Experience A Retail Manager's Morning

As part of USA Today’s series on retail management, the newspaper shadows a Toys R Us manager for an hour on a Saturday morning during the holiday season. It’s a good opportunity to see the world of retail from the other side, including clueless customers, magically shifting inventory, and interruptions galore. Here’s just the first nine minutes:

  • 10:30 a.m. — She finds the Mars Mission MT-101 Drilling Unit for a customer who describes but can’t name it.
  • 10:32 — She leads a customer to the Star Wars Millennium Falcon Transformer, then explains how it works.
  • 10:35 — She takes a customer to the High School Musical doll section.
  • 10:36 — She says to two women: “Is everything OK? Let me know if you need anything.” One of the women suggests a couple of drinks might help.
  • 10:37 — She brings Barbie Dream House to the customer service area to hold for a woman having trouble operating a shopping cart with it inside.
  • 10:38:50 — She moves a stray Tickle Me Elmo back to the Elmo section.

“An hour in the life of a retail manager” [USA Today]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. azntg says:

    Sounds pretty mundane, whether the work in the field or do clerical stuff. Though they get to make some important decisions when they are required.

  2. homerjay says:

    Okay, let me preface this by saying I worked in retail for a long time before I made something of myself.
    Now- lets look at those 8 minutes if the reporter WASN’T there:
    10:30-10:38- break

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I know the job of retail manager if tough and riddled with irritants, but I seriously doubt any retail manager is interacting THAT much with customers.

  3. Martha_Jones says:

    I also worked in retail for many years. I would agree with Homerjay if they weren’t following her on a Saturday right before Christmas.

  4. 3drage says:

    I have a hard time believing this article. They either went to a particularly busy store, or a decent store. When looking in my local Toys R Us, we couldn’t find any help and customers ended up helping each other out.

  5. crescentia says:

    I was an assistant manager at a few stores and we are the ones that did msot of the work while the managers sat in back and got all of the bonuses.

  6. vaxman says:

    How about 9 minutes of an IT Tech support phone call…

    Caller: I can’t log in
    ME: Could i please have your name?
    Caller: mufflemufflemuffle
    Me: Could you spell that?
    Caller:Mufflemuffle what are you deaf? mufflemufflemuffle
    ME: What program are you not able to log into?
    Caller: I don’t know, you’re supposed to know that.
    ME: can you describe it?
    Caller: Nope.

    It just gets worse from there… I hate my job…

  7. ClayS says:

    Wow, that activity log sounds very exciting and rewarding.

    And you say new grads don’t want to go into retail management?

  8. ideagirl says:

    @crescentia: I feel your pain.

  9. no.no.notorious says:

    i think this is incorrect. I’ve worked in plenty of places where the retail managers have to deal with the dumbest people. their always at least one degrading story at least every day. maybe this is the day in the life of a retail manager during the first 2 weeks of january.

  10. no.no.notorious says:

    i just read that this was at a toys r us on a saturday morning. soooooo not true, especially for all those magic/yugioh tournaments they have every weekend, which meant the parents (there to hit on the employees) and the siblings of the child in the tournement would wreak havoc throughout the store, grabbing everything, crying, knocking over displays…maybe this was only at the toys r us i worked at in white trash ny.

  11. Copper says:

    @vaxman: Been there. Tech support is worse than retail management, hands down.

    This “experience” is not even that bad. Try really ignorant customers who keep asking why there’s a “Going out of business sale”…um maybe because WE’RE GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. Or try customers who get mad because you work in a clothing store and don’t sell radios…or hmm, a customer who wants an exemption to the return policy because she spilled coffee all over the sweater she bought three month ago.

    This is just a sales associate’s job, when it’s going smoothly.

  12. SaraAB87 says:

    I have NEVER had an employee in a retail big box store like Toys R Us ever ask me if I needed help finding anything, nor have I ever seen a floor employee around in one of these stores. The only time you can usually get help from a TRU employee is if you go to the register with a question. The only time I can recall being asked if I need any help is at Gamestop, and they are more of a specialty store, so they routinely ask people if they need help. The only other exception to this would be clothing stores like Hot Topic, where they also ask everyone if they need help.

  13. Fujikopez says:

    I worked at a Bed Bath and Beyond and a manager’s day was exactly like this on a Saturday, which admittedly is the busiest day of the week. On a weekday morning they usually don’t have to be helping customers constantly, but they are still busy doing displays, stocking, cleaning, etc. (BBB had no maintainence/cleaning people, other than contractors who clean the carpets/floors every few months.)

  14. TheSuperNick says:

    I worked at Toys R Us for three months over the summer. None of my managers worked that hard. As a Sales Associate I interacted more with the customers than they. They tended to stay up front with the cashiers and chat it up. Did I mention all my managers were women?

    I now currently work at Blockbuster and the store where I work most everyone works pretty hard. I’m only a CSR so I do interact with the customers very much but my managers put in a fair share of work with customers as well as doing their managerial duties.

    Obviously the manager was working a little harder because there was a reporter there writing down her every move.

  15. A friend of mine who worked retail was trained specifically not to ask people if they needed help because someone had decided that it bothered people and that they would ask if they needed help. Ass-backwards anyone?

  16. Dick.Blake says:

    This pretty much sounds like my weekends at Target this past Christmas. I found no joy in the job and my heart goes out to any poor soul who would.

  17. Me - now with more humidity says:

    I did time (metaphor intentional) at GAP one Christmas and it sucked in more ways than you can imagine. Working the changing rooms was the worst, especially when some 60-year-old size 14 would split the seams out of a pair of size 4 leather pants then bitch at me because our sizes were obviously wrong. And the folding! Folding the same f’ing sweater 800 times in 18 days (I put a pencil mark on the tag). The customer is NOT always right — and assholeishness gets assholeishness returned. The nice ones are a joy to behold and get stellar service.

    K8: we were trained not to ask that, but instead to ask: “can I help you find a color or size?” Or: “are you looking for a gift or something for you?” “Can I help you?” always gets a “no” answer.

  18. savdavid says:

    Please! If someone knows they are being watched and written about they will be the play the part to the hilt to impress the writers, their bosses, the readers and the customers. Full of hot air. If you really want to see what is going on use a hidden video camera and not let them know they are being recorded. Illegal or no allowed by some stores, but a real eye opener! The media today works so hard to protect their corporate and business masters.

  19. bookling says:

    I don’t know, my supervisors and managers spend a good deal of time on the floor assisting customers, even during the non-holiday season. And during the holidays, they would be doing the same amount of things the manager in this story would be doing.

  20. goodkitty says:

    Weird… that doesn’t sound like management to me, it sounds like something the floor staff should be doing. Where is the actual management of something other than inventory? Still, kudos to her for being helpful.

  21. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    I own a software company. Here are our top 3 customer phone calls of all time.

    1. Customer: I bought this software program but I can’t figure out how to use it. Us: What type of computer do you have? Customer: I don’t have a computer. You mean I need a computer to use this?

    2. Customer: I have to return this software program. Us: OK. What was the problem? Customer: It won’t work on my computer. It says it works on a Windows or Mac but I have a Dell.

    3. Customer: It says here I need to get a certain driver to make this program print with my printer. Us: Sure. What type of printer do you have? You can download it online. Customer: I don’t surf the web. Us: Do you have e-mail? We can e-mail it to you. Customer: I don’t have e-mail. Us: OK. What’s your address? We can mail you a CD. Customer: That’s confidential information. (Click.)

  22. jrdnjstn78 says:

    I work retail. The managers where I work are out on the sales floor but 85% of the time they are not helping customers. They stand in their “manager circle” and chit chat, drink coffee and look at the rest of us like we are from Mars.

    I hate when customers ask me where something is or if we carry something and they don’t like the answer I gave them. The customer then takes off and finds another employee to ask the same question that they asked me. Guess where the other employee takes that customer, back to me for the same answer I gave them earlier.

  23. jrdnjstn78 says:

    @stanfrombrooklyn: I have a friend who just confided in me that she didn’t know what PC means. Of course I told her and she swore me to secrecy not to tell anyone.

  24. eelmonger says:

    @k8supergrover: I wish that was the policy at most places. I used to work at a grocery store that had a “4 square rule,” that is, if someone was within 4 tiles (4 feet) you had to greet them and ask if they needed help with anything. No one did it, and I can’t imagine what shopping would be like if they actually did. When I’m shopping I want to be left alone, if I need help, I’ll ask for it.

  25. rolla says:

    at least we know part of the reason why sales managers hate their jobs and take it out on customers.

  26. warf0x0r says:

    Really, they don’t just sit in the “SDR” and look at the “Green Screen” all day… amazing.

  27. popeye_doyle says:

    Mike Hieston asks if there are any battery-operated hair dryers for his baby grandson who likes to mimic his “nana” drying her hair.


  28. FishingCrue says:

    On being asked if I need help: If I’m making constant eye contact with you, it’s a pretty safe bet I need help so stop ignoring me. If I give you a cursory smile and look away, leave me the hell alone.

  29. theysaidwhat says:

    I worked in retail management my first year after college, and let me tell you, you certainly DO interact that much with clients, Especially during the holiday season.

    During the holiday season, when you are working nearly round the clock because the mall is open nearly round the clock, guess what? Your $6/hr (back in the early 90’s) employees, for whom this is a second or third job just stop showing up. It was so bad that one day when my store was short of staff on my one day off, and I was doing my holiday shopping in the same mall, I was nearly fired because I didn’t rush to my understaffed store and start working.

    So yeah, you do work that hard and long during the holiday season.

  30. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @k8supergrover: There are a lot of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations in retail, and that’s one of them. If you don’t offer to help customers, they’ll get mad, but then there are all the customers who scream “I’M JUST LOOKING!!!” the minute a clerk registers in their vision, because being asked if they need help is so terribly invasive.

    If clerks didn’t push service plans, credit cards, and accessories, you just know there would be customers who’d get furious about it.

  31. SaraAB87 says:

    Thats so true, you can’t win. Some people actually want the service plan, and since these plans are pure profit for the company selling them, they have to offer them to everyone. Its amazing how many people buy the service plan and then lose the receipt. The people who want the security of a service plan would get mad if you stopped asking them if they wanted to buy them. Some people get mad if you don’t ask for help, and some people get mad if you DO ask them if they want anything.

    Customers probably aren’t going to seek out an employee themselves unless they really need one, however if you have floor employees, you have to have something for them to do, and most customers you ask will probably need help with something.

  32. coren says:

    I don’t know..it might be cuz I was at Best Buy (they had an AWESOME clearance on something) but…I walked around the computer section for 20 minutes. There were more store employees in that store than customers. I had to track down an employee and wait for him to get through talking to another customer, everyone else was “busy”.

  33. RvLeshrac says:


    Keep in mind that just because someone isn’t doing something at the *precise second* you ask them a question, that doesn’t mean they aren’t busy.

    I work in a retail store, and part of my job is to keep the store systems (POS, credit card readers, information kiosks/terminals, printers) up and running. I am *constantly* being interrupted on the way to do one thing or another. I actually attempt to help people when they ask for it, though, and it can thus take me up to 30 minutes to simply walk over and reset a POS or switch out a bad credit card reader.

    This obviously pisses off the people who are waiting in line to make a purchase. Are you more important than someone else? Are you one of the people who gets mad when your salesperson answers someone else’s question while you’re talking to them?

    If you answered “Yes” to either of the above questions, you’re part of the problem.

  34. RvLeshrac says:


    Yes, yes, yes. I can’t stand it when customers don’t listen.

    If you didn’t want the answer to the question, don’t ask the damned question. If you don’t like the answer to the question, it doesn’t matter. The answer isn’t going to change just because you keep asking.

    The same thing applies to some service plans, too. If you bought the cheapest service plan that explicitly states that it doesn’t cover Problem X, don’t complain when the service plan company refuses to cover Problem X.

  35. RvLeshrac says:


    If that ‘doesn’t sound like management’ to you, I certainly hope you never become a manager.

    There’s nothing employees hate more than some smarmy-assed manager who is ‘too good’ to do any real work.

  36. What The Geek says:


    I resent that – before switching careers, I was a manager at several retailers, and a very large portion of my day was spent dealing directly with the customer. Usually, it’s not just a customer looking for something – usually, as a manager, you spend your time dealing with angry angry people. People who are often (but not always) just there to try and get one over on you. I also spent a lot of time dealing with the issues that showed up after someone had gotten one over on the store…

    For example: I remember a time when a television was returned at customer service. When I went up to retrieve it and take it to the back so it could be returned to the vendor, and upon opening the box, found that the customer had put their old tv in the new tv’s box and returned it.

    Some retail managers are lazy as hell. No question. But don’t generalize. For every manager on break, there’s another cleaning up everyone else’s messes just around the corner.

  37. podulator says:

    The majority of people are either stupid or distracted. This goes for both sides of the retail fence, customer and employee alike. In retail, people who are neither stupid nor distracted are forced to deal with people who are either stupid or distracted or both. This results in a great deal of stress that causes one or the other participant in the retail exchange to become either stupid or distracted or both because of this stress.

    Generalizations don’t help the situation. Only understanding can break through the haze of idiocy and confusion that clouds efficient and effective relations between individuals.

  38. coren says:

    @RvLeshrac: I’d wager there were at least 8 employees in or around the section, and if in teh course of 20 minutes of me walking up and down the same 2-3 aisles they can’t figure it out…they were standing around talking half the time (well some of them, some were doing obvious work). It’s one thing to be busy with whatever, it’s another to be standing around chatting.

  39. banksnld says:

    While I can’t speak for Toys-R-Us, I have to say that our experience at two different Babies-R-Us stores have been nothing less than exceptional. In both locations, the staff was quick to offer help, knowledgeable about their merchandise, and friendly. And that was at all levels, including the store director. We even had them steer us away from more expensive merchandise, instead helping us find the items that best meet our needs.

  40. RvLeshrac says:


    I’m not necessarily saying that they *WERE* busy, just that there are MANY things that can make an employee “busy” that are nonobvious.

    For instance, people at the returns counter where I work can be *INCREDIBLY* busy and yet have *no* customers – they’re busy processing items to be discounted and sold as opened/returned, items that are to be returned to the vendor, and various other issues.

    People seem to be under the impression, though, that because they have no customers in front of them, they’re simply standing around doing nothing and chit-chatting. I’ve had plenty of times where a customer would come up and ask why they couldn’t be rung out at the returns counter instead of the front registers (long lines, what have you), and I go to find the cashiers there having a lengthy discussion about some $X000 item that has gone missing, who took it back, where it could be, why it isn’t in the proper place, etc etc etc.

    “Busy” is relative. In a case like the above, finding out WTF happened to the expensive item is much more important than helping the customer, because NOT finding that item can result in someone getting canned. The customer will typically disagree, of course, and then complain loudly when prices go up because more things go missing when they can’t be properly checked in.

    Or, you know, more people start blogging furiously about the box of rocks they bought and how these people simply sit around all day with their thumbs up their asses instead of opening each and every returned item and checking the package contents against the packing list for the item.