Malled by Caitlin Kelly explains why store associates are so surly

I love Lush Cosmetics because the sales people will listen to you whine about your skin and rub moisturizer on your hands. But face it, this kind of service is rare.

Enter Caitlin Kelly, a freelance journalist who finds herself out of work just prior to the recession. Out of options, she works at a high-end winter clothing store, The North Face. She thinks “something here isn’t right…”, works there for two years and writes “Malled”.

And while Kelly clearly did well in retail, this book makes me really glad she returned to writing. Better yet, The North Face should make her CEO after all the free (and good) advice she’s given them. Malled is eloquent, packed with interesting facts and anecdotes. Kelly is funny, dry and tough – the kind of girlfriend you’d love to grab coffee with.

If you don’t already know – retail workers get paid $hit! But Kelly goes beyond this fact by explaining how the North American economy simply doesn’t value the service employee. It’s counter-intuitive to not retain and reward your best associates because they drive sales. “Malled” shows us the systemic problems in almost every store. It has certainly helped me understand some of the puzzling practices I’ve seen at stores recently.

Kelly and her researchers do their homework. They interview small shop owners. They compile anecdotes from those who worked in retail for 30 years and those who worked for six months. They look into the Walmart employee who was trampled to death on Black Friday (#WTF). They even find success stories of high-end luxury stores who get it right. Oh and Costco also gets it right. Surprise!

The only thing I did not like is that Kelly reminds us over and over again that she grew up rich, white and successful. I know she’s trying of to show that she’s a fish out of water but she brings up her successful journalism career and her privileged past so many times, you can’t help but think she’s bragging.

Still, my favourite line in the book proves that we all eventually react the same way to bad jobs:

“One evening, I lost it. Totally decompensated. Went apeshit.”

Related Penguins: Library Finds: Malled & Paris to the Moon (Dec 5, 2010)

Photo credits: &


3 thoughts on “Malled by Caitlin Kelly explains why store associates are so surly

  1. Love this. I’m going to have to check it out. My first job ever was in retail, during CHRISTMAS time no less. Never again.
    With the service industry, I find it can also be said about those in many other businesses too.. that some places just don’t know how to retain their good employees. They don’t value them, so they let the good ones slip from their fingers and just hire some young “cheaper” employee.

    Great review!

    • Kelly says in the book that the higher ups in retail don’t expect anyone to stay. As in, they expect you to quit! Forget hiring a cheaper employee – they barely give raises!

      One of my first job was at Winners during a slow summer but when I returned for Christmas, it was a complete chaos. I was opening my 600th box or something and I thought “I feel like I woke up too early for Christmas and had to unwrap presents for whole the town”.

  2. Pingback: Journalists & Writers | Broken Penguins

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