A Day in the Life of a Supermarket Retail Assistant

Let’s get the elephant out of the room.

I enjoy my grocery trips to the supermarket, but while I’ve noticed supermarket staff restocking items  and unpacking new cartons of products on occasion, I’ve never really paid much heed to what they do. That was until I experienced what it was like to be a Retail Assistant for a day at NTUC FairPrice’s new Finest outlet at Zhongshan Mall.

With my back half-bent sorting out newly arrived products, the task was more demanding than it appeared to be, and that is only a fraction of what a retail assistant at NTUC Fairprice does each day (Photo Credit: NTUC This Week)

No Walk In The Park

Pushing a cart laden with boxes of sauces to restock the shelves might seem easy, but having to actually do a combination of half-squat-half-kneel manoeuvres to place new supplies onto the shelves’ middle tier was anything but.

“It’s actually pretty routine work,” said Desmond Lee, who’s been with the outlet for about a year.

“We need to make sure that the sauces are all lined up neatly. Those that are almost out of stock, we have to replace and fill up. But we have to place them nicely with the labels facing out so customers can see,” he explained, shrugging off the necessary physical effort despite being in his early-40s.

How often re-stocking happens depends on how quickly customers pick up the items.

“It really depends on the promotions and their needs. During the Chinese New Year period, it can be hard to predict what customers will order. But after a while, you will know which items sell faster than others, and you can order the stock using the system in the storeroom,” shared Desmond.

In between taking care of the aisles, Desmond lends a hand to other colleagues who need help.

As it was almost the end of his shift, I was assigned to lend a hand at the promotions stand, where over 50 cartons of mandarin oranges sat, waiting to be checked.

Mandarin Mayhem

Joining another retail assistant, Low Cher King, who has been with the outlet for 10 months, I began the task of sorting through cartons of fresh mandarin oranges in preparation for the after-work crowd.

As we were nearing the New Year period, Cher King explained that there would be a high volume of customers rushing to buy their oranges. To make it easier for customers, he shared that “what we try to do for them here as a service, is to check the boxes first for rotten oranges, and replace them.”

Cher King and his colleague patiently taught me the ropes on handling peak hour crowds as they loaded up more boxes of mandarin oranges in preparation for the evening shoppers (Photo Credit: NTUC This Week)

While the unpleasantness from picking out squishy, mouldy oranges was relatively simple, moving boxes while trying to attend to customers was less so. I observed with awe as Cher King and his fellow colleagues managed it like seasoned veterans.

Being the newbie, they graciously let me have the easier task of arranging the boxes and helping customers double-check their oranges before they  went into their trolley.

“Things can get crazy when the crowd comes in, but we try to serve them with a smile, and try to accommodate their requests for ‘nice’ oranges as much as we can,” said Cher King.

A Deeper Appreciation

My shift may have been a short one, but the physical effort didn’t take long to catch up with me. The experience really made me realise and appreciate the fastidious attention to detail that goes into creating the shopping experience that I enjoy so much.

How Cher King and his colleagues manage all that on their 8.5-hour shift (with meal and tea breaks, of course) and yet maintain the smiles on their faces, I can only admire and hope to learn from.

And like the customers who returned the services provided with a “thank you” and “Happy New Year”, I will be more appreciative of these everyday champions working behind the scenes.

Share this story: