duty free

Brand’s spy

Illustrator:Lilit Sarkisian
Former sales clerk in a duty free shop of Kiev airport tells us about salespeople shortlisting on the basis of appearance, Russian-speaking clients in spirits department, why the employees cannot buy at work and who pays for the broken bottle of whiskey.


Salesman – philologist

I started working in a duty free shop when I was in my fourth year of studies and worked there for almost two years. I was trying to get this job for six months, by pulling strings of course. First, they didn’t want to hire me because the work is connected with alcoholic beverages and an applicant had to be at least 21 years old, and I was 20. But later they changed their mind.

When I told I was a sales assistant in a duty free shop everyone envied me: “Wow! It is a serious job.” I worked in Borispol and Zhyliany airports. There were not many requirements to applicants – fluent English and positive traits: commutability and friendliness. Even education is not so important. Many got jobs of cashiers there without speaking foreign languages. I know one salesman who have learned the phrase “Hello, your boarding pass, please” in eight languages. Every second worker is philologist by specialty. I worked in a salesroom but I didn’t have to speak foreign languages as there were few foreigners then.

Salaries of shop clerks were on the average level seven years ago, but later our economy has “fixed” it. Consultants’ income doesn’t depend on sales volume, but if he or she is assigned to a certain cosmetics brand it will give an incentive.

And who are the consultants?

Sales clerk in a duty free shop are not always young. There are chosen according to their appearance and experience. Only women consult in cosmetics department, and the sex doesn’t matter in spirits department.

The working schedule is two days after two days off, and two additional days off. Working day lasts from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Borispol there was an additional shift – from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. As the shop was large, it was necessary that someone was at the cash desk during intervals between shifts.

In duty free shop, there are consultants for separate brands, as I used to be. That means that I had to supervise not all the goods in the shop, but my brand only. I found people who needed information or they were not sure what to buy, so I persuaded them to buy the products of my brand.

shop, duty free


There were client-servicing standards but I am not sure that everyone was familiar with it. We followed our intuition, although we signed that we had read the rules. The task is standard – to please a client. We were not obliged to carry boxes, swipe the floor, fix something or fetch something. However, if we were kindly asked it was not a problem to help.

Alcohol trainings

A consultant has to know all the assortment of products he or she works with. A sales clerk has to know everything, from nail polish to cognac for 2.5 thousand euro.

Trainings are the main source of knowledge. They are held several times a year. Company representatives told about their products, let us try, smell and apply creams. They persuaded us that that was good alcohol, and we, inspired by their speech and sampling, then told it to clients. Alcohol trainings were held once a year. Cosmetics trainings once or twice a year and not in Kiev. Sales clerks had to go to Europe or Moscow to the company head office.

On our feet all day long

Staff members not assigned to any brand can work half a day at the cash desk, and spend the rest of the shift in a salesroom. Working with the cash desk is difficult: numbers, money are flickering all the time. At noon, one can go nuts. However, the cashiers gain advantage – they can be seated. Consultants had to be on their feet. So we tried to escape for 5 minutes – to have a smoke or to sit for a bit. Lunchtime was our salvation, we had hour and a half at our disposal.

The young sales assistants used to party all night long and have one-hour sleep before the shift, and we could barely stand on our feet waiting impatiently for the lunch to have a nap. There were back rooms where we had our meals. We could fall asleep with our faces in a plate. One girl took tissue rolls, put them on a table and slept on them like on a pillow.


The employees tried to arrive half an hour in advance to put on a uniform, to accept the shift and go to the sales room. We could arrive already wearing a uniform, but it was considered slobbery. There was a register where we wrote something for the next shift: “pay attention, we haven’t accepted the goods yet” and so on. However, we used to make it verbally over a cup of tea. There was conveyance for the employees. We were fined for being late. No one was late more than two times. There are different fines, and who wants to pay?

To get to my working place I had to literally cross the border. It is the neutral territory, actually not Ukraine. The workers have a special magnetic pass. Out-of-staff employees, as I used to be, had a temporary pass, which didn’t allow to pass the border alone, only accompanied by a staff member. Every time I had to stand before the border waiting or calling one of the permanent sales assistants. If one hasn’t crossed the border in a proper way he or she was considered a defector. But on the other hand I could boast that I worked abroad.

Clothes count for first impressions

Staff sales clerks have their uniform: two variants for girls, with skirts and pants, and for boys — pants and shirts with jackets, and the ones who worked for a brand were dictated what to wear. Girls from the jewelry department had to take care of their hands and have neat nails. Boys had to shave. We were strictly seen to it. However, one of my colleagues, Serezha, used to wear a goatee and moustache, and no one touched him. I liked to grow a beard sometimes. There was another guy, Aleksei, who decided to follow our example. But he was ginger and his beard was sparse and looked a bit wild. The head of security told him: “Lesha, get it together. Don’t look at them, it’s a bit different with them.” However, even I was asked to shave. Appearance is the first criterion.

duty free, airport


For the sake of your security

We always have to check a passenger’s boarding pass and passport, the purchase is registered by the first, and the latter is needed to check the age of a person who buys alcohol. For New York and Tel Aviv flights enhanced security was applied, passengers underwent additional inspection before boarding. Their purchases were kept in the sales room, and later the workers brought them to the board of a plane. Every package had a sticker with the passenger’s surname, flight number and a check.

Sales assistants are prohibited to buy in our shop. Only passengers with tickets can become our clients, otherwise the purchase will be regarded as a smuggling, as tax is not included into the price. At the end of a shift, a sales assistant has to return “back to Ukraine” sticking to certain rules: pass a 20-meter corridor and sometimes show the contents of a bag.


Before our clients used to be the Ukrainians who were going abroad on vacation and bought alcoholic beverages for themselves or as a present. So we spoke Russian in the spirits department. Ukrainian vodka was the most popular drink. We could sell 200-300 bottles of one brand per day. Later the new international terminal D was open in Borispol and half of passengers were foreigners.

Girls in cosmetics department had to speak English more. Foreigners willingly bought perfumes. Our duty free was on no interest or surprise for men, but women found it more convenient to by cosmetics in our shop than in an ordinary beauty store.

We accepted five currencies. However, we couldn’t always give change in certain currency: “Which currency to give you as change? – What do you have?” and we searched for the money.

There are no fixed limits for the purchase. You can take all that there is in the shop. However, there are restriction in every country. The biggest inconvenience is change of plane. Usually people who are not aware buy several bottles and their alcohol is confiscated during plane change, and after that, they buy the same drink in the next duty free shop. It is not uncommon that our countrymen cannot lose their whiskey and they bottom the bottles before border pass.

Steal, break or buy

Video surveillance and guards are obligatory in every shop. Nevertheless, thefts were committed almost every day and it was almost impossible to catch a thief. But if a person was taken red-handed our task was to send him over to the police. The police took him back to the Ukrainian territory and investigated the crime. Of course, the thief couldn’t fly anywhere. Guards usually follows the clients without being noticed so that they don’t steal anything, and the consultants follow customers to help them.

duty free, shop, illustration


According to the law of Ukraine, which is also valid on the shop’s territory, if a client breaks something he or she doesn’t have to pay for it. This good is simply written off. Just a usual procedure: defective, broken, doesn’t work, expired. There was a situation when two guys broke a bottle of very expensive whiskey and for the first time in history they were forced to pay. It turned out to be that those two were famous lawyers from Kiev and half an hour after they had left not having paid, of course, we received calls from the capital “What happened, what is that sensational story?” Those guys spread the scandal all around the city.

A client can buy what he or she has spoilt. In this case, client receives a check, so we cannot take money and write off the spoilt good. Besides, there is a camera above the cash desk and watches the cashier’s actions so that no one does something of a kind.

Duty free world

Spirits, cigarettes and perfumes are the bestsellers in airport shops. There are no excise tax, which increases the price in the domestic market, in the duty free zone. So purchases are cheaper in duty free shops. However, a lot depends on each shop in particular and on its price markup.

Most of modern duty free shop sell almost everything. For example, in Israel airports you can buy electric appliances, they even have cloakrooms to leave the purchase until return back. The largest duty free shop is in Dubai. 7 thousand square meters offer goods of every kind: clothes, jewelry, spirits, electronic appliances and even top class cars.