Employees from Costco, Walmart, and Target share their worst horror stories — and they will make you rethink how you act when you shop

  • Walmart,Target, and Costco employees – as well as workers at all retail stores – sometimes come up against pretty difficult customers.
  • Business Insider spoke with a number of retail workers about some memorable and negative experiences they have had on the job.
  • Their stories just go to show that it’s always a good idea to be courteous while shopping.

Walmart,Target, and Costco employees have seen some pretty gnarly things on the job. Many retail workers, in fact, can probably think up at least one or two less-than-positive incidents they have experienced while working a shift.

Oftentimes, customers are at the center of these troubling situations. A study from the University of British Columbia found that we tend to treat retail workers worse when we’re hunting for bargains.

The website SiteJabber surveyed 1,032 current retail employees with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to get a better sense of how customers antagonize retail workers. They found that retail workers’ biggest pet peeve was watching customers toss “trash on the shelves instead of throwing it away” – a total of 86.6% of respondents said they were irked by that habit. And 27.9% of survey participants said they would ask shoppers to treat them with respect, if there were no consequences to doing so.

Business Insider has also heard from a number of current and former retail employees who had stories to share about particularly gross, bewildering, or nightmarish scenarios that unfolded during their shifts.

The employees we corresponded with have experience working at Walmart, Target, Costco, McDonald’s, Macy’s, Home Depot, and other retailers. Their stories just go to show that it’s always a good idea to be nice, even if you’re not having the greatest shopping experience.

Here’s what retail employees had to say about the horror stories they have experienced on the job:

A luggage store employee was cursed at over a suspicious return

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

“It never ceases to amaze me that the stupidest people I’ve encountered are the ones with university educations,” a former retail employee from Ontario told Business Insider. “And the smartest ones have at least five years of retail under their belts.”

One day, while working at a small luggage store, a customer came in to return a bag.

“Like any place nowadays, there is a form to fill out, and the purchase must be returned to the credit card used,” the former employee said. “Store policy.”

The shopper, however, gave the employee a phone number instead of a credit card number. She said the card was at home with her husband.

“I informed the woman that we cannot do a return onto a credit card over the phone, we need the card there to swipe through the machine,” the former employee said. ” She proceeded to call me a stupid b****.”

An A&P employee witnessed a woman getting thrown out of the grocery store

Chris Hondros / Getty Images

A former employee of A&P, a now-defunct chain of grocery stores, described watching a parent leaving her two children in line at the register for an extended period of time. The cashier ultimately had to skip over her purchases and ring up the people in line behind her.

“She returned and not only demanded to be served immediately – despite the fact that this would mean voiding a large transaction – but also began loudly chastising her kids for not keeping their place in line.”

The situation escalated to the point where the store manager intervened and told the woman to leave and not come back, according to the former employee.

A former Victoria’s Secret manager had to reject a shopper’s ancient return

Wang He / Stringer / Getty Images

A former Victoria’s Secret manager told Business Insider about a time when a shopper came in to return a bra.

At the time, the former manager said that any Victoria’s Secret bra could be returned, as long as the item wasn’t excessively worn or defective.

“This customer comes in with a bra in a grocery bag and turns it out on the counter, saying that she wanted to return it,” the former manager told Business Insider. “The bra was totally worn. It used to be red and now looked grey. Plus, it had deodorant stains all over it.”

The customer explained that the bra was her mother’s. The former manager asked the shopper to provide a receipt.

“She looked at me like I was crazy and said she didn’t have her receipt because it had been years since she bought the bra,” the former manager said. “I explained to her that we did not even carry that style any more and that I could not take it back.”

The customer proceeded to snatch back the bra and storm out of the store.

“I had to run to the bathroom and scrub my hands with hot, soapy water after touching that nasty bra,” the ex-manager said.

A Brookstone manager had to deal with customers who lacked the holiday spirit

Mario Tama / Getty Images

“I worked in retail management for over 20 years and I can tell you customers are not always right,” a former Brookstone manager told Business Insider.

The ex-manager described working until closing time during the holiday season.

“We stayed open to finish up with the remaining customers in the store,” the former manager told Business Insider. “We pulled the gate half way down and let all customers know to finish with final purchases. I was at the front when a gentleman walked in. I greeted him and told him we were finishing up with final purchases.”

A little while later, the man and his wife “came storming” over. The man “said his wife was mad that they were being kicked out.” The ex-manager said they explained that no one was getting kicked out, but that the store would close after the shoppers made their last purchases.

“He didn’t want to hear it,” the former manager said. “He keeps trying to escalate the situation, when I notice he is clenching his fist. I tell him that is the last thing he is going to want to do, as there were plenty of other witnesses to the situation.”

The couple asked for the name of the manager’s supervisor, and “stormed out.”

“Needless to say, this is one reason why I no longer work in retail,” the ex-manager said. “Everyone should have to work in retail so they know what is put up with when dealing with the public.”

A team member witnessed some inappropriate behaviour in a Target

“I saw a couple practically dry humping in the early childhood toy aisle five minutes before closing,” a former Target team member told Business Insider. “The very definition of wrong time, wrong place.”

A McDonald’s crew member had to handle a very messy situation

Savvapanf Photo/Shutterstock

“While I was working the register, a small family was on their way out when their six-year-old son threw up,” a former McDonald’s crew member told Business Insider.

The former employee added that it didn’t seem to faze the family.

“His family kept walking, as if nothing had happened,” the ex-McDonald’s employee said. “No apology, no checking the boy to see if he was ok. They just kept walking.”

The child’s grandfather, who had been waiting outside in the parking lot, then “stormed back into the restaurant, accused me of poisoning the boy, and told me to ‘clean up that s—, it’s disgusting’ – as if it were my puke.”

“He failed to inform me that his grandson had also thrown up in the play area, too,” the former employee said. “I got a very angry complaint from someone about that.”

A Walmart employee described shoppers leaving all sorts of gross surprises around the store

Jim Anderson/AP Photos

A Walmart employee told Business Insider they have found everything from “melted ice cream” to “rancid meat” stashed around the store.

“Finding that under bath towels isn’t pleasant,” the employee told Business Insider. “Pardon me, but put s— back where you found it. We’re not your maid. The store isn’t so huge that you cant find where to return the item.”

An employee witnessed dairy-related violence in a Costco

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

A Costco employee told Business Insider they once saw a “fist fight” break out in the store.

They said the melee commenced “over a cheese sample.”

A customer returned a case with a surprise inside to Home Depot

Scott Olson/Getty

A Home Depot associate told Business Insider about a shopper who wanted a refund on a power tool that came in a zip-up case.

The only problem was, the customer didn’t actually want to return the item.

“Instead, they returned the tool case filled with cans of spaghetti and ravioli to weigh it down,” the associate told Business Insider. “It was neatly packed and re-zipped to make us think it was the original purchase. It clearly was not.”

One Macy’s employee has pretty much seen it all

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

A Macy’s employee told Business Insider that they have experienced shoppers urinating in fitting rooms, throwing clothing on the floor, cursing at workers, and leaving garbage around the stores for employees to clean up.

“Their reasoning is that we are here to pick up after them,” the employee said. “My cat doesn’t make a mess like some of these customers do. The retail business is hard enough without having to deal with the rude and uncalled for actions of the customers who shop here.”

The employee added that people who are “having a bad day or are looking for someone to give a hard time to because you are not happy with your life” should shop online.

Do you have a story to share about your experience working retail? Business Insider wants to hear from you. Email [email protected]

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.