What It Is Like To Work In Retail Fast Fashion For Two Years Plus

2 years ago, I came to Singapore with only SPM certificate (high school), there were really not many job options for me. After sending my resumes to every possible vacancies I found online, and received either rejections or no replies at all for three weeks plus, I only managed to get two jobs, both were retail assistants, and I went with one of them.

And time flies, somehow I stayed in this fast fashion retail industry for over two years despite so many things I hated about it. The experiences are definitely priceless, and so here is the article about my love-hate relationship with this job.


Why Retail?

Why did I choose this job in the beginning? Well, foreign workers in Singapore actually makes up almost a quarter of Singapore’s population. Other than a handful of professionals holding S-Pass or Employment Pass, nearly all the rest are Work Permit holder in low-wage, low-skilled jobs.

Source: Channel News Asia

The foreign workforce are mostly employed in construction, manufacturing and services. The service sector can be further divided into, in layman term, office jobs (those in finance, or as admin or clerks), Food And Beverage (F&B) jobs and Retail jobs.

It seems like Singaporeans just do not like to work in service sector, and the employers in this sector would prefer to hire foreign workers too, because foreign workers typically cost less both in monetary terms like pay and bonuses and in non-monetary terms like willingness to accept tougher conditions, longer hours and lesser leave entitlement and medical benefits. And we really do 🙂

And so I ended up in one of these industries, where 3 out of 5 colleagues will be foreign workers, from Malaysia, China, Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.


The Good

Since the benefits of working in this industry are really just a handful in my opinion, let us talk about the good stuffs first!

Staff Discount

First of all, STAFF DISCOUNT! This is probably the best known benefit of joining a retail industry, we get merchandise discount off the tag price. If you are working for the brands you love, this will definitely be the most rewarding perks. I have met friends who are working for Apple, or luxury brands like Gucci, LV, etc.

And when you meet and connect with friends who are also working in other brands, hurray! You can get merchandise discounts across even more brands! (50% discount for my Vans sneaker, that is basically buy one free one leh!)

Long working hours, low wage?

Judging from the fact that we don’t need to be highly educated to enter retail (at most you must be able to speak English), and with the advantages of currency arbitrage, the salary was quite satisfactory to me. I have earned an average of SGD2k take home pay monthly over the past two years, (and I managed to save around 50% of it), although the figure definitely plummeted after COVID. The salary package is made up of basic pay, some allowances and commission (based on store sales in my case, some brands are based on individual sales), but since COVID the allowances have been removed and commission rate cut. And 44 hours work week is the standard set by MOM (Ministry of Manpower) Singapore, I don’t really feel that I’m working very long hours, probably because I adapted to it quite quickly.

Basically a weight loss program

Retail jobs typically involve a lot of walking. Almost every day my phone’s fitness apps will notify me that I’ve hit 10,000 step (which is equivalent to 8 kilometers). I remember when I first chose my uniform pant, it was size XL and now I can fit into size M.

But strangely this does not apply to management levels staff, probably they are more stressful and that leads to stress eating.


The Bad

Lifestyle inflation

You are working in a fashion store, surrounded by fashionista everyday, either your customers or your colleagues, and fashion can be very EXPENSIVE! SGD3,000 for a designer bag? SGD500 for a pair of sneaker or T-shirt? The list goes on and drops my jaw every single time.

And we will typically work in shopping mall where food is very expensive, if you are either not willing to or just too tired to walk further for the staff canteen or cheaper hawker centers, this can burn a hole in your pocket. SGD30 a day and in a year, puff, say goodbye to your SGD10k!

Shift work

Once you enter retail, forget about weekends and public holidays. You are typically required to work on these days and the workload can be really overwhelming! Because those are the most crowded days.

For me, the working hours are 44 hours per week. There are many types of shifts but typically it’s either morning shift (9am – 630pm), or night shift (130pm – 11pm), with 1 one-hour break. And there will be one day each week we need to work full shift (11am – 11pm) with 2 one-hour breaks in between.

This type of shift will make you very difficult to meet your family even under the same roof, you could be out already, or just got home when they are asleep.

Requesting Off Days

Retail industry typically have 1 or 2 off day per week arranged randomly. To request for specific off day, we have to do it one month in advance. For instance, to get an off day on 24 December, we will have to request it before 10th of November. Moreover, we will have to compete for the off days with our colleagues in case our requests collide with one another (imagine Chinese New Year and more than half of your colleagues are Chinese haha).


The Ugly

The Customers

Since it is a service sector, retail is where we can come head-to-head with some difficult customers. Oh you will be surprised how ridiculous and rude this tiny groups of customers can be just to fight over some $5 voucher despite their classy dress up. Well, that gives us a glimpse into what real wealth really is, and those who have all branded stuffs on themselves may not be the most wealthy or the most educated.

But handling difficult customers can be the best experience at the same time because you will learn an invaluable skill. First, the skill of remaining calm even if you are innocent (the customer was served by colleague from another shift but you just happened to be there afterwards). Second, the skill of listening to the customer and third, which is a skill I see most managers have, is the skill to quickly strategize a win-win solution for both party when a problem occurred.

Worst complain I ever heard? “Your staff is not smiling!” Even in this pandemic period where everyone has to wear mask…LOL!

Being micromanaged

Because we all are human with different ways of doing things, it is almost certain we’ll come across with managers or supervisors who micromanage to the max, and that can be really really really annoying.

To make things worse, even if we may come out with a better plan to get things done more efficiently, since we’re the one that do most of the works and not just supervise*, so we know how to get things done better and faster, our manager can just say no and no means no.

Then some times you see them repeating your solutions and kinda take the credit. This will teach us to reconstruct the way we voice out our ideas too, making sure we have considered all the aspects of our suggestions and listing out the pros and cons, etc.

Moral Kidnapping

The worst experience I had throughout the past 2 years is probably this. We were only required to work 44 hours a week, and there was no payment for our overtime, but I had lost counts of the hours that I put in extra. And most of the time, those efforts apparently went unappreciated.

“wa things haven’t done you wanna go home already ah?” “eh hello I also haven’t gone home leh?” “so on time ah?”

When at times we are not able to complete the overwhelming works within our working shifts, words like those will definitely be heard and kinda morally kidnapping you to OT voluntarily to get things done.

And I don’t know if some managers make nagging as part of their job scope and drags our ending time for five to ten minutes (worst I’ve seen was one hour) over really insignificant things, or even personal things. Retrospectively, it is really a disrespect to our time.

No one says a word if you come on time, but everyone loses his mind if you are late, or if you leave on time.

But well, I was young and dumb. It gave me a bitter taste of how it was like, and I made a promise that all my teammates can go back on time regardless how the situation become, and I am pretty sure I kept it.


In a nutshell

Having gone thru quite many jobs in various sectors, I am already very sure that being an employee is the slowest way to accumulate wealth.

Why?

You’re paid for your value, not your time.

Customers are buying the products because of the value the products offer, similarly, your boss is paying you for the value you offer (your time and energy to bring in revenue for him).

I have always wondered why there are people who worked extremely hard and went extra miles in these sectors, yet was unnoticed for most of the time.

Why so? Here’s my opinion.

First, because of the hierarchy, your boss may not see your value, or your boss may not be the one that has the power to promote you, or your boss does have the power to promote you but he simply does not intend to. Long story short, as an employee, your value need to be acknowledged by someone else to be equally compensated.

Second, capitalism maybe. What would come to your mind when you get to learn more skills and take on more responsibilities at your job? Naturally, I thought of pay raise and promotions. But it was never the case. Try think as an employer, if I can get you to work more for me while paying the same, why shouldn’t I? Well, serve this company right because almost all its good employees have left without a second thought.

We’ve talked about cashflow quadrant and in this quadrant, we’re trading our precious time with money, once we stop working, the money stops flowing. The higher you climb, either advance to higher positions or higher brands, it is still an active income. And the shift often takes out most of our time and energy to do other things or to build side income etc.

And hey, don’t forget that brick-and-mortar retail is dying as businesses go digital one by one. Cashiers were in high demand back then but right now there are already self checkout machines for shoppers. The skill sets of counting money fast and accurate is no longer an advantage nowadays, and this is just one example of the changes we see in the world nowadays.

Anyway…

Despite all the bad and ugly, you may wonder why I still managed to stay this long with this company. There can be hundreds of reason I hated this job, but my colleagues, my teammates, my second family here in Singapore are that one main reason I held on until now. I enjoyed every ups and downs we have gone through together :’) I am very grateful to have ever worked with them. Thank you!

And I am even more grateful that during this hard period where even the locals are struggling to find jobs, I managed to secure one by making a small change to my resume. Wanna know what change did I make and how did I find a job? Stay tuned for the next article!

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