3. Never arrive late, especially with a worthless excuse, such as “There was traffic.” Of course there was traffic; it’s the holidays. Plan accordingly.

  4. Never bring your personal problems into your workplace. No one wants to work amid your high drama.

  5. Never ask if you can go home early unless you’re willing to come in early on any day your boss requests you to.

  6. Never stand at the counter or in the front of the store looking bored.

  7. Never have a personal conversation with another employee within earshot of customers.

  8. Never gossip about co-workers or customers within earshot of customers. Better yet, never gossip.

  9. Never eat or drink in view of customers. That means no food visible in the cooler, on the counter or on a shelf.

  10. Never wear clothes or shop apparel that’s been scrunched into your backpack. Leave the wrinkled, homeless look for the streets.

  11. Never reek from perfume, cigarettes or body odor.

  12. Never put any product—fresh or hard good—on the sales floor until you know everything about it. Learn about all your products inside and out.

  13. Never stock displays when any customer is in the store.

  14. Never let anyone enter the shop without giving them a warm greeting.

  15. Never thank shoppers as they are leaving if you never spoke to them while they were in the store.

  16. Never ignore a customer because he or she is not a regular customer.

  17. Never acknowledge one customer over any other, especially one you know who is in line behind others you do not know. All customers are equal; even if the one at the back of the line is your best, wait until all others have been helped.

  18. Never tell a customer that business is “slow” or “dead” or voice any negative thought.

  19. Never reply to a customer inquiry with “No” unless you immediately follow it with “But we do have …”

  20. Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with “but I’ll find out.”

  21. Never say “No problem.” It sounds condescending, like, “I’d do the same for my dog.” “You’re welcome” is a better response.

  22. Never ask if there is “anything else?” Suggest at least one add-on item that logically coordinates with what each customer purchases.

  23. Never approach a customer and ask “Have you been helped yet?” Open your eyes and become aware of who has been helped and who has not.

  24. Never ask customers if they have a budget. Of course they’ll say “cheap;” few will say “The sky’s the limit.” Instead, make appropriate product suggestions, mentioning the prices, and find out what the customers’ price comfort levels are by listening to their responses.

  25. Never call a woman “lady,” or refer to two women as “you guys.”

  26. Never ask how customers are. You don’t really care, and they know it.

  27. Never go into details with customers about your personal life. If someone asks to hear your life story, keep it short.

  28. Never blame the boss, the part-timer, the vendor, the weather or the economy for anything that goes wrong. Just make it right.

  29. Never ask customers “Did you find everything OK?” without being prepared to listen to their answers and fix whatever is not right.

  30. Never tell customers you are out of something before they ask for the missing product.

  31. Never ask, “Do you still need some time?” Shopping is not work—until questions like this are asked.

  32. Never suggest ringing up someone until the customer says he or she is ready. If a customer is holding several items, ask, “Would you like me to place these on the counter so you can free your hands?”

  33. Never stop your exceptional service after the order is rung up. Final impressions are lasting impressions.

  34. Never tell a customer that you’re “not authorized” to give a discount or act on any other request; instead, fetch the person who is.

  35. Never take a return without asking why the customer is returning the item. Many times a problem can be fixed without having to provide a refund.

  36. Never hide information or charges from customers. If you charge a delivery fee, service fee or special order fee, alert customers before you ring them up. Likewise, let them know if something can’t be returned for a full refund after the holidays.

  37. Never ask customers questions that can be answered with just a “Yes” or “No.”

  38. Never dismiss or patronize a customer who has a complaint; listen, take it seriously and address it.

  39. Never stay behind the counter. Customers shouldn’t have to come to you; you should go to them.

  40. Never disappear. Always remain visible to customers so they can easily summon you when they need information or assistance.

  41. Never abandon a customer who is having trouble making a decision. Help out by giving him or her a choice, like, “Do you prefer something lighter or darker?” “ … larger or smaller?” “ … in a different color?” “ … more traditional/contemporary?” and so on. Don’t just stand there or walk away.

  42. Don’t talk to customers’ backs. Either get in front of them so they know who’s talking to them or shut up.

  43. Never stand behind shoppers who are looking at products. Move next to or in front of them.

  44. Never hover long enough to make people feel they are being watched or hurried, especially when they are trying to make purchase decisions.

  45. Never show frustration. Your only mission is to serve. Although it might not be easy, be patient.

  46. If you are in a mall, be prepared to give directions when people ask if you know where they might find a particular item. No one wants to hear “I don’t know.” Try.

  47. Never allow one customer to be disruptive to other shoppers in your store. For example, if a customer is yelling or swearing on a cell phone, politely suggest that he or she go outside.

  48. Never walk past discarded wrappers, bits of paper or other leave-behinds of customers. Always pick them up and dispose of them to keep your shop looking neat and fresh.

  49. Never call other stores to see how busy they are. No time. No need. Nothing to help you achieve your goals.

  50. Never look at your employees as serfs. If you want them to provide good service, treat them with respect—i.e., how you would like them to treat others. Bring out the best in them.

Reprinted with permission from the November 2009 “Retail Roundup” newsletter by Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor®.

Contact Bob Phibbs by e-mail at or by phone at (562) 260-2266.

Author’s Biography
A nationally recognized expert on business strategy, customer service, sales and marketing, Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, has helped hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in every major industry. With more than 30 years experience, beginning in the trenches of retail and extending to senior management positions, he has been a corporate officer, franchisor and entrepreneur.

A frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Your Business” (Sundays, 7:30 a.m. Eastern time; go to to see clips), Mr. Phibbs has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In addition, Phibbs provides business makeovers that are featured in the Los Angeles Times.


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