What It’s Like To Stock Shelves In A Grocery At Night – For Me

Over the years, I’ve had times when I made more than my husband while writing and there have been times when I’ve made next to nothing. Usually, either way, it’s fine because my husband makes enough to cover the bills, but these past few years have been financially draining, and there came a point where we couldn’t keep up. So I decided to get an easy, offline job stocking shelves at night to earn some extra money.

I figured it was perfect for me because I needed to be home during the day to take care of our blind, diabetic dog. And, I figured it wouldn’t take a lot of mental power so I would still be able to write during the day.

I was wrong. It’s been exhausting and taken my time away from writing and everything else, which is not what I wanted.

I have learned the true meaning of what it means to be overworked and underpaid.

I Stock Shelves At Night In A Large Grocery Store

Maybe stocking shelves in a smaller grocery store would be different.

Maybe different stores do things differently.

I don’t know.

All I know is my experience is in a particular large grocery store, which means there is a lot of product that gets bought during the day and a lot of product that needs to be stocked during the night.

I technically started in the Christmas season, even though it was well over a month before Christmas. I was quickly informed that for the holidays, people shop – and they shop hard – so there is a lot of product to stock.

The Night Shift Is Deadly For A Morning Person Like Me

When I was younger, I would be up all night, and stocking shelves at night would have been right up my alley. But I’ve gotten used to waking up early as I’ve worked online, and I enjoy it.

If you are a morning person like me, the night shift is not fun.

I can’t seem to catch up on my sleep.

sleep work night shift

I try to go to sleep when I get home between 7 to 8 am. I try to wake up at 11 am so I can walk my dog, who desperately needs to be walked at that time.

Try is the key word. Many times I have to force myself to get up and I’m pretty much a zombie.

Then, if I can stay awake until supper, I go to bed after supper, wake up at 10 pm, get ready, and go in for my shift at 11 pm.

But, more often than not, I’m tired all day and, if I need to sleep, I sleep as much as possible.

If I have two days off, I still follow that sleep schedule for the first day because I simply can’t stay awake, and then on the second day, I try to stay awake a little more.

In other words, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much because I’m still sleeping as if I’m working the night shift.

I do tend to wake up between 1 am and 3 am on my days off. I use that time to get on the computer and do stuff. But by 8 am I’m tired again.

In short, my sleep has been messed up since working nights. I get a few hours here and there and I haven’t felt completely rested at any point.

That has meant a few tired breakdowns at work where I bawl my eyes out in the bathroom because I’m tired and emotional and just want to go back to my normal life of working online.

It’s also meant a few tired breakdowns at home where I feel like I’m not doing enough to take care of myself, my husband, my dog, and my home.

The 5-Part Routine For Stocking Shelves At Night

Before I started working there, I remember googling, ‘What is it like to stock shelves at night?’ and not really finding any good answers. In hindsight, none of the answers prepared me for my experience stocking shelves at night.

Here’s the routine:

1. Split Up The Preloaded Pallets

work nights stocking shelves

Pallets are never stacked this neatly where I work! This is a photo from Canva.

When we start at 11 pm, there are anywhere from 10-20 pallets full of product waiting for us.

But they are not organized. They contain items from all the main grocery aisles, as well as general merchandise, bulk foods, and organic foods.

This means that we need to pull each product off and put it on its specific pallet.

For instance, because baking goes down aisle 8, we would take flour, sugar, and other baking items and put them on pallet 8.

But first, we have to lay down a bunch of empty pallets for each aisle, as well as empty pallets for general merchandise, organic food, and bulk food.

Then, we further split the aisles up. For example, one aisle has crackers as well as a million other things, but there are often a lot of crackers to stock, so we devote one pallet to just crackers.

I was thrown into this on my first day and it was almost impossible for me to know where to put the product. I didn’t know the aisles and what went down them. I couldn’t understand what empty pallet was meant for which aisle. I basically spent my whole time asking people where to put stuff or following someone and putting something where they put it.

I find that a lot of people just put stuff anywhere if they aren’t sure, and this causes problems later on in the night.

For instance, if you are working down the baking aisle and find a ton of candy on your pallet, then you have to take the time to bring the candy to its appropriate aisle. And, let me tell you, nobody wants someone delivering more stuff to stock to their aisle!

Splitting the pallets can take anywhere from an hour to two hours, in my experience. This means a constant motion of grabbing boxes,  dodging other people, and bending and lifting.

It’s not easy work and if you are out of shape, you are going to sweat and feel the burn.

2. Pull The Pallets To Their Appropriate Aisles

We need steeled-toed boots to work nights stocking shelves because we use jacks to pull the pallets to their appropriate aisles.

I’ve never had a jack fall on my foot, but I have dropped heavy boxes on my foot and appreciated the steel-toed boots then.

While we are doing the ‘split’ and stocking up the pallets, we often have to pull them to the aisles because they get so full. Then we just replace the pallet with an empty one and start stocking it up again.

At the end of the ‘split’ we take all the pallets to their appropriate aisles or destination.

3. Stock Shelves

Once all the product is in or around the aisle, we start to stock the shelves.

This was tough for my first few weeks because, again, I didn’t know the aisles, so I didn’t know where the product went. I would have to search the aisle I was in and then often it would take forever to find the right spot for the product.

In many cases, this is because there are a thousand variations of products. You would not believe how many different types of jams, peanut butter, crackers, or snack bars there are. And then to make it even harder, there’s low fat, less salt, gluten-free, and many other variations of the SAME PRODUCT.

Since I’ve been stocking shelves at night in a grocery store, I’ve realized that we simply consume too much. We have too many options at our disposal, and it doesn’t feel right.

4. Put Overstock On A Pallet

Every single night, too many products are ordered. I imagine there are different reasons for this. Maybe specials are coming up or maybe it’s a popular product that sells out fast and having extra will not be a bad thing.

When we finish stocking shelves, we grab an empty pallet and start loading it with all the overstock from the night.

Then we have to wrap it up in saran wrap, label it as overstock, and take it to the back room for storage.

Often during a shift, one of the managers will bring out an overstock pallet from a previous night for you to go through after you’ve finished stocking the new product for the night.

5. Clean Up And Face The Aisle

This has been my least favorite part of stocking shelves at night. I don’t know why, but ‘facing’ is exhausting to me.

Facing simply means bringing all of the product forward and making sure the labels face forward. This makes the aisles look good and helps customers see everything more clearly.

stock shelves night

Some people can ‘face’ their aisle very quickly. Not me. It takes me forever. Maybe it’s my OCD, but it takes me forever to make sure everything looks good.

3 Lessons I’ve Learned While Stocking Shelves At Night

There are a few lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been stocking shelves at night. Here are a few of them.

1. These People Work Hard

The grocery store I work has a lot of products to stock, and after splitting the pallets, there is only about 4-5 hours left to do everything else in your night. This is because you get an hour break in total and the end of a shift can range anywhere from 5 am -7:30 am, depending on the schedule.

This means that the people in grocery stocking shelves at night work fast and hard. They have a lot of products to open up and get on the shelves and not a lot of time to do it.

Most night shift jobs I’ve experienced before are not busy, but stocking shelves seems to be the one job that defies the ‘night shift is easier’ rule.

In my opinion, people stocking shelves at night – at least where I work – should get paid WAY more. This company wouldn’t make anywhere near what they do without the night staff.

In other words, appreciate the people stocking your grocery shelves at night because they work hard to get that product you want so badly on the shelf for you.

2. If Something Hurts, It’s Going To Slow You Down And Put More Work On Others

If you hurt yourself, it’s not good.

My feet killed me for the first month or so, and that slowed me down.

Now I double up on socks and it seems to help.

But I’ve hurt my wrist, shoulder, and knee, and it’s a pain in the butt to try to work such a physical job with even the smallest injury.

For instance, facing while my wrist hurt was torture. Having to turn my wrist this way and that way was extremely painful.

I’ve noticed that a few of the people who have been there for a while are on light duty, likely because they’ve hurt themselves pushing too hard. These people do not have to participate in the split, which puts more work on the rest of us. They also can’t do the heavy lifting or move too fast, which puts more work on other people.

That said, I’ve seen some people who have seriously hurt themselves and have to keep going.

Although, my manager did seem to favor a young girl who had a hurt wrist. He ensured she was doing light duty while an older woman who can barely walk had to work as hard as the rest of us.

But that’s another story.

Today, I’m in a lot of pain because I worked too hard last night. That’s a very normal thing for this job.

3. Night Staff Are… Interesting

I’m socially competent. I’m confident around other people and I like learning about others and their stories.

Unfortunately, most of the night staff stocking shelves where I work are not as interested in socializing.

There are a few people who are socially confident on the night shift. And there are some people who will talk a bit while working. And there is one girl that I like 0and have more of a personal connection with. But on break, everyone goes upstairs and doesn’t say a word to each other.

When I first started, the manager introduced me to everyone and I waved and smiled and was met with blank stares. It was something I’ve never experienced and will never forget.

In my experience, most of the night workers just want to come in, do their job, and go home. Socializing is not high on their list.

This caused me to break down crying a few times when I started. When people don’t want to socialize, they are short with you in conversation, avoid eye contact, and generally try to avoid you, and it was a shock to my system at first. Someone would engage with me on the floor but then avoid eye contact with me upstairs, and when I was super tired and emotional, I took it personally. Soon, though, I realized that it’s just the nature of some people.

The other thing is that working nights means you don’t have to deal with customers, which I’m sure some people (including me) enjoy. There are some extremely angry and grumpy people stocking shelves at night where I work, and they should never be allowed customers.

For instance, there is one guy who is miserable from the start of EVERY shift to the end. If you bring something to his aisle that is not his, there’s a possibility that he will throw it at you. This has happened since I’ve been there. One time when I first started, I brought a whole pallet to his aisle that wasn’t his and he threw a tantrum over it. I didn’t know where it was supposed to go and so I asked him where I should put it and instead of simply telling me where it should go, he yelled, ‘I don’t care! Just don’t leave it here!’ I of course told him that he didn’t need to be so rude as I was just trying to help, and he hasn’t talked to me since. But I’ve seen him punching boxes, swearing, and stomping around like a child.

The good thing about people being so reclusive on nights is that they don’t spend a lot of time paying attention to you. That means I’ve been able to switch out my wigs without anyone questioning why my hair grew or changed color. With my alopecia, I was worried about wearing wigs at such a physical job, but it’s been OK and my co-workers really don’t notice or care.

Stocking Shelves At Night Is Taking Away My Time To Work Online

The bottom line is that while stocking shelves at night is helping me bring in some extra money, it’s eating away my time to do anything else. I thought it would work perfectly to allow me to write during the day, but even though it’s more of a physically draining job, I’m unable to sit down and write because I’m so tired that I can’t focus and create.

This is how people get stuck in jobs they don’t want to be in. They are making money and don’t want to lose it, so choosing to quit doesn’t seem like an option, even if they are unable to engage in things they really want to do.

My goal is to get back to writing and working online full-time. I’m confident I’ll make that happen in 2023, but I’m just not sure how yet.

If you have any questions about working the night shift stocking shelves, feel free to ask!

Leave a Reply