December 2, 2013

An Exhausting but Rewarding Journey

By Aldric

It is hard to believe that after one stock take, numerous “No Plastic Saturdays” and nearly a thousand cartons of stock, I am still a SALES ASSISTANT CUM CASHIER at a healthcare & lifestyle retail pharmacy! After almost two months and over 170 gifts later, I am finding myself still enjoying the retail line.

Learning Steadily

When I joined the retail pharmacy, it was towards the end of an in-house sale season but fast approaching a stock take/inventory check. My lessons were pretty much basic:

  • Ensuring price tags are current and correct
  • Displaying and arranging stock on the right shelf
  • Filling in the gaps
  • Ensuring the right liners are used on the shelves

To my dread after about a week, I was taught the cashiering procedures. Never have I been so nervous before. I felt my heart (jantung) and my liver (hati) jumped out of my body, ran up the highest building in Kuching and took a leap!!!

Chaos at the Cashier

Calling it an “overwhelming experience” is an understatement! Here are my reasons why:-

First, you have to ensure that the customers are matched with their intended purchases. In the chaos of things – especially peak hours – customers tend to place things on the cashier counters. This does not necessarily mean they will want to buy it – even when they are the only customer present or first in line. Sometimes some customers will put their things on the counter even though they are the fourth or fifth in line. You really want to make sure your customer and your item matches.

Second, customers need to be sure that the things they brought to the cashier counter are the things they want to buy. Yes, they may return the purchase with the receipt. This is a tedious return process. So why not get it right the first time? This may be the case for lotions and chocolates. Chocolates, funny enough, are the ones I mostly reconfirm. These are the fast moving items. I usually confirm with them the ingredient, i.e. with nuts, black forest or plain. While the return process is there, I used try to avoid it for everyone’s sake. The moment a return process begins, it will really slow down the transaction time. Annoying not just the current customer, but also those in line and the staff at hand.

Third, making sure the price is right. Where I work, the environment is dynamic. There are many promotions, sometimes overlapping. For instance, in that store-side sale period, we may have a seven-day sale for selected items. As the weekend approaches, we will also have a two-day special promotion for further selected items. On top of that, with thousands upon thousands of merchandise, and hundreds of customers per day, things are bound to be misplaced. Because of that the customers may assume that the price they see on the shelf is the price of the item – even though the shelf labels state the product name & barcode code while having a price checker for the customer’s use at hand. When giving the best value to the customer, we want them to buy it at the right price as well – without confusion. And, truthfully, sometimes the system does not reflect the new promotion – causing more resistance on the part of the customers.

Next, remembering every promotional pieces, gifts and giveaways. Calendars, product samples, collectible stickers, mugs, cash redemptions, cash vouchers, umbrellas, and displayed buy-one-free-one are among the many things we have to remember. While most may be given away at the cashier’s discretion, some are carefully tracked items. These items can land any cashier into boiling water! Heck, I have heard cases of past cashiers who were forced to pay over RM500 for stickers!

For vouchers, you are required to key in the codes – thus reflected in the receipt. It comes tricky when customers do not understand the mechanism of the vouchers (i.e. RM5 for purchases of RM50 & above in a single receipt vs. RM5 for every RM50). It becomes annoying when these customers want a certain free gift, but also want their two or more vouchers. Why? Some gifts are free with transactions of RM100 or RM200 & above in a single receipt. Even if you bought RM500 worth of goods, but if it was separated to ten separate transactions to get the ten vouchers, you are not qualified for the gifts.


Yes, you spent RM500 in total. But that transaction is not represented in the single receipt. Where the system is concerned, there were ten transactions. Who pays is immaterial. Because none of the receipt is worth RM100, so, there is no gift.

Fifth on the list is the incidental environmental campaign. Malaysia is going through the “Plastic Free Saturdays”, or transliterated as “No Plastic Saturdays”. In a bid to help the environment, the local governments encourage licenced retail outlets to impose a RM0.20 for every plastic bag given to customers. To my dismay, in Kuching neither MBKS or DBKU actively promotes this campaign. I am yet to find either a billboard or poster by the city governments to remind the population of this campaign – unlike in Miri. While I relate this experience to many, they find the 20 sen a non-issue. Customers who do not know – or act so – makes a fuss over that RM0.20! Over the course of the past two months, I have varied my styles to include:

  • “Good morning. Today is a No Plastic Saturday where 20sen is charged for plastic bags. Do you have your own shopping bag?” (Funny that many in Kuching does not know what a shopping bag is.)
  • After the transaction and bagging the purchase, “Thank you for shopping with us. Next time please remember that every Saturday is No Plastic Saturday. Please bring your own shopping bag.” (When I do this, I just give it for free.)
  • Moving the “No Plastic Day” from the side of the divider to the front of the counter.

Frankly sometimes I feel that the question, “Do you need a plastic bag?” as nonsensical and without common sense!!! Especially when the customer purchased over 5 big/bulky items. Making things worse is when the customer is a pregnant lady or senior citizen!

Sixth on my list are the language barriers! Not all customers in Kuching can speak English or Bahasa Malaysia. Even if they do, like all human beings, we are prone to our biases. We hear what we want to hear. As a retail store, our doors are open wide to also those who speak not a word of neither English or Bahasa Malaysia! True for migrant workers from China. Worse is when you need to explain things – not just saying the price!

To reduce the chances of error and mistakes, we are required to carefully count the money and scan the notes. Generally this take under 5 seconds – counting and scanning the notes. Conversely, when giving back the change, the cashier needs to give the exact change.

These seven incidents are among the few factors contributing to chaos during my first few days at the cash register. I have learned since to begin appreciating the cashiers when I am the customer. When they seem anxious, I assure them that all is alright and to take their time. Sometimes they need that breathing space.


Why Are You In Retail? You Should Go For a Better Position!

I have over five years working and entrepreneurial experience. As a freelance copywriter, I have sold millions of ringgits worth of goods. How? I wrote brochures, advertisements and flyers for housing, commercial and industrial properties – including the Open Days and Family Days used to promote them. In 2009, I was privileged to join an international advertising agency based in KL in a product launch project with a budget of RM1 million. Recently I was awarded a Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health with a CGPA of 3.78. As if that isn’t enough, I hold two international certificates: Occupational Safety and Health & Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). I am fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and English. I have strong interpersonal and communication skills. An observer even stated, “In my time here, you are way ahead of your other colleagues even though they have years of experience”.

So, why am I here?

During my interview, I told my interviewer – and later my colleagues and Area Manager – I join retail for three primary objectives. They are:

  1. To learn how to sell – Sales and Marketing skills are the skills to have in order to succeed in life. Many successful people know how to sell and persuade. In order to sell and persuade, there are back stage work that needs to be done which includes, but is not limited to, needs identification and analysis, customer personality traits, customer communications style, matching of goods and services.
  2. To learn how to handle customers – Customer relationship skills are lacking in Malaysia. It sets apart one retailer from other retailers. Customers look for the experience as well as the goods. When they are upset, how do I handle them? When they are happy, what makes them so? These and many related questions plague my mind. At the end of the day, the professional sales personnel/cashier is the person we all want to be. Under pressure and great stress, faced with sometimes abusive customers, the person is calm, collected and empathic. I believe that these skills may be brought to other fields: OSH, insurance, real estate, hotel and hospitality, charity, church etc.
  3. To learn how to work with people – We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We also come with different temperament, logics and reasoning, experiences and backgrounds, value and social structure. In retail you get to meet a range of these people – not just colleagues. Where I work, there are nine of us who are the actual staff. We have four promoters and one security guard. Let’s not forget the transporters, the security transportation, the merchandisers and promoters. And, at times, the customers themselves. I am required to develop my interdependent trait where this is the case.

What is my ultimate goal in life? I would like to spend my time travelling, writing and encouraging people by making a difference in their lives. I aim to make a living online through training forums & e-seminars. As I live each day, I also listen to audiobooks and watch video seminars. This is also my chance to test, refine and master the knowledge and skills that I learn, shaping my attitude.

Over the last few days, I admit, things have been frustrating. I have begun to question my decision – despite my enjoying the work. During the technical/mechanical difficulties of last night, I – oddly enough – felt a sense of enjoyment and calm working in the retail line.

Did you know that as a Sales Assistant cum Cashier, I challenge myself each day at different aspects? For instance, for non credit card transactions, I aim to complete a transaction within 5 seconds while maintaining the personal touch with each and every customer? On the floor, I aim to assist and get to know as much customers as possible? In my first weeks, I received praises from customers of my “excellent service”. Last week, one customer said that he “liked my style”. Another customer said that I “received good training.” Note that I am yet to be sent for a proper orientation or cashier training.

The question everyone has been asking: how long will Aldric last in retail before he finally gives it up? Now, if I do leave the retail line, I want you to know that – unlike many – I can say this: I have a functional objectives to meet. These objectives are either met, or aren’t able to be completed here.

Let me emphasise this: I am not like many job hunters or job seekers out there. I have an ultimate goal. I know I lack the skills. So now I am learning them. I don’t just go in to work day in and day out, hoping I get a raise or a promotion.

I make it happen. Winking smile