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Despite surging COVID-19 cases, many retailers in the country remain open — meaning there are a whole lot of people still working retail in a pandemic.

people walking around a mall

Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

This week, California’s governor Gavin Newsom opened the state back up, despite the US being on track to hit 500,000 COVID deaths next month.

If you’ve ever worked retail, you know how hard it is — I can’t even imagine dealing with customers in a pandemic. So we asked retail workers from the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what they wish customers would STOP doing immediately. Here are their responses!


Licking money(???), among other things:

October Films

“I had one woman take off her mask so she could lick her fingers, count her cash, and hand it to me, wet.”


“I even had one customer come up with this pair of pants who found a stain on them, she proceeded to pull down her mask, lick her fingers, and try to rub out the stain with her spit!!! And then of course she didn’t want them so I had to pick them up! I almost threw up in my mask.”



Ignoring the plexiglass dividers in between the customer and cashier:


“At the place I work, we have plexiglass sheets up in the front of the registers to protect both the employee and the customer. I absolutely despise when customers go around the plexiglass to talk, especially when they pull their mask down. It’s there for a reason!”


“Moving around the plastic barrier we have up to protect us cashiers from customers. I’ve had customers come around and pat my arm because I was visibly frustrated.”



Pulling their mask down to sneeze or cough:


“I HATE when people take their MASK OFF TO COUGH OR SNEEZE. They literally wear their mask correctly, pull it down, sneeze on everything, then pull the mask back up. Why even wear the mask at that point? So frustrating.”



Making the cashier touch the pinpad so they don’t have to:


“I’ve had people who refused to touch the pinpad. They want me to put their pin in for them. Why is okay for me to touch it but not them?”


“Thinking they’re too special to touch the pin pad when they pay by card and asking ME to touch it for them. Like yeah, sure Karen, I guess my safety doesn’t matter in a pandemic, should I wipe your ass for you, too?”



Or refusing to take change when they just made the cashier take their cash:

DreamWorks Pictures

“Stop paying cash and then refusing to take the change because it’s dirty!!! I had to touch your dirty money; my hands are definitely cleaner than yours!”



Wearing their mask under their nose:


“For me it’s the people who are wearing a mask…but it’s under their nose or resting on their chin. Just because you technically have one on doesn’t make it ok for you to walk around the store like that.”



Or worse, not even wearing a mask at all:


“People just take off their masks once they get inside the store and it’s SO ANNOYING! They don’t even ask us, [they] just rip it off and say, ‘Ugh, that thing is so hard to breathe in.’ We have to wear them all day!”



Especially because they were just “hoping the store wasn’t enforcing that rule”:


“I recently quit working in retail after 15 years because COVID is bringing out the WORST in people. It’s this bizarre almost Natural Selection where the kind, patient people you love to help are doing the right thing and staying home so only the selfish, aggressive people people are going out as a way for them to feel in control and powerful. I HATED when people would come inside without their mask and when we would ask if they had one they would sheepishly pull one out of their pockets. I was so confused until one guy actually said to my face, ‘Oh, I was hoping you guys weren’t enforcing that,’ and it dawned on me that people were just trying to find out who would make them adhere to a mask mandate. They knew the rules, came prepared, and then chose to not follow them anyway.”



Taking off their mask to talk to an employee, try on clothes, or look at shirts????:


“PULLING DOWN THEIR MASKS BECAUSE THEY CAN’T HEAR US. What are they even thinking they’re achieving there? I have auditory processing issues myself and I can’t even reason why they would need to pull down their mask to hear me speaking.”


“The worst story I’ve had was when this one woman came in wearing a mask, but whenever she would look at clothes on our racks she would take off her mask. Like, I don’t understand. A mask makes it hard for you to see the shirts you’re looking at?”


“They also think that they magically don’t need to wear their masks in the fitting room area and will open the door maskless to ask for another size.”



Or to eat or drink:


“Acting like eating and drinking is a free pass from wearing a mask. Eating an ice cream cone in a mall…in a pandemic…IS NASTY!”


“I work at a pretty big mall and there are signs everywhere for people to take food to go or eat at the restaurants. But security doesn’t do anything and people come in our store sit on our benches and eat. They will completely pull their masks off. It’s disgusting and rude.”



Touching items they have no intention of purchasing:



“We sell these tiny Lego figures that come in bags so that you cannot see which figure you are buying. They are collectable, I guess. People come in and fondle every single bag to try and guess which one is which and find the one in the set they are missing. The sound of rustling plastic goes on for 10 minutes at least and it makes me want to scream.”



Getting frustrated items are out of stock, then asking if the store is going out of business:


“Manager of a clothing boutique here. Our stores have been around in our area for a long time and we have a lot of long time loyal customers. COVID obviously affected our stock this year, whether it was a brand that couldn’t fulfill its production or shipping issues, and all buying is done by the company owners (i.e., no one in the actual store). The amount of times people were like, ‘Wow, you used to have so much more stuff’ or asked us if we were closing because of the lack of product was just ridiculous. I really had to tell people, ‘Yeah, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic so things are different. 🤦🏻‍♀️”



Trying to enter the store when there’s clearly a line or a sign indicating to wait outside:

Comedy Central

“I may work for a large company, but we are still affected. Our hours are shorter, we don’t have as many payroll hours and therefore, there aren’t as many employees. So if you choose to come bum around the store at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, along with the rest of the city of Orlando, guess what? YA WAITIN IN LINE!!! And if they call for lane backup, I’m not coming. Because you’ve trashed my department and I’m the only one scheduled between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.”


“Ignoring the sign on the door that clearly says ‘please wait outside until you are called’ then getting upset when I have to ask you to wait outside the store.”



Pulling their mask down to use Face ID for Apple Pay instead of just putting in their passcode:

Comedy Central


Trying to test cosmetics products or smell perfumes:


“I work in a store that sells cosmetics. All of our testers in the store are taped closed and can’t be opened to test. A woman came in asking someone to match her foundation…we were happy to help my looking at the testers and trying to visualize a match without opening them. She didn’t want that. We also have an app that can be used to match your skin tone, and we have an excellent return policy where she could have purchased a shade and if it didn’t match, it could easily be returned. Wasn’t good enough for her and she stormed out of the store because we wouldn’t let her open products to put on her face!”


“I work at Sephora and we have a no touch policy on our fragrance testers. We have to spray for clients. People will take their masks off and let the tester touch their nose.”


“People opening and swatching SEALED, PACKAGED makeup!! Which was frowned upon before the pandemic, never mind BEING in one. I’m just tired of telling grown adults to stop opening lipstick…it’s unsanitary.”



Wearing a neck gaiter or bandana instead of a mask:

Paramount Pictures

“When you have mask regulations in the store from CDC guidelines and customers proceed to argue with you over wearing a neck gaiter, bandana, mesh mask or not one at all, claiming that it’s discrimination and that they will be calling to sue the company. I’m not making this up, I’ve had people cough at me and cuss me out because of our mask regulations.”



Trying to use the clearly closed fitting rooms:

Sony Pictures Releasing

“This happened to my coworker last week. Had some stupid lady come in who proceeded to complain that we were not allowing in-store try ons (like hello, if we have the fitting rooms open we all know damn well that everyone will be taking their masks off in there, aka A SMALL ENCLOSED SPACE MERE FEET FROM OTHER PEOPLE, like we’re trying to limit exposure here!).

After my coworker apologized about it and said, ‘The company has us keeping them closed.’ This Karen accused us all of lying, saying ‘THAT’S NOT TRUE BECAUSE HOLLISTER HAS THEIRS OPEN!!!’ …We do not fucking have anything to do with Hollister!! Coworker’s response was short and she told her it was company policy and left it at that. Hate these entitled assholes.”


“Our fitting rooms are closed for your safety and ours!! Please stop moving barriers to let yourself into the fitting rooms. There is a sign there telling you why you shouldn’t!”



Or just trying stuff on in the middle of the store, EVEN IF IT MEANS STRIPPING:


“I work at a department store that has fitting rooms closed due to COVID. The amount of adults I have had to tell can’t just strip naked in the middle of the store to try on clothes is astounding.”


“Like most places, we don’t have fitting rooms open. That doesn’t stop people from literally undressing in the aisles. We have to ask people to keep their clothes on daily.”



Ranting to the employees about people not following CDC guidelines:


“Customers complaining to me about other customers not following COVID guidelines. Like I’m right there with you, it’s annoying and I hate it too, but there’s not much I can personally do, especially when I don’t see them breaking the rules.”



Bringing kids into the store and letting them roam free:

The Simpsons

“My mom works in the toy area. And she’s so tired of people bringing in their kids because they’re bored at home. The kids and parent touch all the toys and make a mess. And expect her to clean it all up. She’s even had grown ASS adults tell their kids to leave the toy anywhere. Because it’s the employees job to clean up after them. Wtf are parents teaching their kids?!”


“My biggest pet peeve is parents who are absolutely not paying attention to what their kids are doing or touching while shopping. Just the other day I had to take down and quarantine an entire display of make up brushes because the boy was rubbing his BARE FACE on all of them while his little sister meticulously TOUCHED every single one. I was immobile while taking it all in and then noticed that THE MOM WAS COUGHING THE ENTIRE TIME. Pay attention to your kids or order your shopping for pick up or curbside.”



Or worse, bringing the whole family as an outing:


“In California, we have maximum capacity mandates. For my small toy store, that capacity is 8. Including my staff. At the holidays, people still insisted on bringing in their entire family to shop, causing epic lines.”


“Bringing in an entire family to shop. it doesn’t take two adults and three children to shop. Nor does it take four teenagers with one handheld basket among them.”



Leaving their masks in the parking lot:


“Leaving their masks and gloves on the floor in the parking lot when a trash can is 10 feet away. We have to pick after you.”


“Also, stop leaving your COVID-ridden masks and gloves in trolleys. Put them in the bin, you filthy animals…”



Asking the employees questions they have no way of knowing the answer to, such as “when can we stop wearing masks?”:

Chloe Productions

“STOP ASKING WHEN WE CAN STOP WEARING MASKS!!! Do I look like I have a doctorate in epidemiology??? Oh, lemme go call Dr. Fauci’s personal number to see when this pandemic is over.”


“I work in a shop and someone asked me the other day when she will be getting her COVID vaccine!”



Lying about being exempt from wearing a mask:


“I work at American Eagle and people CONSTANTLY come in without masks claiming they have a ‘medical condition’ and we have to let them in. I’m sorry but American frickin’ Eagle is not essential, shop online if you can’t wear a mask, and if you can’t wear a mask because of a health condition, you probably shouldn’t be out and about period.”


“Also people claiming to be exempt. Don’t come into a PUBLIC store where masks are required to not spread the virus and tell us you’re exempt when we ask you to put a mask on. if you are so sick that you can’t wear a mask, don’t go out. I’ve also done research on the causes for exemption…those exemption cards that people try to show us are usually fake and illegal.”



Getting mad at employees for COVID rules they have no control over


“Stop acting like we’re the ones creating these mask rules and yelling at us when we tell you to put your mask on or pull it above your nose. None of us get paid enough to deal with your BS. We, too, would rather not be in the midst of a pandemic.”


“I work in a jewelry store and our store has a policy that every customer needs to sanitize their hands at the entrance, and most people are grateful and give us no issues. We have had customers who outright REFUSE and we almost had to call security because they were causing such a disturbance to the other customers. I don’t make the rules and if you don’t like them, you can leave.”



Or asking for exceptions:


“I work at a bridal shop and we have a limit on how many guests a bride can bring with her because we can’t have more than a certain number of people in the store based on the size. Half of the brides I talk to ask ‘Oh please, couldn’t I just bring one extra person?’ And then they get mad when I tell them they can’t. I’m just a stylist not a manager or owner, but YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL! COVID hit us all and we’re more lenient than some places but we’re just trying to be safe! Sorry all of your bridesmaids want to come at once. Just FaceTime them! Haven’t you seen Say Yes To The Dress? It’s always better when there are fewer people in the entourage!”



Complaining about having to wear a mask for a few minutes, then asking how you do it:


“One that really bugs me is when people come up to the register at my job (which is a clothing store) and try to make conversation like, ‘How do you wear this (a mask) all day, I’m so hot!’ I usually just say ‘Oh I’m used to it,’ which is true, but it’s like, I don’t want to get a preventable illness out of laziness! And while I’m grateful for my job, shopping for clothes in person is certainly not essential!”


“It just bothers me when guests without a mask on say to me, ‘I can’t believe you wear that mask all day, it must be awful’ or ‘how can you breathe?’ They always say it with an attitude, too. I always say, ‘It’s really not that hard and I’m just trying to keep others safe’ in my really perky customer service voice. Most of the time they shut up.”



Taking their masks off to smell something like a candle:


“The customers who take down their masks and smell candles. You don’t want to know how many others have picked that up and had a good sniff. 🤢”


“People who take their masks off to smell personal care products (shampoos, lotions, etc.) are such a pet peeve. Multiple people do it EVERY day.”


“I work specialty retail and people continuously pull their masks down to smell the candles. Not just smell them but like…nose-to-wax smell them! Newsflash: they are 1000% fragrant enough to smell through ANY mask.”



Shoving your phone in people’s faces to ask about a product:


“I work at a bookstore and, even before COVID, people just shove their phones in my face and go, ‘Do you have this?’ I don’t want your gross phone near my face during a pandemic! Not to mention the fact that you’re way too fucking close to me. Plus it’s just rude. If you have the ability to speak, just read me the title.”



Trying to return masks, or items that have a no-return policy:


“People trying to return the cloth masks that we sell! We can’t take them back regardless, but I had someone say it was ‘ridiculous’ that she couldn’t return the kids size masks she bought because she ‘tried them on and they didn’t fit.'”


“I work at a major retail pet store. We stopped doing returns because of the number of COVID cases in the area. I am tired of people yelling at me when I tell them they have to wait until we start up returns again. AND NO I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHEN THAT WILL FUCKING BE! WEAR YOUR DAMN MASKS WASH YOUR HANDS AND PUT ASIDE THE ANTI-VACCINE AGENDA KAREN AND IT WILL HAPPEN SOONER.”



Getting frustrated that lines aren’t moving faster because the counters need to be cleaned between customers:

Sony Pictures Releasing

“At my job, we clean the register counter in between every single customer. Oftentimes, people will question our sanitation standards and ask, ‘Is that really necessary? Um…yes. We are in a global pandemic and not for nothing — that person who came in contact with this space right before you is NOT in your quarantine bubble.”


“Guests get mad that I sanitize my hands, the pin-pad, register area, and protective barrier after I ring them up. One lady started to berate and yell at me because I acted like she was ‘infected with a disease’…ma’am there’s a possibility of you carrying a deadly virus in the midst of a pandemic.”



Coming into the store if you’ve been sick or exposed:

Paramount Pictures

“People telling me they just had COVID or their daughter or their cousin has it and they just saw them yesterday. They shouldn’t be in the store to BEGIN with, but it’s already terrifying knowing how exposed we are on a daily basis, I don’t need to know you’re enabling it and are the worst of them.”


“The big thing for me is don’t come in when you’re sick. If you absolutely have to come in to the store, please social distance and wear a proper mask. I had a customer one time come up to me who was clearly sick and was wearing a hanky that constantly slipped down her face. She got into my personal space while she was asking questions. I did everything I could to make sure I didn’t get sick, but I got sick two days later with what she had. Thankfully it wasn’t COVID-19, but it still irritated me that she couldn’t respect my personal space.”



Getting super close to employee for no reason:

The CW

“When you take a step back so they take a step forward. Then you take another step back and they step forward. So you have to remind them about social distancing. ‘Oh I forgot.’ 🙄”


“Standing way too close. Customers did this in the before times, too, like we were friends or something. I don’t know why I thought they’d be better about now, so I guess that’s on me.”



Not following social distancing markers in line:


“There are markers on the floor for a reason! Stand on them when you’re in line so your social distancing it’s not hard! People always roll their eyes when I tell them to get on the 1.5m — as if we’re not in a pandemic!”


“Crowding together when there’s clear signs on the floor and signs everywhere asking to social distance AND masks are mandatory! I don’t care that you don’t ‘believe’ COVID is real, people are dying every day.”



Showing up just to buy non-essential items, especially just one thing:


“Do you REALLY need ONE gallon of paint? Right now? Don’t thank me for ‘risking my life’ so you can come in and buy a damn key ring.”



Coming to the store just as something to do:


“I’m not here working just so you can come meander through my drug store because you have cabin fever. We are essential, but that means, get what you need and get out! Go home, where it’s safe.”



And finally, just being difficult and arguing:


“I live in a country where wearing a mask is a legal obligation, but even so I’ve had a big grown man step up to me and threaten to hit me when I asked him to wear his mask. When I told him it was the law, he started ranting about BLM and US law enforcement. We’re in the UK. He was behaving so aggressively that other customers actually came to help me. All I want to do is sell books.”


“Just stop being rude. It’s seriously not that hard. None of us want to deal with your terrible attitude, and the least you could do during a global pandemic that’s made all of us miserable is be a kind and decent human being. If you can’t put your mean comments aside for 20 minutes while you’re inside our store, then we don’t want your business.”


Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.


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