Originally published August 2015
As of this week, I am officially finished working at Victoria’s Secret as a sales specialist for the summer. It was a rewarding experience, and I am grateful that I have been able to gain sales experience, especially as I get ready to find a co-op in marketing. Working retail was nothing like I expected it to be, and while it was at times demanding, I feel as though I am walking away knowing much more than I expected I would. While I have certainly learned many new practical skills, I feel as though I have also learned useful life skills concerning retail, sales, and the working world as a whole.
1. Each Approach to Sales is Unique
Walking into Victoria’s Secret and learning that I needed to sell a certain amount of merchandise an hour, I presumed that I would be trained on how to make a sale. I naively assumed that my boss had a clear step-by-step guide on how to be a great salesperson, and after memorizing each of the steps I would be amazing. What I instead found is that there is no clear cut approach to sales, and that in order to be a successful salesperson, you need to find out what works for you individually.
Everyone I worked with had a different approach to selling merchandise. Some would highlight the features of the product, others possessed such a commanding presence that customers felt compelled to listen to them, and still others developed pseudo-friendships with customers over the course of their visit. What I find most interesting is that one style isn’t necessarily better or worse than a different one – what matters is the salesperson’s individual personality and attitude. I learned what worked for me through trial and error, and found that taking certain aspects of other people’s approaches worked best overall.
2. Treat Customer Uniquely, But Notice Patterns
Much like how every salesperson has a unique approach, so too is it true that each customer is unique. I found this to be even more prevalent considering the intimacy of Victoria’s Secret’s industry. I quickly learned that I as a sales specialist couldn’t treat every person that walked into the store the same. Victoria’s Secret preaches the idea of the ‘bra journey,’ and making each customer’s experience special. How I interact with each customer depends greatly on not only the customer’s personality, but also on attributes like age and gender.
While the general consensus is that you should never judge a book by its cover, doing so in sales makes my job more successful. The way I approach a preteen is dramatically different than an older woman. With the younger girls I need to be more sensitive to the fact that it is potentially their first time getting measured, and that the entire process is slightly mortifying for them, while older women generally don’t have such qualms. Similarly is how men versus women approach the store. While women tend to want to take their time, try things on, and look around, men who come in typically want to get in, purchase something, and set a world record for least amount of time spent in a Victoria’s Secret store. By knowing key generalities of different groups of people, I as a salesperson can learn to tailor my approach to help people more effectively over time.
3. Loss Prevention is a Big Deal
One of the things I was most surprised by when I started working was how important loss prevention is. Loss prevention, which we call ‘shrinkage,’ or ‘shrink,’ is much more prevalent than I assumed it was, because many people try to steal. I was appalled by how often we have people come in and try to slip some underwear into their bag, or rip off sensors in the dressing room for us to find later. What I found was that because of this, an associate’s job is significantly harder. Due to the fact that people will sometimes come in, pick merchandise up, and run out, an associate needs to be in the front of the store at all times. Because of this, if I want to show a customer products in the back of the store, or want to check on someone in the dressing room, I have to wait for another associate to come to provide coverage.
What I did also notice was that the longer I worked at Victoria’s Secret, the more I started to recognize the signs of theft. While during the first few weeks I thought that hardly anyone stole, now I realize I was just not noticing the signs. I am now able to recognize behaviors, communicate with other sales specialists that someone needs to be watched, and at times even confront a shoplifter. I am not a very confrontational person, but I have learned that it is at times necessary, such as when a woman filled her bag with underwear and quickly left the store, forcing me to go and retrieve the merchandise from the woman’s bag as well as keep her in the store until a manager came to assist. Before working retail I never would have thought so many people in the world think stealing is acceptable.
4. Learn More Than Your Job
Working for Victoria’s Secret was my first time working in retail, and I wanted to make it count. While the majority of the experience I gained was through sales, I made a concerned effort to learn more than just my job. To have a store be successful, you need more than just good sales specialists. We as a store need to have managers that inspire associates to be their best, customer sales leaders to push associates during a segment to meet goals, processors to maintain a consistent merchandise flow, cashiers to keep lines short and customers happy, and workers to participate in floor sets to arrange merchandise throughout the store in a marketable way.
While I was hired as a sales specialist, I had the opportunity to work the register at times, and even to help with processing when needed. Of the three, I definitely enjoyed being a sales specialist the most, but I appreciate having the opportunity to experience other jobs. By working the register I was able to understand the more technical side of selling, and was able to see how sales doesn’t stop once a customer gets in line, as a cashier is able to help customers maximize their returns with available coupons, as well as encourage customers to sign up for the store credit card. Similarly, processing helped me appreciate how difficult it can be to get the merchandise I’m selling on the floor in time. In the future I would love to be able to gain more understanding in other jobs, by participating in a floor set for example, but by having the opportunity to learn other jobs I feel as though I got more out of my experience at Victoria’s Secret.
5. People Have Hidden Talents
Something I found surprising is that most customers don’t believe that people working at Victoria’s Secret are particularly intelligent. Maybe it’s because we sell bras all day, maybe it’s just being in retail, but contrary to what seems to be popular belief, the women I worked with are brilliant. My direct manager has started her own business on the side, the woman who trained me is attending school to become an opera singer, and one of my favorite managers is about to start her last year in pharmacy school. Working retail itself is challenging as well, and I think it’s a shame that not everyone is able to appreciate how hard working and intelligent my colleagues are.
6. Looks Matter
While parents might say ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts,’ most of us have realized that statement isn’t entirely true. While personality certainly matters, there is a reason people preach ‘dressing for the job you want, not the job you have,’ and the importance of ‘dressing for success.’ Working in retail, I was finally able to appreciate how much looks, and how you present yourself, play into success.
When a customer enters the store, they want to be taken care of. They want to feel comfortable knowing that I know how to do my job, and that I’m going to help them find what they need. If I look like I can’t take care of myself, why would they ever feel as though I could take care of them? By dressing in clothes that fit well, applying a little bit of makeup, wearing the right bra size when you primarily sell bras, and generally looking polished, I found that customers, and colleagues, treated me more respect.
Working at Victoria’s Secret was a fantastic experience. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to understand a new side of business, and experience sales firsthand. I’m excited to come back for holidays because I will miss my team in the interim, and I now feel much more prepared for my co-op search this upcoming semester.