I miss a call from my manager. I ring him back a few minutes later. I can hear him putting on his retail voice as he answers, unaware who’s calling. The voice is one I feel he saves for customers and perhaps pets; one I feel he has cultivated in the last six years of working at the same store back in Perth. He welcomes me to the store, with a breath of air that a prime time game show host takes before he bellows to his viewers.
“Hey Nathan, just returning your call,” I say.
“Oh yes, hello Melanie, how are you?”
Well I’m fine but neither of us cares right now, I think, so just tell me when you want me to come in for my shift.
“Yeah not too bad, thanks, how about you?”
“Oh very well thank you.”
He asks if I can come in later this afternoon for a five-hour shift. I tell him I can’t, I’m at uni all day.
“Well that’s just not good enough,” he jests, though pathetically. I mutter something about it all being such a shame and he laughs his facetious laugh and thanks me again and we hang up.
I’m wondering around the books area when Nathan strolls towards me, tiny squares of paper in his hands.
“Has Lucy explained this to you?”
“Yeah a little.”
“And what do you think of it?”
“Seems a little pedantic… bureaucratic.”
He looks like a deer caught in headlights. I’ve found his weakness—he doesn’t know how to deal with negative feedback. He brushes his free hand with the tiny squares as if in preparation for the monologue he is about to deliver. He tells me that at the end of every day, we need to check the POS (Point of Sale) and write down our AUS (Actual Unit Sales), SPH (Sales per Hour), and two other things I forget as soon as I hear them. He asks me what AUS stands for. I mutter something about Average Unit Sales. He goes on to explain these are all KPIs, and asks if I know what it stands for. Shit. I know this one.
“I know what it is, but I’ve forgotten the actual words,” I blunder. I don’t care enough to make the effort to recall.
He grimaces and says “Key performance indicators.”
He goes on, pacing the floor as I trail behind. He stops in front of the Montblanc pen cabinet and turns to face me, still talking. Something about helping us improve on our sales. Nathan has to end everything he says on a positive note.
I understand that he is a manager and that is a part of his job, but I can’t help feeling that managers often use consumer behaviour psychology on their staff as well. One of the key factors of successful consumer behaviour psychology is creating emotional connections between consumers and the brand.
Managers try to fix smiles on our faces too, but people like Nathan don’t make me want to smile. In this moment I tune out and notice that he looks like a clean-shaven Mr Potato Head.
Closing time and it’s a ghost town. Tina, one of the representatives for a Danish silverware brand, stops by the books area to chat to me. We always chat when I reset her register at the end of a shift. She asks if I get enough work. I tell her they’ve been cutting.
I think once again about the sales growth at the store in the last financial year, and how the retail overlords reported to have increased service levels across stores. They only seem to increase service levels for clearance sales and stocktake. Otherwise, they cut.
Tina tells me that her colleagues at their Block Arcade store need a casual staff member. I thank her for letting me know and say I will hand in my resume tomorrow. She looks me in the eye. ‘I’ll be checking.’
I am obedient and speak to the Block Arcade manager the following day. She schedules an interview with me later during the week. I meet her for coffee and we chat. She hires me on the spot and I’m relieved and excited to work at a niche, higher-end store.
On the surface it seems that I’ve taken a step forward. But when I really think about it, I feel I’ve taken a step to the side.
An edited version of this piece was published at Going Down Swinging.