11 Secrets of Target Employees

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

If retail stores could splice their DNA, then Target might be considered a hybrid of Walmart and IKEA. The chain’s 1850 U.S. locations tend to focus less on just rock-bottom prices and more on offering consumers a variety of home goods—including furnishings, apparel, and even grocery items—in an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Target employees, or “team members,” adhere to a company policy of going out of their way to make sure customers leave happy. (Target, in turn, tries to keep workers satisfied, too: Starting pay at stores is $12 an hour, higher than minimum wage averages in many areas, and is expected to reach $15 by 2020.) To get a better idea of what that entails, Mental Floss asked a number of current and former Target associates about their experiences walking those well-polished floors. Here’s what they had to say about life under the bull's-eye.

1. Target team members have 15 seconds to respond to a customer’s call for help.

Go to a department inside a Target—toys, electronics, tools—and you’ll see a small call button or telephone you can use for assistance with inventory, pricing, or even to report a spill. This is Target’s version of DEFCON 1, and team members are expected to react accordingly. “When a guest picks up one of those red phones by the price scanners, they are given a chance to be directed to the store operator or page a team member,” Michael, a Target team member in the Los Angeles area, tells Mental Floss. “When they page a team member, it will announce on our walkies that a guest needs service in whatever area the phone was in. We have 15 seconds to get to that phone and clear the request.”

If they don’t make it in 15 seconds, the employee will get a second notice from the system. Miss it a third time and the store and its employees will take a hit on their guest service scores, which are also influenced by customer satisfaction surveys, speed of checkout, and other metrics. (Low scores might prompt a managerial scolding.)

2. Target employees are trained in biohazard clean-up.

If you work with the public, encountering bodily fluids is part of the job. At Target, cart attendants are typically responsible for retrieving shopping carts as well as any general maintenance, including messes that didn’t make their way into a toilet or sink. But if the cart attendant isn’t available, that means other team members have to be trained in eliminating messes. “Technically, it’s the cart attendant’s responsibility, but we don’t have one all the time,” Katherine, a Target team member in Missouri, tells Mental Floss. “You have to be certified in biohazard clean-up. It’s training you have to do. You’re able to clean chemical spills, feces, stuff like that.”

Katherine says she’s had to dispose of errant poop as well as used underwear. Fortunately, there’s a hierarchy for more serious spills: “For blood, we’re supposed to get the store leader.”

3. Target Starbucks isn’t really a Starbucks.

A welcome perk of Target locations is their food court, which can host a variety of pizza or other fast food items and typically includes a Starbucks location. (As of 2016, there were over 1300 Target stores with a Starbucks inside.) But according to Katherine, that Starbucks isn’t a Starbucks by the strictest of definitions. “A Starbucks in a Target is not actually a Starbucks,” she says. Those storefronts are actually managed by Target, not the coffee chain. “If they transferred to Starbucks, they would have to be re-trained, or trained. Starbucks doesn’t consider Target Starbucks to be Starbucks.”

4. Target employees hate when customers act like “Karen.”

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

If you hear a Target employee discuss someone named “Karen” in your presence, be concerned. On Reddit and other internet forums where Target team members congregate to swap customer horror stories, the name has evolved to be a catch-all for a rude, obnoxious shopper. “Karen is basically the guest that complains about why her coupon didn’t work,” Katherine says. “She’s many people. Her name may not be Karen in real life, but she’s a pain. Just a guest that wants to speak with your manager.”

5. Team members want to connect with you.

Target’s corporate lingo used to include the concept of the “Vibe,” which was a term used to reference how team members can achieve maximum customer satisfaction. Though the “Vibe” term has gone out of style, the idea remains—get the customer feeling good about their experience. “The Vibe was Target's way of helping customers and getting them to buy more stuff,” Adam, a former Target employee in Wisconsin, tells Mental Floss. “For example, a customer is looking to buy a digital camera. We'd try to get them to buy a memory card and maybe a protective case for it as well. Target wanted us to try to ‘connect’ with the customer to drive additional sales. The Vibe was also doing other things such as price-matching low-priced items no questions asked, putting things on hold, walking customers' purchases out to their car and even putting them in their car.”

6. They sometimes dread seeing Funko collectors walk in.

James_Seattle, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For Funko collectors, coveting the blockheaded vinyl figures means going on a hunt for exclusives at various retail outlets. Their enthusiasm for snagging limited-run items can sometimes tax the patience of employees, who are often recruited to assist in the search. “They can be the most annoying people in the world,” Katherine says. “Other collectors, Hot Wheel collectors, are not that bad. [Funko] collectors know the item number, what time the truck arrives. They have their own sub-Reddit. They know how we work and operate. They can be hostile in person.”

Collectors who idle in the hopes that a Funko shipment is lurking in the stock room are usually out of luck. “We typically don’t have it in the back because they sell out really fast. Some Funko collectors are all right, but one time, at eight in the morning, someone spent the whole day there waiting for Funko to be unpacked. He asked four team members. He wanted like a special edition Shining Funko.” (Another employee eventually found it.)

7. No, Target employees are not hiding stuff from you.

As with any inventory system, Target’s website and its internal stock database can never be exactly correct at all times. When the computer indicates they have an item and it can’t be found, Michael says that some customers assume the team member is being deceptive. “Many guests believe that we have literally every item in the back room,” he says. “On our devices it may say we have X amount of an item on hand ... in reality, that number takes a while to update if it’s been sold. That number could also mean it’s in someone’s shopping cart, at guest services waiting to be sorted, thrown in a random spot, or stolen. They throw a fit all the time and accuse us [of] hiding it or some other crazy accusation.”

8. Target has its own forensic labs.

Chris Hondros, Getty Images

Like most retail stores, Target tries to limit losses as a result of shoplifting. The company even has two forensic laboratories, based in Las Vegas and Minneapolis, to analyze security footage and gather evidence of criminal activities. Employees are not expected to intervene on the sales floor, however, due to the potential for physical confrontation or liability. Instead, they usually just have to contact the asset protection teams and watch. “One lady last summer stole a bunch of clothes," Katherine says. "They got her to the police station, and she had stuffed a shirt up her butt. They asked if we wanted it back and ugh, no.”

9. They have a low-key uniform—but it can sometimes be uncomfortable.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

The Target “uniform” is relatively straightforward: a red shirt with khakis. (Although it varies a little by store, and some locations will allow team members to wear jeans on select occasions.) Because that’s not exactly a proprietary outfit, Katherine says that customers can sometimes be mistaken for employees. “They see people dress similar to Target workers and so they’ll go up to people,” she says. Katherine’s store has not yet gone to jeans, which she laments: “The khakis can be uncomfortable.”

10. Target employees have their own lingo—and they dread the clopen.

Target workers have their own vernacular. Broad sight lines and wide aisles populate a race track, or main pathway, that circles the stores. Reshop is merchandise that is out of place; zoning refers to making sure item labels are facing front on shelves. Adam says team members also reference the clopen, a work shift that is possibly the least desirable of them all. “I'd [like to] get rid of the clopen shifts,” he says, “having a closing shift and then an opening shift the next day.”

11. Target employees appreciate the perks.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Working at Target is no picnic. Because of the store’s commitment to exceptional customer service, team members can’t easily phone in their work performance and expect to stick around. That demand sometimes breaks rookies. “There’s a high turnover rate in general,” Katherine says. “People are intimidated by Target. When they first start, it’s a lot to take on, learning terms. Sometimes people start and never come back the next day."

If they stick it out, it might turn out to be one of the better experiences in retail. “It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had,” Katherine says, citing her circle of team members who are also her friends. Employees have also cited a 10 percent discount, flexible hours, and mandated break times as other perks that making working at Target a plus.

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12 Secrets of Spirit Halloween Employees

Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Spirit Halloween stores are a sign Halloween has arrived.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Joe Marver founded Spirit Halloween in 1983, he probably didn’t have any idea his seasonal Halloween store would eventually grow to over 1300 locations in the United States and Canada. But now, seeing a Spirit pop-up materialize in a vacant building has become as much of a Halloween tradition as pumpkin carving.

In order to assist shoppers with Halloween costumes, decorations, and animatronic creatures, Spirit employs a small army of seasonal workers. To get a better feel for what goes into this spooky vocation, Mental Floss reached out to several current Spirit Halloween team members. Here’s what they had to say about everything from customers making a mess to the hazards of trying on a mask during this pandemic-heavy Halloween.

1. Most Spirit Halloween employees really, really love Halloween.

Why take on a seasonal job with no potential for year-round work? If you love Halloween and the macabre, it’s a dream job. “I've never once worked with an employee that didn't love Halloween,” Kota, a five-year veteran of Spirit Halloween in Kentucky, tells Mental Floss. “It's something that all employees have in common from my experience … It's a perfect place to meet people with the same interests.”

2. Spirit Halloween employees are supposed to open costume packages for customers.

Spirit Halloween employees are happy to help with your costume selection.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

If a Spirit Halloween employee is eyeing you with a little bit of consternation, it might be because you ripped open a costume package. Owing to issues of loss prevention and hygiene—even before COVID-19 struck—Spirit’s policy is to let employees open items and then package them back up. But not every customer is willing to wait.

“Our employees are supposed to deal with opening and closing each and every package,” Kota says. “This way we don't have to worry about things coming out or going into the packages that aren't supposed to. Although we try hard to make it as easy and friendly as possible, some customers would rather do it themselves wherever they may be standing in the store.”

3. Spirit Halloween employees can’t keep astronaut helmets in stock.

Every season brings a different phenomenon to Halloween shopping. In 2018, it was the popular video game Fortnite. This year, it’s an astronaut helmet. Not the suit, just the helmet. The trend is due to the popularity of a smartphone game titled Among Us, which puts the player in the role of a space explorer.

“Despite what you might think, the suits themselves seem significantly less popular than the helmets themselves for reasons beyond my comprehension,” Derek, a Spirit Halloween employee in New Jersey for the past three years, tells Mental Floss. “It's still just a bit too early to say, but if the helmets keep shipping out at the rate they are, in-store stock will probably remain at a near-constant zero. If I'm recalling it right, all of the stores in my area currently have one helmet if any, and no more than five are being shipped to each store.”

4. Spirit Halloween employees can’t believe customers are still trying on masks.

It's probably not a good idea to try on Halloween masks this year.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite newfound concerns over touching surfaces or being exposed to infectious particles, customers are still willing to try on masks in the store, even though someone else may have already been wearing it. “Ultimately the pandemic hasn't affected my store, aside from everyone needing to wear face masks while they're inside,” Jayme, a Spirit Halloween employee in Florida who’s worked there for four years, tells Mental Floss. “But people still ask to try things on and … they do still put masks on despite orange signs everywhere saying not to.”

Derek agrees. “If you've bought a mask from Spirit in any of the past seasons, there's a very high chance you're one of at least five people who’s worn that mask, and that's a conservative estimate for some of the masks. Despite the rule, I think I've seen that many people trying on [fictional creepypasta internet character] Jeff the Killer masks just in this past week.”

5. Spirit Halloween employees have seen some spooky things.

While a store full of scary costumes and props is a Halloween lover’s dream, some Spirit Halloween employees say it can also be the site of some spooky events. “An associate and I have both seen things swaying on the shelves as if someone walked by it, though nobody else is in the store,” Jayme says. “We've seen a few shadow movements as if people were hiding behind [a] corner. The funniest one [was] at closing time. One of my associates yelled ‘whoo’ and we heard a guy's voice say something in response. It totally freaked him out. It was one of our sound-activated hanging [animatronics].”

But not all employees get creeped out. “As much as I want to say that I've experienced anything creepy or paranormal, the store's about as creepy as a former Circuit City can be,” Derek says. Still, he's seen some strange things. “The lights used to turn off at the exact same time every day for about a month, there's always been the occasional inexplicable bang or creak, and some of the aisles do get messy a bit too quickly. One time, I was working at the fitting room. I sent a kid back with a previously unopened, dry Morphsuit costume [a full-body spandex outfit] and it came back warm and moist.”

Wet costumes aside, Derek won’t declare any paranormal activity just yet. “If I see a kid go flying across the store, I'll let you know.”

6. Spirit Halloween employees wish customers would stop making a huge mess.

Spirit Halloween employees like to keep stores neat.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Owing to the nature of pop-up stores or the excitement over the holiday, customers at Spirit Halloween stores tend to make messes. Big ones. “You could've just finished putting every mask neatly back on the racks, and half of them will be back on the floor before you've caught your breath,” Derek says. “It seems like everyone takes a little pride in the sections they helped set up and the animatronics they built, and that definitely manifests in how we feel about customers messing with those things.”

7. Spirit Halloween employees would prefer you not use the aisle as a dressing room.

Some customers like to try on outfits in the aisle instead of the dressing room, a habit that predated the current pandemic. (Spirit Halloween fitting rooms are closed this season.) Employees would still prefer you not try to dress—or undress—in the middle of the store. “It's very common to find people, mostly kids, trying on costumes in aisles,” Kota says. “We [did] have multiple fitting rooms to try to stop this from happening, but once again, people would rather do things themselves sometimes.”

8. Spirit Halloween employees move a lot of licensed animatronics.

Animatronics are a popular item at Spirit Halloween.Courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Among the most popular items in Spirit Halloween locations are the life-sized animatronics that provide a scary atmosphere for homes or parties. “Animatronics are one of our largest-selling items,” Kota says. “There's a certain group of people that love them and look forward to them annually. Some of our buyers buy them and use them for their haunted attractions. It's always nice to go to one and see a familiar face.”

While Spirit offers a number of original animatronic concepts—the Harvester of Souls being among the more popular—Kota says that customers usually gravitate toward licensed characters. “I've noticed that the most popular animatronics are our licensed ones. Pennywise [from 2017's It] and Sam [from 2007's Trick 'r Treat] have been huge sellers this year as was Michael Myers a few years ago. I've also noticed the ones that stay behind at the end of the season are almost always the swinging animatronics. I think they're interesting, but they don't sell as often as the others do.”

9. Spirit Halloween employees might sell you a used animatronic, but you need to get lucky.

Come the end of the season, Spirit Halloween locations often unload animatronics that were on display and no longer being manufactured. “Older animatronics, if I recall correctly, will stop being manufactured and then sold until it runs out,” Jayme says. “As for the displays, we do sell those at the end of the season. It's just a matter of putting your info on a waiting list.”

10. Spirit Halloween employees meet a lot of cosplayers.

Cosplayers are frequent shoppers at Spirit Halloween.Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not just Halloween customers that Spirit Halloween stores service. According to Kota, cosplayers looking for that perfect accessory sometimes show up. “Spirit actually gets quite a bit of cosplayers and I personally think it's a great place to go for more specific items,” Kota says. “I'm sure we get even more cosplayers than I'm aware of since some customers like to talk about it and others don't say much about it.”

11. Spirit Halloween employees get a steep, steep discount once Halloween is over.

Between the standard employee discount and the after-Halloween fire sale available to customers, Derek says that he can go shopping in November and save a considerable amount of money. It’s one reason he keeps coming back. “It's hard to say no to an 80-percent discount during the November clearance sale,” he says. (The regular discount is 50 percent, and employees get an additional 30 percent.) “There's nothing like rewarding yourself after a busy season by spending $150 on, like, five or six things.”

12. Spirit Halloween employees sometimes get holiday shoppers.

Halloween means holiday shopping for some people.JJBers, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For some customers, a Spirit Halloween store is a perfect place to start their holiday gift shopping. “I made a friend last year with a kid who comes in weekly to see if we have anything new in yet,” Kota says. “He's maybe about 7 years old and [he] and I go around the store almost every time he comes in and talk about new things and animatronics we have. His parents then secretly go around and buy him animatronics and props as Christmas presents. It's so nice to see his love for Halloween all year round. It reminds me of myself when I was his age.”