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An Argument for National Service... in Retail

17th September 2015

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With the start of term just around the corner I am able to reflect on a summer spent in my local supermarket, slaving away eight hours a day, five to six days a week, just so I can fuel my time at university. And it is in this reflection that I come to realise a wonderful opportunity to make our nation a better place; we should have a national retail service.

For anyone who has worked in retail you will understand exactly what I mean. Working in retail prepares you for life, it makes you a better person. And it is with this in mind that I shall detail the top five benefits our youth could get from compulsory national retail service.

Social Skills:                                                                            


Coming in at number five, the development of social skills is a big part of retail. You will never understand how stupid your fellow man can be until you've worked in retail. What's more you will never understand the level of social constraint it takes not to call them out on their stupidity.

From having the same customer ask four different people whether there is 'any rice out back?' after being told no by each person, to the old guy furious that the self service kiosk doesn't seem to be working whilst trying to scan his items through a machine clearly marked, 'OUT OF ORDER', there is no shortage of challenging social situations.

However working in retail teaches you that regardless of how excruciatingly painful it is to listen to someone give excuses as to why they cannot follow simple written instructions on a photo kiosk, in the civilised world we must conduct ourselves accordingly and interact with others with grace and patience.



We've all heard the quote, "if at first you don't succeed...", well working in retail makes you appreciate the virtue of persistence on a whole other level.

In different stores they call it different things, but at certain points in the day everybody working on the shop floor has to descend upon the isles and tidy the shelves. This in itself is generally a gruelling task but nowhere more so than in the dreaded toy isle.

From what I can understand this is the retail version of water boarding. Trying to tidy an isle deeply infested with young children wanting to touch, move, pick up, bite and ruin everything in their direct line of sight and peripherals is the sort of character building skills as seen used by the Spartans at the start of 300.

However in life you get knocked back, which is why this sort of extreme conditioning is yet another potential benefit to national retail service.

Team Work:


Working in retail is all about team work, as you will be told at every available opportunity, see plastered on every blank space in the colleague area and be reminded of every time something goes wrong and fingers are pointed faster than a Mexican stand-off.

However, as far as team work goes, the most valuable skill you culture and develop during your career in retail is camaraderie. Camaraderie chiefly centred around mutual disdain for anyone with a modicum of authority.

This shared dumbfoundedness at the sheer lack of leadership skills and common courtesy that embody those who lord it over their fellow colleagues not only brings people together but it boosts morale. Retail then teaches you the value of a good working relationship with those around you and Napoleon prized high morale in his men above all else.

Time Keeping:  

Good time management is a highly desirable trait in all walks of life. Any decision you make will more than likely be governed by time and therefore training your ability to effectively manage your time is a win-win.

In retail, time management is especially important. You need to establish a consistent time frame in which you get jobs done and you need to dial it back by 20%. This will allow you to not only get everything done on time but also get out of being sent on tills or committing to a job that's going to keep you past your shifts end.

By knowing how quickly you work you can afford to work slower as to avoid the aforementioned traps but also to work quicker when you need to all the while keeping your head below the parapet. For example, with this understanding, if you're half an hour late arriving at 6:30am when you know your manager is turning up at 7:30am, you turn up the pace a bit and by the time they've arrived you can crank it back down as to give the illusion of your arriving on time.

Again, this sort of 'street learning' is worth its weight in gold.


Life is never clear-cut, things happen that we may never have expected to, but they do and you won't be able to ignore them. Learning to be flexible will allow you to approach life's unexpected bumps with confidence and thus avoid being knocked off course.

Yet again retail offers an arena in which you can perfect your flexibility through challenging situations every single day.

For example, chances are like me, you've opted for a career in retail to simply get you through your studies, which for me happens to be history. Therefore I am under no illusion that beyond being able to read a box I have no practical skills from my studies to bring to the shop floor. However customers don't know this and frankly they won't care. You will be expected to know everything about everything.

I can't tell you how many times I've made a sale on a camera based on 12 megapixels seeming 'a'ight'. Or how many televisions I've sold because the box said they were LCD and not plasma, which is good... apparently. Basically in retail you perfect the art of 'bull-shitting' to the point where you appear to be an expert on absolutely everything.

If this isn't a skill you will use at least once in your life then you are either lying or you're a better person than me.

With those five things in mind I think it's easy to see the benefits to society a national retail service will have. Not only will it more appropriately prepare young people for the 'real world' but it will make them better people, by seeing what makes everyone else so bad.

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