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Soul-Sucking Retail Job

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The big box store variation of the crappy fast food McJob or the low-level office job.

The store is filled to brim with merchandise reaching up to the fluorescent light ceiling, annoying consumption-crazed customers and of course, dozens of overworked, underpaid disgruntled employees. This is where dreams of a successful career go to die, right into the discount bin.

The New Job Episode will often focus on one character working in such an environment (if he doesn't become a Burger Fool) and then subsequently finding out being a grocery store or local Wal-Mart employee is not as easy as it looks. Alternatively, the fiction will sometimes focus on those poor souls that have already been working there for years (such as in Clerks, Employee of the Month, or Superstore) and will give the viewer an inside look at life behind the counter. A prolonged period of working one of these jobs may result in an Apathetic Clerk.

Either way, as this is Truth in Television, having this job is certainly no fun. Between the obnoxious customers who think "the customer is always right" is Serious Business, lazy and incompetent co-workers laying all their tasks on the interns and temps who will end up having to take the fall for them, the horrible music (especially during the holiday season), the long hours consisting of standing on increasingly-blistered feet doing nothing, then being forced to work at a ridiculously clumsy pace by impatient customers (and co-workers), and the tyrannical management, quitting or getting fired is sometimes the only way out. In the U.S., since a lot of manufacturing has been moved overseas, retail and hospitality have become the standard "blue collar" jobs. Unfortunately, with the prevailing retail apocalypse resulting in numerous retail chains downsizing seriously or going out of business altogether, this job is getting more precarious as well, especially with rise of self-serve checkout kiosks threatening to replace the cashier operators.

If the store is making people's lives miserable outside the store as well, it's a Predatory Business.

Has nothing to do with literally sucking a soul.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Some of the main characters in Adult Children work in a superstore, and many of the strips deal with the crazy customers and managers they have to deal with.
  • Retail is all about the world of retail jobs. Namely, how much it sucks:
    • The main setting, Grumbel's, has the leads constantly dealing with corporate's backward policies and boneheaded decisions, horrible customers, and the effects of a bad economy affecting the store. In the end, when Grumbel's went out of business, the three main leads left the retail industry altogether, fed up with dealing with customers.
    • Their rival Delman's is even worse, rife with Bad Bosses that very likely backstabbed their way to the position (as seen with Mina), and employees that openly hate each other and the job and won't hesitate to turn on each other if they think it will get them promoted.
    • Amber used to work at Abersnobby and Finch, where snobbery was the name of the game. They could be fired for even speaking to employees from other stores.
    • Other one-off gags about how much retail sucks include: human beings increasingly being replaced with machines, being the only place open on Christmas Day, how retail permeates one's soul so much that they're stopped at other stores because people think they work there, and the perils/joys of working at a liquidating store.
    • Cooper drops the trope name (well, similar) when he gets irate about toy registers being unnecessarily gendered by coloring some of them pink.
    "Soul-crushing retail jobs are for boys and girls!

    Film - Animated 
  • The human grocery store workers in Sausage Party absolutely hate their jobs. Darren (whom the foods call "the Dark Lord") is especially vocal about it.
  • In Turning Red, this is implied with how tired and unfocused Devon appears, along with dark eyebags. Even when Ming accuses him of something really horrible, he seems so out-of-it he doesn't understand what is going on and doesn't even try to defend himself, simply answering what he's asked and only seeming to realize what's going on when he sees the pictures and looks at Mei. However, given that he's later revealed to be a 4*Townie, it's possible that he's just been putting himself through overtime work so that he can afford the tickets to their performance at the SkyDome.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Sam from A Cinderella Story works at a diner run by her Wicked Stepmother, in which she is unpaid and overworked. She gets made fun of for it at school by Shelby and her Girl Posse, who then proceed to drive her to tears by maliciously chanting "diner girl" at her. At the end, however, she quits her job and moves in with her co-worker Rhonda, who also quit alongside her.
  • Clerks was one of the first films to really explore life behind the counter and expose retail life as the godforsaken Crapsack World it's always been.
  • A more comedic upbeat example is the Super Club store in Dane Cook's Employee of the Month where the employees are still very competitive and haven't completely had their spirits crushed. However the in universe rival chain Maxi-Mart plays this trope straighter than straight.
  • The main character of Funny People sees his day job in a supermarket deli as one of these. His co-worker, an ex-convict who feels lucky just to have a shot at an honest living, sees it in a much better light.
  • Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) has Dick go from Riches to Rags and the spiral downwards includes from working as an executive of a major media corporation to having to be a greeter for Cost-Mart. He gets fired in only a day due to a misunderstanding.
  • Inverted in Junebug when we see Johnny at his retail job, and he's significantly happier there than he is at home with his parents and girlfriend.
  • Despite giving us the page image, One Hour Photo's department store setting is deliberately stylized to look heavenly and idyllic. It is here that Sy is happy, developing photos (and printing off extra copies of one family's photos for himself,) and the only torment the job ever causes him is when he is fired for having stolen enough photos to paper a living room wall.
  • Wendy from Please Stand By works at Cinnabon. Her job involves some baking, which she likes, but her main duty is standing at the door with a tray of samples, saying "Welcome to Cinnabon. Would you like a Cinnabon?" to everyone who walks by.
  • Downplayed in Ricki and the Flash where Ricki has a dreary job at Whole Foods, which contrasts with her desire to perform with her band. She does however get a new outlook once she reconnects with her daughter, and is seen enjoying her job a bit more.
  • Shaun has one in Shaun of the Dead. He clearly doesn't enjoy his job. The biggest condemnation of it comes in the ending when the news reports that zombies make ideal retail workers.
  • Ted in Ted gets a job in one of these places, though the negative aspects are largely omitted in favor of Ted's Wacky Fratboy Hijinx.
  • In the movie The Wrestler, Randy the Ram is miserable working in the back room of a grocery store. However, when he's temporarily moved up to the deli counter, he starts having fun working with customers where he gets to be a showman again. Ultimately, he rejects this ordinary existence for his self-destructive but more glamorous wrestling persona.

  • A&P has Sammy see the A&P as this. He quits when he wants to enjoy the higher life.
  • Gets turned into a Literal Metaphor in Horrorstör, about employees at an IKEA-ripoff furniture store called Orsk dealing with a suspected haunting at the store. It turns out that the store was built atop a former prison, whose warden believed in forcing prisoners to perform mindless, repetitive tasks as a form of rehabilitation, which is explicitly juxtaposed with the mindless, repetitive tasks that the store's employees perform as part of their job.
  • Nevada: The main character works in a big bookstore where employees tend not to last long and those who do have given up any hope in life.
  • Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook was written by a poor soul who spent too long working at such places for poor souls who are working at such places. (and was written by the same person that does the Retail strip mentioned above).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Are You Being Served?: The Ur-Example.
  • Played with in The Assassination of Gianni Versace, where getting a job at the local drugstore might be the only healthy decision Andrew made in his entire adult life. The workload appears to have been manageable, and his boss actually tried to take an interest in his life. Unfortunately, Andrew's delusions of grandeur wouldn't allow him to settle for such an unimpressive existence, and thus he quit the job and became a male escort instead.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In "Terry's Kitties", Gina tries to stop Adrian from bossing Charles around, and he retorts that she doesn't scare him because he's "been through hell" working undercover. Gina responds "I worked at a sunglass kiosk at the mall for four years. So not only have I been through hell, I was assistant manager there."
  • Used in one episode of Leverage, where the team tries to take down a Wal Mart ripoff (notably, the chain itself is too big even for them, so they settle for stopping this one branch from opening and destroying the town's economy). One elderly diabetic employee was continually forced to work through his breaks, with predictable consequences. Eliot snaps and nearly beats up his boss, calling him a bully.
  • Lois' job at the Lucky Aide drugstore in Malcolm in the Middle is portrayed as this.
  • Al Bundy's job as a shoe salesman in Married... with Children. He gets no respect, has to put up with fat women who insist they're a "size four," and works for less than minimum wage (his boss, Gary, has said that the only reason she hasn't fired Al is that he'd make more money off of unemployment).
  • Not a huge superstore, but just as soul-numbing to Granville would be Arkwright's little corner store in Open All Hours. The revival, Still Open All Hours reveal that he now owns and runs the store just like Arkwright.
  • Sam and his friends on Reaper spend as much time dealing with the incompetent management and obnoxious customers of The Work Bench as they do chasing down escaped damned souls. It's a toss-up which job is worse.
  • The entire premise of the NBC sitcom, Superstore. While the characters manage due to a zany friendship with each other, the show is not shy about how exploited and underpaid the staff is, and how exploitative are the corporate suits above them.
  • Eric and Red both work at such a store for some time in That '70s Show. Unlike most examples, since the show is set in the 1970's they do not have an expectation of suckiness, since it has not permeated popular culture yet. Red manages to get himself hired as management instead of working as a cashier, and winds up as Eric's supervisor.

  • In "Konbini" by Brief & Trunks, a bored woman goes to the convenience store late at night. The workers at the store are blank-faced part-timers who look like they really don't want to be at work.
  • The narrator of Dire Straits's "Money for Nothing" is terminally pissed-off about his job stocking appliances at a big-box store, and fantasizes about being a rock star instead.
  • Kanye West repeatedly alludes to his history of working retail throughout his debut album, The College Dropout, and it's often portrayed as a dour experience he had to endure before getting his big break. "Spaceship" specifically references his time working at The Gap, being worked as a greeter because him being black would make the store look progressive, all while he made so little and dealt with abusive management that he resorted to Stealing from the Till.

    Standup Comedy 

    Video Games 
  • Billy vs. SNAKEMAN has the Retail minigame, where you man a small store and have to deal with dozens of horrible customers, with the goal of checking as many of them as possible out while keeping your rage from going past your limit (at which point you rage out and kill the customers, getting your pay docked as a result).
  • Minotaur in a China Shop has the title's minotaur character trying to fetch breakable china for customers while contesting with clumsy awkward controls. When the minotaur has broken too much merchandise, he goes into an Unstoppable Rage.
  • Martin Callahan in The Outer Worlds is a thoroughly broken man whose job consists of selling Spacer's Choice merchandise while wearing a hat that makes him look like the company mascot. He's not sure whether there even is a man beneath the mask anymore.
  • Sorry, We're Open is essentially this: The Roguelike Horror RPG, where you play as the manager of a supermarket store and the employees you hire. A lot of the game's humor is directed at both the mundanity of the job, customers and messes inconveniencing the player, and the uncaring nature of the higher-ups. Then the Surreal Horror begins...
  • In Stardew Valley, Shane is stuck in one at the local Joja Mart. The Player Character him/herself also arrives in Stardew Valley after quitting a cubicle-hell job for the same company. A key component of his friendship events is the depression and feeling of hopelessness that his daily routine brings upon him, with alcohol as his way of dealing with his woes.
  • In Super Mario Odyssey, the Simlish of one of the Crazy Cap shop employees in New Donk City can easily be heard as him saying "I just want to die."

    Web Animation 
  • Molly’s experience running her family’s toy store in Epithet Erased is largely presented as this. Her father is grossly irresponsible and her sister can’t be bothered, which means Molly is almost always the one stuck dealing with customers. Made worse by the fact that she’s twelve and has to balance the job with school, usually at the expense of her sleep. It’s taken a pretty obvious toll.

    Web Comics 
  • Diego of Because I'm Depressed has spent most of his adult life working at an electronics store called "Byte Me". The years have ground him down to the point where he spends most of his break time either sneaking alcohol or crying.
  • Between Failures is about a bunch of twenty-somethings trying desperately to find some meaning and happiness in their lives while trapped in retail. Thomas is probably the most driven to do so, mostly as a way of fighting against a far deeper well of depression and ennui than probably anyone else in the store.
  • Crow Time: Implied with the Shadow Wizard. He hated his job so much that he started practicing dark magic.
    Crow: Retail made you a shadow wizard.
    Shadow Wizard: Sure did.
  • One of the main characters of Paul Southworth's Krazy Larry works at the superstore "Everything But Walnuts", a giant store that carries literally every imaginable product except walnuts, first as a clerk, and later, as their mascot "Nonuts The Ferret". Ironically, he finds this job after quitting his old Burger Fool job. He actually enjoys the mascot part of the job more because even though it involves him standing outside naked with only a censor bar over his crotch and getting pelted with rocks by passing cars, it's still better than dealing with the soul-crushing drudgery inside the store.
    • Similarly, his third comic, Reptilis Rex revolves around the main characters working in one of these called Lemmy's, a retail chain owned by a sexist, racist old man, a job they got after meeting another worker in prison. Upon being informed what retail actually is (i.e working with the public), Krell asks if there are any available spots open cleaning out feces-encrusted public bathrooms instead, but they're unfortunately already full.
  • Marty has been bouncing from one of these to another in Marco & Marty.
  • Nerf NOW!!'s Anne apparently once had one of these, and, when she was discouraged and burned out from her streaming career, Morgan motivated her to stick with it by saying she could go back to retail.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Ares comes running to Zeus complaining that Athena had allegedly cheated on a bet they made over who could put together the most formidable army. Ares organized an army consisting of badasses from throughout history such as ninjas, vikings, spartan warriors, etc. They were all massacred in seconds by Athenas sole choice of fighters- unpromotable retail workers!
    Athena: ''They fear no death!!'
  • Shortpacked! takes place in one of these - granted, the employees are more a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, but their boss, Galasso, is a case of Small Name, Big Ego personified. For contrast, the McAwesome's across the street is possibly the greatest place to work at. Although Robin notes she prefers the retail job to her other job-a member of the House of Representatives.

    Web Original 
  • James Tyler, host of the gaming-focused video essay show Cleanprincegaming, frequently characterizes the video game retailer GameStop as one of these, having made multiple videos about his bad experiences there as both an employee and as a customer.
  • Then there's Customers Suck, a web forum to exchange stories and sympathy. Sections include several for stories about customers, "Cursing out Coworkers" (to vent about peers), and "Morons in Management" (getting the latest nonsense from those above off one's chest).
  • This Playlist on YouTube, entitled Retail, is home to JediMaster362’s Retail Job Experiences.
  • Jib Jab's "Big Box Mart" is centered around this (sung to the tune of Oh! Susanna).
    I still go to Big Box-Mart.
    Yes, I'm there most all the time
    These days you'll likely find me sweeping aisle number 9
    My dreams of our retirement have gone up in a blaze
    And I'll be scrubbing toilets till they stick me in the grave
  • The website Not Always Right has countless tales from retail workers who live this trope.
  • This trope is the basis of the "Retail Robin" meme.
  • Domics' YouTube channel often has "Re-Tales" segments based on real-life experiences he's had with belligerent and stupid customers when he worked at a department store.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball directly focusing on the meaning of life, one of the offered answers is the universal store-clerk Larry stating his belief in "being useful"... but when he puts his daily routine into words ("I get up, I shower, I come to work, I work all day, I go home, I go to sleep! I get up, I shower, I come to work..."), his eyes go distant when he visibly realizes that his life is not what he wants, and still reciting, he takes what money he has, kisses his girlfriend, kisses his boss, and is last seen (for the episode) swimming into the sea.
  • Superstore USA from Family Guy certainly qualifies.
  • In Dan Vs., Dan tries to get revenge on Gigundo-Mart which literally has everything in bulk.
  • Pay Day from Daria is this, especially to Andrea, who swears Daria and Jane to secrecy about her employment.
  • Mega-Lo-Mart from King of the Hill qualifies. Filled with incompetent clerks with poor customer service skills. Hank had to work there when being laid off from Strickland Propane when Mega-Lo-Mart temporarily sold propane and was supervised by the dim-witted Buckley whose own inexperience with propane ensured that he didn't survived to the next season.
  • Wal-Mart (sorry, Sprawl-Mart) is portrayed this way in The Simpsons episode where Homer gets a job there. There is no chance for advancement, the employees are locked in at night, Homer has to work overtime without pay (otherwise he would be falsely accused of being an illegal Mexican immigrant, and deported to Mexico) and chips are implanted in their heads. The employees there compensate for their suffering by feeling free to loot the store at night; when informed of this, Homer immediately hijacks a forklift for stealing TVs.
  • Steven Universe: Sadie and Lars both work at a doughnut shop called "The Big Donut." They are reasonably happy there, but after Lars gets abducted and stranded in space, Sadie quickly finds the job unbearable and lonely. She soon quits and forms a band, even writing a song about how terrible her old job was.
  • Yin Yang Yo!: After getting his emotions blasted out of him, Yang concludes that there's only one place for him to be, that being a customer service job.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Soul Crushing Retail Job, Super Slave Market


Emotionless Yang

With his emotions blasted out of him, Yang feels like the only appropriate place to be is a customer service job. The actual employee working there doesn't act much different.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / SoulSuckingRetailJob

Media sources: