Alex Burns

At first, you think it will be glamorous. The excitement of working in a prestigious shop like John Lewis; getting a name badge on the first day and, of course, the 25 percent discount. But in the run up to Christmas, I began to progress into a sweaty and permanently flustered version of my former self.

My typical mode of transport became jogging more often than walking – in order to try and satisfy the constant stream of customers needing help. If one customer asked you to get them something, you would be sure to have another four stop you on your way. You have to keep everything they said in your head, then try to balance it all in your arms while negotiating your way back from the stockroom. I have dramatically dropped shoe boxes more times than I care to remember – one falling right on to the foot of an unimpressed customer.

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Most customers are fine but some seem to undergo a Jekyll and Hyde transformation as soon as they begin their Christmas shopping. While they are probably perfectly pleasant in normal circumstances, the start of December seems to bring a panic into their eyes and a tight set to their mouth. I have served on the tills and watched the irritation grow amongst those in a long queue: the foot tapping, the unsubtle sighing and the frequent dirty looks in your direction. Sometimes it’s hard to strike a balance between giving good customer service and hurrying along those at the till so you can get to the next person.

Only once did I come close to crying. It was the Saturday before Christmas, and a well-to-do lady came in looking for Ugg boots. When I politely told her we had none left in the size she wanted, she started screaming at me, telling me the store was a disgrace and she couldn’t believe I was allowed to work there. All the nearby customers turned to look, and I had to go and stand in the back for a minute afterwards to pull myself together. I tried to tell myself it was nothing personal, but it was hard to be impervious while her eyes were bulging and she was jabbing her finger in my face.

I’m sure she would have felt badly if I had met her in different circumstances and told her how it made me feel. But sometimes I think shoppers forget they are dealing with actual people and treat them as an extension of the company – and an easy target for them to take their frustrations out on. I know it is stress that causes people to act that way but it would be nice if they could try to spread a bit of festive cheer. As a shopper myself, I have seen that retail workers can also often be rude, but if someone is nice to me I always try to be friendly in return.

Yet that’s not to say there weren’t good points. Working at Christmas you were at least kept busy: it was better than during the summer when the shop was deserted and the days would drag. And even amongst all the panicking, there was a buzz in the air around Christmas time that could be infectious. But above all, it was my colleagues that kept me going: sharing a joke, offering encouragement and providing a sense of team spirit. They could make even the worst days better.

Now that online retail is more and more popular, I don’t know if Christmas shopping will become a thing of the past. We certainly had a rise in the amount of people using click and collect services and doing most of their purchasing online. Yet despite all the stress it causes, I would be sad to see the end of traditional festive shopping. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.