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Welcome back to the Retail Diaries, in which an anonymous sales associate at a high-end Manhattan department store reveals what it's like on the other side of the cash register. Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.
Photo by Bairachnyi Dmitry/Shutterstock
For most of us reporting to work on December 26th, the mere thought of a smile seemed impossible. As I struggled past my suitcase-towing comrades near the employee elevator, all fresh from their red-eye plane flights, I wondered what my family might be doing at that very moment. The loud yawn that escaped the alterations lady next to me answered my question: They were sleeping, just like everyone else in the world.
But for Catherine, my friend from ladies' designer sportswear, a smile was necessary. She hugged and kissed me Merry Christmas, then hurried me into the restroom.
"I am so excited," she said, examining her reflection.
"How on Earth could you possibly be excited at 7:30 in the morning on the day after Christmas?" I asked skeptically. I looked at my own reflection in the mirror and snagged the concealer from her cosmetic bag.
As I erased my red-wine–induced dark circles, Catherine revealed the dirty little secret she had been hiding from me all season: her secret hiding spot. Hiding spots were little places where associates stashed items from their Christmas wish lists—and waited for them to get marked down. Then, once the price was low enough, the merchandise would be conveniently uncovered and purchased with our coveted employee discount.
"There's a small stock room near my department, and only one or two brands are in there. So one day when I was looking for a dress, I had to climb the ladder to the top of the rack. I ended up bumping my head on the ceiling panel and guess what?! It moved!"
I laughed at the thought of it. Boxes of Jimmy Choo shoes and Burberry coats, held hostage between floors. If our security team ever found out that Catherine was hiding full-priced merchandise in the ceiling, she would be escorted out of the building and banned from returning. (And, in a fate perhaps worse than unemployment, she'd be exempt from her discount.)
"I can't believe you never told me about this. I just bought a coat for $1,600! It's 40% off today," I protested.
"Relax. Even with the discount, I'm still spending a couple of grand. You'll get the commission," she said.
"Next time, I'm hiding shoes up there," I said, and we left the bathroom to report to the trenches.
Employees are banned from shopping on the day after Christmas—it's an "all hands on deck" situation—so Catherine patiently waited for Tuesday to retrieve her merchandise. We were both early shift, so I told her to bring everything down before the store opened. As I was counting the change in my register, the phone rang.
"It's me. They found it. I'm totally screwed," she said.
Apparently, in some sort of bizarre Christmas anti-miracle, the merchandise Catherine had been carefully hiding away had quite literally fallen through the ceiling. High off the prospect of discounted merchandise, she had placed one too many things up there. One of her startled coworkers panicked and called security to report the crime.
Since it was an old stock room, there were no cameras to record Catherine's greedy deed. And, out of sheer luck, she had tucked things away for both her and her mother, so there was no way to determine who the criminal was by their shoe or coat size.
Later that day, the security teams went through every person's hold racks, and lectured each department about the illegality of placing items on hold for a fellow associate. It turns out there was more than one Catherine in the store after all, and our undercover retail cops were like the Grinches who stole our very own after-Christmas.
I was tempted to write off the hidden merchandise as due punishment for greedy associates. But when I think of our lack of Christmas bonuses, the dearth of customer traffic in January, our impending returns, and the time we missed with our families during the holiday season, I grew a little indignant. Don't we at least deserve first dibs?
As a customer service "expert," I know that the answer is, of course, "no." But after you've spent the past month and a half playing fashionable Santa Claus for the fabulous and wealthy citizens of Manhattan (not to mention family members looking to abuse your discount), it would be nice to experience some holiday magic of your own.
And for Catherine, nothing would have been more magical than a Jimmy Choo Christmas.
· Department Store Dispatch: A Christmas Story [Racked NY]
· Department Store Dispatch: True Stories from Black Friday [Racked NY]
· Department Store Dispatch: Secrets of the Shoe Section [Racked NY]