Belfast Telegraph

Revenge of the shoppers at just a click

By Gail Walker

At heart I'm a Luddite. I used to avoid internet shopping. Too cold and too impersonal.

But now? Outside in the real world we're journeying into the retail heart of darkness, where we quickly learn that not only is the customer never right but their very existence gets in the way of staff having a good old chinwag about how much vodka and Red Bull they downed last night.

Try and cut into the fascinating freeflow of observations and you'll be branded a touch impertinent. Evidently customers should be seen and not heard and speak only when spoken too.

And all the while your interior monologue sounds ever more pathetic: "Look, I don't want you to curtsey, just let me pay for a sandwich and some Nurofen, thanks. As soon as I've gone you can carry on telling colleagues about Trevor dropping the hand."

But then - pow! - we stop being Ms Nice and start thinking about gory revenge. High street unemployment? To hell with them.

At least my Dell doesn't sneer at me, leaving me feeling belittled and humiliated. On the contrary, online the big shops remember my name and want to help - you want an LBD, what about this necklace with it?

While small, locally-owned shops still make the effort, all too often the public is treated appallingly on the high street.

Which is why I'm looking forward to Mary Portas's new Channel 4 show tonight, Secret Shopper, exposing poor customer care.

I mean, where to start? Watching our fifty quid worth of groceries getting bashed as they are sped through the checkout, bottle-necking at the end of the conveyor belt while the assistant's eyes are fixed on some indeterminate horizon in a grim effort not to see you scrabbling around, salvaging items from the carnage.

As soon as the last item is bleeped through, you're asked for the cash, the assistant apparently oblivious to the stockpile you haven't started to pack. Probably because you've yet to negotiate a plastic bag.

You may even have to ask for one (the shame) or you may be asked aggressively: "Do you need a bag?" Er, how would you propose getting this lot home then? Tip: do NOT hand over money until it's all packed; that way they often have to pitch in.

Then there's the Express checkouts. Yeah, right. In our egalitarian society it just wouldn't be fair to have fast-moving queues, so most of the lanes are closed. Result? A chain of wretched humanity stretching way back to the Chamois leathers and car wax section.

They could open another checkout ... but where's the sport in that?

True, at the Express till, you may get your bags packed but odds on it's by some glum new start who, after seven minutes of intensive training, believes all items are essentially the same. Eggs at the bottom, portable TV on top? Who cares?

Only the hapless customer, that's who.

Anyway, who needs to be trained not to put potatoes on top of bread? Isn't that just common sense? Isn't it?

And on it goes. Clothes shops without enough changing rooms. Staff who can't get you a different size because they're "the only one on changing and can't leave them". So you're expected to get dressed, hunt down the other size, queue again for a changing room.

As for banks ... they think that just because the word "cheque" has a Q in it, they should have one in every branch. Recently, I stood in line for 40 minutes for a simple transaction.

No explanation, no backroom staff thrown on to the counter. No wonder banks now open on Saturdays - it must be to mop up any stragglers still waiting from the day before.

Yes, working in a shop must be boring, tedious and frustrating at times, but so are many other jobs, including those done by weary customers. Yes, there are assistants who go the extra mile, but ...

Maybe it's the January blues but, quite frankly, I'm going to walk down the high street of cyberspace more in the future.

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