Book Review: Malled by Caitlin Kelly
April 16, 2011 18 Comments
When journalism wasn’t a steady job anymore, Kelly earned some extra money by working as a sales assistant in an outdoor clothes store. She was in for some surprises.
Tomorrow, I’ll be interviewing Caitlin Kelly about her experiences as a shop assistant. Below is my review of the book.
Malled: What it is about
In 2007, Caitlin Kelly loses her journalist job at a newspaper. As a freelance writer she has earnings coming in from other writing jobs, but she decides a steady income, however small, would be very welcome in her household.
She applies and is hired as a sales assistant in an outdoor clothes store, in a shopping mall. There are good and bad things about the job. Most colleagues are friendly and pleasant, everything is shiny new in the (brand-new) store – which is all very different from the newspaper job that she had before.
But soon she realizes that there are many demeaning and unpleasant aspects to the job: standing on your feet for hours on end, being filmed by a security camera all the time, dealing with difficult customers, and finding out that no one cares whether the job could be carried out better with some improvements in the store or stockroom.
Her main grievance in the book is that the higher management spends so much money on advertising and sponsoring while better paid (i.e., happier and more responsible) staff would make such a difference in number of sales. With the very low wages that the sales staff earn ($8 to $11 per hour) it’s no wonder that they aren’t very motivated to do a good job, and that staff turnover is almost 100% per year.
She also argues for better organised stock rooms because many potential sales don’t happen because the staff can’t find the requested items in the badly organised stockrooms. But management isn’t likely to listen. If the sales staff isn’t happy, they’re welcome to leave.
In the end, over two years after she starts working at the store, Kelly quits after she has to deal with one abusive customer too many. (What she’s doing now, you can read it my interview with her tomorrow).
The book is organised chronologically, from the job interview, her years at the store, through to her last day at work. The text is supplemented with information from interviews and other research.
Malled: What I thought
I was appalled by many of the things that Kelly described about her job: only a single break in an eight-hour working day, where employees are not allowed to sit down at all (except during the break). Safety hazards in the stockroom, with boxes and clothes racks cluttering the floor space and unlabelled boxes placed at dizzying heights that can only be reached using a scary, and heavy, stepladder.
And the disinterest of management regarding improvements for their staff! I can go on for a while, but Kelly has already done this, in a very interesting way.
Caitlin Kelly does blow her own trumpet every now and then. She was keen to tell the reader of her own (good) standards of dealing with the customers and with her colleagues. This was a little annoying but it also showed a standard of work ethic as you may expect to find in store employees (but usually don’t). She put in a lot of effort to try and do a good job and this contrasted nicely with the disinterested way her manager dealt with her complaints and suggestions.
This book should be read by those in charge of retail companies. Better still, these people should go “Back to the Floor” to see for themselves what the work is like for their employees. But since they only care about their spreadsheets, it’s unlikely they’ll do either. (Back to the Floor was a UK TV program in which executives spent a week on the work floor of their own company, after which they generally called for drastic changes in working conditions – of course, without the backup of the managers who had not been back to the floor).
Read it if you are interested to see what’s really happening behind the counters of the stores where you love to shop.
I got this book: from the publishers Portfolio/Penguin free for review (hardback)
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 226
First published: 2011 (April)
Genre: non-fiction, retail
Also interesting: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, dealing with the poor treatment (expendability) of workers in the food industry