The inside secrets of retail jobs revealed!

Photo by Boston Bill.

If you’ve got a creative habit to support, your revenue stream may come down to waiting tables, tending bar, or stripping. Then there’s retail, which tends to pay less than the above but typically has the added enticement of an employee discount. Which retail stores offer their entry-level staff the best concoction of pay and discount alongside unquantifiables like fun vibes, a lenient tardiness policy or a lax dress code?

From the best-paying gigs to the store with the highest bar for employee looks, here is what you can expect at five major fashion retailers and Trader Joe’s (hibiscus shirts are sort of fashion, right?). The info was culled from present and former employees and confirmed to the best of our ability with the retailers (ie, via unreturned emails to their PR departments). Got your own retail survival tales? Spill ‘em in the comments.

Photo by SpecialKRB

Retailer: American Apparel
Who they hire: Quirkily sexy, doe-eyed ingénues and their male counterparts.
Pay: $9-10/ hour to start as a cashier; assistant managers only make a dollar more.
Employee benefits: 50% off for everyone. There are specific discounts to create style incentives, such as $10 for a velvet skirt, plus occasional merch allowances that range anywhere from $150-215. Commission can be up to an extra $100 a week. Full-time employees receive benefits.
Dress Code: “Obviously they won’t know whether or not you’re wearing AA underwear, but they’d make you if they could,” says one employee about the notoriously strict policy of all AA, all the time. “You were hired because you were a hipster and you were beautiful, so you have to be styled appropriately.” Also, “if Dov is in town, you are expected to look a certain way.”
Pros: Our interviewees were mostly fond of working at AA. “It’s like hipster day camp,” jokes one. “I have the time of my life working there.”
Cons: Spandex, sexual harassment allegations against the company’s CEO, also… spandex.

Retailer: Victoria’s Secret
Pay:
Minimum wage (state dependent)
Employee demeanor: Groomed, bubbly and trying hard.
Employee benefits: 20% discount to start which increases to 30% after two months.
Dress Code: Wearing all black is the only true requirement, though “many of the women opt for stripper-face makeup,” says one employee.
Pros: A more interesting underwear drawer; loose dress code.
Cons: “Every Sunday night we had to come in UNPAID to see the new products that we MIGHT be able to take home.”

Photo by Luce Beaulieau

Retailer: Anthropologie
Who they hire: Bohemian-chic post-makeover cat ladies who will stick around. High schoolers and college students shouldn’t come-a-knockin’ for summer jobs.
Pay: Sales associates start at $9-11/hour depending on experience, and may receive a $1 raise when promoted.
Employee benefits: 40% on apparel, 25% on home, and no discount on sale items, except for on “employee appreciation” days, during which you receive 40% off all home and sale items as well. Same discount applies to Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Terrain. All employees get discount cards for their immediate family and one for a spouse, or whomever you like if you’re not married. Family discount cards are 25% off of apparel and home, and during employee appreciation they also receive a 40% discount on everything. An employee adds, “There are five to ten items each month that the company really stands behind. If you purchase, you get 60 percent off that item.”
Dress Code: Technically nothing HAS to be from the store, but everything should look like it COULD be. “No sneakers, no ripped jeans, nothing too risqué, and skirts need to be a little bit longer.”
Pros: See “Employee benefits.”
Cons: If you aren’t drooling all over yourself from the seemingly limitless perks, know that job stability isn’t their strong suit. Our sources said non-management employees are paid from each individual store’s individual revenue, so if the store isn’t prospering, employees’ hours may be cut.

Retailer: Abercrombie & Fitch
Who they hire: Effortlessly flawless beachy / preppy types
Pay: Sales associates make minimum wage
Employee benefits: 40% for full time, 30% for part time. To encourage associates to buy/wear the clothing, select outfits can be purchased for 50% off. Managers have surprisingly great benefits including medical, full dental, and vision.
Dress Code: Specific, yes, but not the strictest of the bunch. “Currently for women the ‘style’ is dark skinny jeans cuffed, leather flip flops, navy cardigan with either navy or white shirt underneath,” says a manager from one A&F location. If makeup is worn at all it mustn’t show: “Eyeliner is a huge no-no,” as are fake nails, visible piercings (“except for one small stud per ear”), and unnatural looking hair color.
Pros: Decent discount and smooth sailing, so long as you fit the part.
Cons: No matter how much they try to hide it, A&F is all about looks. “We hire naturally beautiful and handsome faces,” says one manager.

Photo by Matt Karp

Retailer: Brooklyn Industries
Who they hire: Edgy yet polished fashion functionalists
Pay: Sales starts out at $9/hour
Discount/deals/benefits: 50% on full-price merchandise, 25% on accessories (including bags), 0% on sale, and once a month for seven days a list of 70%-off items is released. Usually this is new merchandise the company is encouraging employees to wear. If you consistently work more than 30 hours per week you are eligible for health benefits, but according to one disgruntled source, “you never get scheduled for more than 20.”
Dress Code: Firm and hard to afford. All tops and all denim must be from BKI. Employees are permitted to wear completely non-branded bottoms (ie: plain black skirt), but it is not encouraged.
Pros: There’s a 7-minute grace period for lateness. Also, provided your clothes are from the store, the company encourages “opposite sexed” clothing and alterations.
Cons: The pay is at odds with the dress code, even with the discount and 70% list. “They do give you a $25 gift card when you start, but that doesn’t even cover one of their $38 tee shirts. Most everyone buys 1 or 2 tees and wears them every single shift.”

Photo by Timothy Krause

Retailer: Trader Joe’s
Who they hire: Excruciatingly friendly; sometimes flirtatious. First-hand small talk with one beardly cashier: “What are YOU doing with your onion trio later this week?”
Pay: Usually starts between $9-12/hour. Raises seem to come often, and all employees have the opportunity to get a $2/hour raise per year. It does end at some point, says one Crew Member, “The hourly cap varies by state, but hovers around $18.50-19.75. After you’re capped out, TJ’s gives you bi-annual cost of living adjustments.”
Employee benefits: 10% off, plus health insurance to all employees who work at least 20 hours/week and who’ve been with the company for at least 3 months. One worker describes the deal as “the bombest” insurance he’s ever had: medical, dental, and vision included, “with some sort of retirement plan I don’t pay attention to.” There is also a regular allotment of free food.
Dress Code: With celebrated low standards for employee neatness, one worker describes the look as varying “from disheveled to fashionable, with most people falling somewhere in between.” Another crew member concludes: “As long as you don’t have super ripped jeans, you can look as stoned as you want.”
Pros: The environment seems pretty laid-back, well-staffed, and of generally of high morale.
Cons: At the Brooklyn location they’re quite fond of cutesy TJ’s jargon that includes “the Captain’s Court” (the office), and “Grande Finale” (register). Bosses are called captains. “There are first mates, second mates, merchants, novitiates, even the occasional commodore here or there,” says a mole.

29 Comment

  • I’m currently looking for a PT gig, possibly in retial, but since I haven’t worked retail since about high school, I had absolutely no idea what the going rate per hour is these days. Thanks for the insight!

    PS I’m a former VS employee, and we never had to come in unpaid for anything….but that was about 10 years ago, so not sure if things have changed since then.

  • Unlisted requirement of working at Trader Joe’s: you have to go see your coworkers’ bands play like every night of the week.

  • woah, that trader joe’s gig sounds pretty sweet! i’ve considered going for anthropologie in the past, but i think i’d just end up blowing all my money on clothes.

  • This is most definitely a fabulous piece. Thanks Caroline!

  • The onion trio flirt session is awesomely true. I was there. And a bit jealous it didn’t happen to me!

  • “Well, the white one is for soup, red is for salad, and yellow… well yellow is the wild card.”

  • Trader Joes offers health insurance for part-timers, the catch is that signup is only open once every 6 months to a year, so depending on when you are hired in the year, you have to go without until sign up time. They also have an interesting paid-time off situation where employees ‘bank’ time off depending on how many hours they work. A typical 30 hour employee gets 1 paid day off to save per month. There’s no cutoff for using them, and it’s possible also to not use paid time off, and cash it out if you need emergency savings, which is cool.

  • Also, it’s possible to go from hourly to manager within a span of 4 months if you’re good, but at the manager level they can move you around to any store in the region, including Staten Island and outer Queens.

  • The Limited Brands owns Victoria’s Secret, C.O. Bigelow, Henri Bendel & B&BW.

    The Limited & Express were sold in 2007.

    Can your source confirm that the employee discount still applies to all the above mentioned companies?

  • well, what does a manager make @ trader joes??

    i’m smart, maybe i should just say screw it and lower my ambition

  • I worked at Lush Cosmetics for a little over a year and compared to most of the complaints I’ve heard about retail it was a pretty sweet gig. Pay started at $9 but I was bumped up a dollar within 3 months and they generally hire nice friendly people. Plus you get 50% off everything and they’re constantly doing sales contests where you can win free product. Benefits are ridiculously difficult (part-timers only qualify if they’ve worked there for 2+ years) but they have a really low turnover rate because most employees genuinely enjoy working there.

  • I also really love the use of the term “beardly”

  • well, what does a manager make @ trader joes??

    i’m smart, maybe i should just say screw it and lower my ambition
    _________

    They start them at mid/low $40k, some of the store managers make up to $85k. Ballers!

  • I work at Armani Exchange as a sales associates and it is amazing. Although you may start at minimum wage, every month you get a free top or dress, and bottom like jeans or skirt. You also get 75% off 2 items and 50% off everything else including sale items. It is definitely worth it to work here.

  • I have worked at Abercrombie during the summer and for the most part I like it.

    Pros would be that it’s a really easy job. If you are hired as the “model” position (their word for sales associate), you stand at the front and greet or work register and fold clothing. That’s it. You’re basically hired to stand in the store and look good while fixing piles of clothes that customers mess up. It can get boring, but if I work with people I like, it’s not bad.

    Cons would be the crappy minimum wage and that even though they can’t technically prevent you from wearing clothes other than from A&F, managers much rather you wear the season’s key looks. At my store, almost all the models wear the “key look” and when the looks change after a month or two, you are silently obligated to spend more money to buy the new look. It’s annoying. I’m also afraid to show up grubby. This includes straightening my hair before I work and making sure my skin looks great.

    All in all if you accept the look policy and the minimum wage, it’s a nice job to make friends and get easy money.

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  • retailactionproject.org

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  • what’s the rate of hire for like, someone who theoretically worked in a handful of PT jobs in high school/college, then did like career style jobs but then the economy fell out and is now just looking for food money? i mean, i’d be listing shop rite from 1998 here.
    otherwise, this list is awesome, thanks for posting! :)

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  • Do they drug test you at trader joe?

    • No. In fact, I used to smoke in the bathroom when I used to work there years ago. That’s how little they care about your personal life.

  • Great article Caroline! Will you be coming out with more studies on other companies???

  • I don’t really shop at Trader Joe’s but I’d really like to work there for a summer job. does anyone know if they will take an 18 year old? i’ll be 18 by the summer and I’m kinda not very good with interview questions and especially if they will ask me “what’s your favorite store product” because i don’t have one because i haven’t shopped there ever before.
    Ps- if someone van please respond to me with all my concerns and I would like to know what types of interview questions they ask? Thank you.

  • Claire’s and Icing by Claire’s also offer awesome employee discounts. 50% off everything (even clearance), except precious metals (14kt, mostly) and celebrity brands are 25% off. These discounts included ear piercing, too. Discount is only for you or dependents, though, or for bonafide gifts. Policy is strict on that.