Retail rage – threat or menace?

Ever notice how employees of retail stores have gotten grumpier in recent years?

I’m not talking about occasional muttering around the water cooler or periodic grousing out on the loading dock.

No, I’m talking about the red-faced guy standing in the middle of the neighborhood camcrusher store bellowing at the top of his lungs about how he hates his job, how he hates his boss, how he hates his time clock and, perhaps, how he hates his cat.

This is a very, very angry man – or woman – and I’d venture to say that the average customer is going to be just a tad bit intimidated if this is the first sales representative he encounters after walking through the door that says, ironically, “Welcome!”

After all, if this chronically disgruntled clerk already hates his workplace, his boss, his co-workers and the way the cash drawer opens, you know who he’s going to hate next, right?

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Customer will be right in the crosshairs if this frazzled fellow finally comes unraveled and opens up with a buffalo gun or decides to drive an armored personnel carrier through the frozen food section.

Sort of takes all the joy out of browsing, doesn’t it?

I heard the first rumblings about retail rage several months ago, but I cavalierly shrugged them off, attributing the problem to oversensitive customers or idiots who had needlessly annoyed store clerks by repeatedly asking stupid questions and trying to pay for their purchases in rolled coins.

I became a believer last weekend, however, when I encountered enraged clerks in three retail establishments in two different cities within the space of two hours.

(This is what we in the news media refer to as “widespread.”)

One irate employee was busy screaming at a co-worker about how fed up he was with the shop owner, the hours and the pay and how he was going to do something about it if somebody else didn’t do something about it pretty damned quick.

Needless to say, I didn’t venture to ask if they had any pickled herring in stock (which, admittedly, would have been pretty stupid in a video store…).

At another business, I timidly approached the check stand only to be confronted by a red-faced clerk who repeatedly shouted, “I need some help up here! Can I get some backup?! Backup! I need some baaaaaackup!” like a desperate Marine calling for air support from an embattled fire base.

Any co-worker who foolishly got within 20 feet of this choleric clerk was promptly treated to a three-minute tirade about how poorly everyone was responding to in-store distress calls.

And I was next in line. Oh, joy…

There was a time not all that long ago when postal workers were perceived as being easily infuriated and we jokingly referred to any angry rampage through the community as “going postal.”

No longer, amigos.

The postman is your friend.

With all the general retail rage you’re likely to encounter these days, you’d be wiser to watch out for someone “going video,” “going hardware” or (shudder!) “going cheeseburgers.”

Originally published July 13, 2003