My hope for making money tonight is dwindling away.
And here is Kathy. “Girls, it is dead in here!” she says, a smirk on her face. “Call your customers and get ’em in here to shop! We need to make our goal! Make it happen.”
It’s 7:00 p.m. on a Monday night, and calling customers at this hour is something we all hate and dread, but to stay with the herd, we do as Kathy says.
I dial Jill in Rancho Santa Fe, hoping she won’t pick up. Then I can leave my well-rehearsed voicemail.
Score! Another long conversation with a shopaholic, husband-deprived housewife avoided.
I look at my watch. Another two hours have flown by, filled with the folding of hundreds of scarves, then laying them out facing in the correct direction, according to my manager’s standards.
And now I can go. Lucky for me I’m not closing tonight. My feet throb as I trek down the once-motivating employee stairs at the end of another disappointing shift in retail sales.
An insider's view of working at Nordstrom
My mom rushes into my room playing the ultimate backup alarm: “Wake up! You’re gonna be late for work!”
It’s a serious oh shit moment. I have 30 minutes to get ready. That’s enough time for hair or a good outfit, but not both.
What the hell am I going to wear? I mentally scroll through my inventory of clothes, trying to settle on something my coworkers — and especially Kathy — will not criticize. On top of everything else, it’s mandatory that Accessories employees wear a scarf or headband every day to work. That seems a bit extreme, right?
I pull myself together with an all-black outfit I hope won’t receive too many snarky looks from the young, ultra-trendy (make that ultra-snobby) “personal stylists” roaming the store.
“Good morning, girlies!” I say on my way in. I always greet the customer-service gals. They deserve serious credit for dealing with clowns, day after day.
To my right I see a group of young, egotistical salesmen — with a few oldies sprinkled in — over in Women’s Shoes. Now that is where the money is.
To my left, the Cosmetics employees are gossiping, refreshing their makeup, adding a dab of perfume before starting their shift.
I spot Kathy at a register, typing at the keyboard, and with every step I take toward her, I am preparing for the sales-confidence beating about to go down.
“Hi, Kath — ” I begin.
Then I am saved by the bell.
Paula (not her real name) — aka the Shepherd, aka the store manager — announces: “Good morning, my fabulous 364 store! Are we pumped up to have an amazing day in sales? Please grab your beautiful spotlight item for the month and head up to the rally on the third level in ten minutes.” Paula makes everything sound fabulous. This is misleading.
“Hi, Jessica,” Kathy says. “Since we did so awful yesterday, you need to make it happen today. I want you to sell at least three Guccis or Chanels, three cashmeres, and two hats.”
Micro-manage much, Kathy?
I run to the stock room to grab some overpriced gloves for the rally upstairs. Hmm…purple or gray? These are the only colors left in back-stock of our popular, tech-friendly gloves.
Neither of the colors seems right for the rally, though. And then I see the manager’s tiny old desk squished into a corner of the stock room. You’d think a sales manager at Nordstrom would have a nicer desk and a computer less than ten years old.
On the desk is a pair of red gloves. Perfection.
I ascend the escalator to where a sea of sales personnel waits for the rally.
It is 9:00 a.m., and most of us salespeople look, from the neck down, stylish and ready to have a successful day. But then you look up and see dark circles from closing the night before. Our eyes are begging for coffee from the espresso bar downstairs.
I glance around, feeling as if I am in high school.
The sales gals who sell mature women’s clothing are mostly older chicks who have been retail sales associates for years. We call them lifers.
The infamous Women’s Shoes salesmen look like a pack of bachelors oozing with that typical salesman’s stench. They stand around as if they’re at a bar, discussing the week’s winning and losing football teams. Typical.
Paula steps out for the rally. She has a presence that comes from being a tall woman with incredible style. Think Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep, without the harsh edge.
Paula is going to get everyone fired up to sell and make the store money.
Department by department, sales associates go up to the microphone, trying to score brownie points with Paula, who gives away free drinks from the espresso bar. The retail gods know we need it — concealer can only hide so much.
Then we are given our daily sales goals. Then we’re dismissed back to our sparkly departments, which have been bedazzled with holiday decorations.
Yes, it’s that time of year.
Longer shifts, the endless folding of those beloved silver Nordstrom boxes, and the tying of the infamous silver bows. You’d think sales associates would be trained on how to tie bows, on how to wrap boxes perfectly, because that is the standard. But, no.
My first customer of the day — Ina, an older woman who buys a beautiful scarf for her daughter-in-law — asks me to wrap the box.
My skills are about to be tested. Uh-oh.
I do a hack-job on this poor lady’s gift box. When it comes to wrapping presents, not everyone is Martha Stewart. But there’s no one around to help me fix it, and I can’t leave her waiting for long. Every step back is filled with dread and embarrassment.
In one long breath, I say to the customer, “Hi, Ina. Okay, so, I know the wrapping isn’t perfect... If you want to get it wrapped nicely, I would recommend going upstairs to customer service, and they will do a great job. I’m sorry.”