How to Survive Working a Retail Job as an Introvert

An introvert works in retail as a cashier

For introverts, having pre-rehearsed lines ready to say to customers makes for fewer forced and awkward conversations.

While in college, I worked two different retail jobs: as a retail assistant at a ferry terminal and then in a high-end store that sold office supplies. Both jobs were zero-hours contracts — so there was no set minimum number of hours for me to work — although I often worked 12-hour shifts and full-time hours in addition to my studies. 

In that first retail job, I wasn’t familiar with the expression “introvert” — I simply learned, very quickly, that I dreaded small talk with my colleagues and started avoiding the break room to escape idle chitchat. Talking to customers alone drained me: I didn’t have the capacity to engage in small talk, too. 

When I started working in the second retail job, I knew I was an introvert and that the retail environment wasn’t ideal for me… but I also needed the money to pay my rent and bills. So I found ways to get through it by using my introversion to my advantage. These are my top tips on how to survive working a retail job as an introvert. 

7 Ways to Survive Working a Retail Job as an Introvert

1. Learn your limits when it comes to how much socializing you can take.  

As an introvert, you know that all introverts are different — the amount of socializing we can take, as well as our likes and dislikes in life, can vary dramatically. Knowing what your limits are, socially and for work-related tasks, will help you find out what your boundaries are

For example, early on when working in retail, I learned that a 12-hour shift spent mostly talking to customers and colleagues drained me socially even before my shift finished. I became aware of how much room was in my social cup and learned how much socializing I could do before it emptied.

2. Find tasks that work for you.

A lot of retail is customer-oriented — but not all of it. Tasks like stock takes, unloading goods, restocking, general tidying, and closing the shop are essential to ensure a store runs smoothly. Many of these tasks involve working alone, or in a small team, away from having to interact with customers. 

You might not be able to do these things immediately when you start a new retail job. However, by showing enthusiasm for these jobs — and casually mentioning how “organized” you are and how you would love to “see how the stockroom works” — you’re likely to land one of these tasks eventually. 

3. Get to know your team — it’ll help when you want to swap work tasks.

This might sound counterintuitive — why would you want to socialize more? Hear me out on this one. Once you have established yourself within your team, it makes it so much easier to do things like swap tasks during your shift. 

In my second retail job, I was able to get tasks — like unloading deliveries in the stock room, general tidying in the store, and other non-socializing tasks — simply because I found the people on my team (like the extroverts) who would much rather do the customer-focused work. So I’d swap tasks with them and it would be a win-win for each of us.

This is also useful when you simply need a breather from socializing, as a colleague you know is more likely to cover for you if need be.

4. Take as many breaks as possible (they all add up).

It can be hard to get actual, physical breaks in retail — particularly if you work a shift length that doesn’t allow for it. However, there are ways to take a quick break. It won’t be enough to sustain you for days, but it will give you a moment to recharge, which can be super valuable in a stressful environment. 

So take as many regular bathroom breaks as you’re allowed — even if you don’t need to use the bathroom. The walk there and back, plus a minute or two to breathe, can help sustain you over a particularly long shift. 

If you are working at a cashier area, you could take a moment to tidy up behind the area, rearrange stock in the front, or check customer orders. These tasks may seem trivial, but they give you quiet moments to think and breathe while still appearing to be outwardly working. 

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5. Schedule non-social time to rest and relax.

One of the most helpful things for me when working in retail was scheduling in as much non-social time as I needed around shifts to recharge. I often took public transportation to and from work, so I would pack headphones and a book so that I could enjoy a peaceful journey, free from socializing before and after every shift. I would also periodically plan evenings to stay home with a good book, watch a movie, or cuddle with my cat simply to escape the busyness of retail. 

If you commit that time to yourself, by adding it into your calendar, you’re more likely to stick to it. This will help in the long run, so it’s very worth it. 

6. Have pre-rehearsed lines ready to say to customers.

Having a standard greeting can sound dull and monotonous, but one of my biggest struggles was to think of what to say to people. With a lot of customers to talk to every shift, at first I was constantly stressed out. 

But I learned that knowing exactly what I was going to say to a customer before they came to my register was key. By having pre-rehearsed lines about upsells and special items, it made for fewer forced and awkward conversations. Plus, it didn’t use up as much of my social energy.

7. Leave work at work.

As anyone who works in retail knows, customers can be difficult, especially over the holidays and other busy periods. This tip applies to all retail workers, but especially introverts: Don’t take on customers’ problems as your own. 

When you leave for the day (or night), take a deep breath and let go of everyone who tried to get on your last nerve and calmly walk back into the shoes of your own life. It can be easier said than done, which is where listening to music, reading a good book, and a quiet bus ride home can help you detach from work and focus on your life again. 

Although working in retail is not for every introvert, at least there are ways to make it more manageable — I’m proof!

What tips would you add? I’d love to know in the comments below!

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Rebecca Holland (@velvetopusreads) is an introverted freelance writer from the UK. She talks about books in several places. Find the latest on their website: VelvetOpus.com.