As an Introvert, Working in Retail Was a Nightmare

I’m an introvert, and I worked for a housewares retailer during the holiday season. I knew from the moment I completed the first interview that this job was not going to be an enjoyable experience, based on the personality of the interviewing manager. She was what I would call a stereotypical extrovert: extremely outgoing, never took no for an answer, and just really did not understand introverts. As I got to know the other managers over the following weeks, I came to realize that my personality and theirs would not mesh.

Four of my managers were extremely brusque and did not make an introverted employee like me feel comfortable. Due to the retail environment, we were required to push the store’s credit card on every single customer, and to not stop until they basically became belligerent toward us. As an introvert, I have a hard time dealing with rejection, nor do I like pushing people to do things that I myself would not like having pushed on me. I would ask, because we were being watched by cameras, but I took one “no” for an answer and moved on.

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Weeks later, the manager who interviewed me accosted me outside as I was coming in for my shift. She asked me why my credit card sales record was non-existent. She said, “The only reason I hired you in the first place was because you told me you sold credit cards at your previous job.” I had never said that, but she twisted my words to sound as if I had.

The most anxiety-filled moment of the two months I worked there was the day I had to walk around the store trying to sell gift cards to customers. I had to carry five on my person, along with some mints, and ask customers who appeared to be stuck on gift ideas if they wanted to purchase gift cards. We also had to do this when ringing up customers, but it was much easier doing it there than randomly walking up to strangers. I knew that several managers were on the floor, and no doubt monitoring my every move. I did approach a few people, but was unsuccessful. At some point, my manager walked up to me and asked me how my sales were going. I did not lie; I told her the truth. At this point, she scolded me like a small child and insinuated that my job was on the line.

I broke down in tears in the break room. Not because I was afraid of losing my job, which I had already decided I was not going to accept their offer if they asked me to stay on after Christmas, but because I was so uncomfortable in my job. I had worked in retail before, at a store in the same corporation as the job I had had at that time, but I had not felt as ostracized. Luckily, I had a co-worker who had taken to me, and she straightened things out with the manager. Of course, this changed the already sour relationships I had with those managers.

I ended up leaving the job one week before my “trial period” was up. I honestly cannot say I regret leaving, because my mental health immediately improved upon giving my notice.

Changes Are Needed in the Retail Industry

In regard to policy changes, the retail industry does not really care if a person is introverted. They just want a person to make sales, and they do not really care if it makes a person uncomfortable. However, if the retail industry were interested in the well-being of its employees, I would suggest the following:

  • Creating volunteer lists for employees to take on the “undesirable” jobs, like walking the sales floor selling gift cards to customers.
  • Taking an employee’s personality into question when assigning them tasks. The managers I had before the housewares store knew I was not comfortable working in the fitting room, so they took me off the roster for that zone. I am not saying to give employees preferential treatment, but to realize they are not working to their full potential if they are not comfortable.
  • When an employee is having trouble, speak to/treat them like a human being. I was spoken to with condescension, and treated as though I was a rotten piece of meat.

I would love for introverts to be seen as completely normal people, and not be considered weird because they are quieter and sometimes do not want to socialize. I was ostracized because really rude customers deeply affected me, and because I was quiet. No one wanted to get to know me better, and I felt like I had returned to high school with the way I was being treated by the employees who were younger than I me.

On one occasion, a co-worker I thought I had good rapport with said to me at the end of my shift, “Bye, Felicia.” My youngest sister snickered when I recounted it to her. I thought it was some cute nickname she’d given me, but my sister told me that it meant she did not care that I was leaving and just wanted me to get away from her. Needless to say, learning that stung.

I hope that at some point, the retail industry will find a way to make retail jobs more comfortable for introverts, and that introverts will not be harshly criticized for being who they are.

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert


  • Goodness, this sounds so similar to my own experience. It was my first job ever, and I was working at a yarn shop that also sold handmade items. I thought it would be a great job, as I was a very crafty person & would get to learn weaving. But no… My boss who was the owner was also a stereotype extrovert, to the point of extremes. And she wanted me to be exactly like her. Bright, cheery, and talkative. I’m not saying I can’t be cheerful, but as we introverts know, putting on a front every day, all day long will certainly take a toll.

    So many times I got scolded (yes, like a child) for not chatting with the customers. And the reason we were supposed to go up & chat with customers was because we were trying to sell, sell, sell. I worked for a flat fee + commission, depending on how many sales we brought in each day. But, it’s just not in my DNA to try to push things on people.

    Quite frequently I would chat with customers, and be very friendly indeed. Then my boss or a coworker would come out from the back, and scold me for not chatting. They could never “hear” the evidence, because I was so soft spoken.
    I’ll never forget the time when my coworker got in my face, and very harshly reprimanded me for not chatting with our store full of customers, because I was instead working on a weaving project. But, I had literally just finished doing a demonstration for a group of people, upon their request.

    Well, I didn’t intend to leave such a long comment. lol I guess this topic just really resonated with me! And btw, I am an INFJ, and a HSP.
    Since that one retail job, I’ve given up working for other people (hopefully for good). Now I’m a blogger & a writer. And I like it very, very much. 🙂

    • Colleen S. says:

      I completely understand. The previous job before the housewares one I was quite friendly to customers, and I was at the other as well. But I just couldn’t work up the nerve to push things on people.

  • oneblankspace says:

    Commission-based retail is the worst. Not only are you competing with the stores down the street, you are competing against the other sales reps in the store who are supposedly on the same team. About 20 years ago, I worked for a major retailer who just went under this year. Full-time sales reps had a base salary plus commission. Part-time sales reps were commission only. Fortunately, I was full-time.

    A few months later (the computer terminated me after I left to go back to school), I had an interview for another aggressive sales position. I walked out before we got very far. “Well, I have experience with that at my previous position. But I don’t think I could do it again.”

  • Lydia says:

    Thank you for sharing this and your recommendations. I work in retail, not by choice but out of financial desperation, and I experienced everything you wrote. I have never felt more out of place or stretched beyond capacity as an introvert. I mean to print this article and post it to our staff private quarters. I do however believe that I am a much thicker skinned introverted having worked retail these last 6 months. And all I can say keep embracing those introvert career goals since we all know sometimes they are as fast paced in progression like business or other group think geared careers. I studied counselling and mental health and the market in my city is so saturated its hard to find a job. But just keep pursuing the dream, do healthy introverted self care and DO spend as much time alone to recharge as much as possible.

  • Jane says:

    I totally sympathise as I’ve been there!
    I’m only just coming to understand the nuances of my own personality and what is good and not good for me!
    I’ve recently been diagnosed with ME which I am certain my sensitivity contributed to.
    I’m on sick leave from a job ( advocate) which also challenges my personality.
    I’ve done it for 14 years and finally realise I need to find something different so well done to those who realise it sooner!! 🙂

  • Jessica says:

    Oh my gosh I loved reading this because my current job is an admissions Advisor with a university. I was told I’m too quiet however I’ve worked in sales and retail jobs before and have never had an issue I do fine talking to random people. Me being quiet shouldn’t have anything to do with doing my job. Only I have to make calls to inquiries over the phone and interview with them in person.

  • Suzanne says:

    As a college student, most of the jobs I’ve had so far have been in retail or food industries. This was such an accurate depiction of my time in those jobs. I dreaded work every day, especially if, I’d been assigned to something like the women’s section, where I knew people would ask me questions or if I had to serve a particularly rowdy table I knew would make me feel uncomfortable or had a customer who thought I was just incapable and thought to verbally harass me. It was these situations that drive me to finish my college education so that one day I’ll not have to go back to one of those jobs and instead get to sit at a quiet desk and write.

  • Cloudy Rockwell says:

    This is not what I thought this article would be about, from the headline. But there are great points there.

    However, what I had thought you were going to say, and which other introverts may want to think about, is that the retail environment is not essentially a good one for highly sensitive introverts! I worked as the assistant manager of a very popular thrift store in my town. That involved me having to make conversation with customers, tell volunteers what to do when they showed up for their shifts, to talk with people about prices of things even though I had to decide them on the fly, and all in all, it was the worst seven years of my life. All that public contact, all that discussion, all of that interaction all day long, was incredibly wearing on me. Finally, I took an online job-personality test about which job would be ideal for me, and I came out heavily in favor of bookkeeper; which, ironically, I have been for all the rest of my working life! I looked for several months, found a job as a bookkeeper, and higher and contented ever since. I think that, all in all, working in retail is very, very stressful for highly sensitive introverts.

  • Suzan says:

    I have never had the misfortune of working retail, but as a customer, the two things that will get me out of a store quicker than anything else are the two extremes. One is being ignored completely as if I am beneath their notice, or as if I’m an interruption. The other is being badgered. Frankly I can’t imagine that anyone enjoys being followed around, pressured to buy something she wants, whether she is introverted or extroverted. Those sorts of tactics need to stop! I do a lot of my shopping on line these days.

  • Diane says:

    Oh my goodness – this article comes literally a DAY before my last day at my current retail job! I work at a clothing store and in the beginning, the management was really cool, a nice mix of introvert and extroverts. Life was good. Over the summer, higher management changed and lo and behold a very extroverted, pushy store manager came into play. Not only is she condescending to me and others who aren’t on her list of “extroverted favorites,” but she pushes the credit card thing, the talking to customers-at-their-every-move thing and watches all the coworkers. I absolutely HATE that she watches me do a particular task just to “correct” me or override me. And to boot, the new assistant store manager is similar and very straightlaced: strictly by the book and no joke makes her laugh.

    As an INFJ, these characteristics are HUGE no-nos and I feel so uncomfortable – like a child!! – and am just inches away from going to the dark side and lashing out on her, leading to the INFJ doorslam. I’ve only worked for the store for less than a year and I know my job. Unfortunately, she is the main reason why I’m leaving. Fortunately, I have a new job in line that will be VERY beneficial for me (literally, I will have benefits other than a discount) and not this pity of a job. I’m so tempted to tear up my little discount card in front of her eyes lol.

  • Brett Stadelmann says:

    You’d make a great boss. Let me know when you’re hiring 🙂

  • Sherri says:

    The only reason they hired me is because they knew my dad. I got the job and they were pleasantly surprised because I found out that when you give the customers your complete attention ( when they are looking for an item) they actually would come back later and ASK for me. I really don’t think that an extrovert would have went the extra mile for customers. It was good for me because I HAD to talk to people, and I was so detailed oriented that I was a good employee.
    However, they lost me when they started pressuring me to be a cashier. NO WAY!
    ( People can be weird about their money)

  • Vivian Hernandez says:

    I love this! I just started working in retail 10 days ago, and I’m going to quit! I can’t do it! I wanna cry every single time I have to go in to work! I’m an introvert too, and retail is my worst nightmare! The thing is, I love the manager & my coworkers! But it’s stressing me out! And I’ve always known retail isn’t for me, but I need a part-time job! I don’t know what else to look for elsewhere!! Please help!