It should come as no surprise that I like shopping. After all, my Twitter handle is @valshopaholic. However, as much as shopping can be a form of therapy – for we live in a society where we are taught to believe that having is better than not having, regardless of what it is that we have or how much of it we have – shopping is not always a pleasant experience.
I recently caught up on a wonderful British television series called Mr Selfridge which is a dramatisation of the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the self-made American entrepreneur who took his ideals to England and introduced a wonderful concept to the people called “the customer is always right” with his grand department store, Selfridges. The show is well-written and brilliantly acted and you cannot help but fall in love with every single one of the characters (or, in the case of the evil Lord Loxley and the jealous Mr Thackeray, you hate them from the moment you lay eyes on them).
But as much as I have loved the way the characters have been written, I have also become fascinated by the concepts around the act of shopping as an experience, much of which we take for granted now, more than a hundred years after Selfridges first opened its doors in London’s Oxford Street. Whilst we are all accustomed to the sight of cosmetics counters at the front of department stores and it may seem unfathomable that we are not allowed to try on clothes and accessories before paying for them, there once was a time when even touching a pair of gloves at the accessory counter was a big no-no. Harry Selfridge had the grand vision that shopping should be an experience for his customers and that his store should be presented as a place to dream, relax, enjoy, and basically spend their days (and fortunes).
These days, online shopping is growing and taking away that very experience that Harry Selfridge dreamt of. We are time-poor, cash-poor and we want to have everything delivered to our doorstep. Why spend time looking for parking in a shopping mall, fighting the lunch-time crowds, standing in line for the fitting rooms to try on an outfit or wait for someone to bring you “the other shoe” or find you the size you want, when you can look for it all online, find the cheapest prices and have it all delivered to your doorstep?
All this is well and good, but what happens when you have an unreliable postal service or a bad experience with the customer service of a faceless online store? Let me explain.
It is no secret that the postal service is losing money (who is making money these days?). I live in a pretty large suburb, large enough to have two post office shops nearby and for many years, any mail that did not fit into my little letterbox (such as parcels or registered mail) would either be delivered to my door or be left at the larger of the two shops, which also has a service for non-business-hours pick-up. That was fine, until suddenly, a couple of years ago, the policy changed and the postman (I’m saying “man” because I have seen him) stopped delivering parcels to the door, and instead, I would get a card in my letterbox advising me to pick up my parcels from the smaller shop, which is only open Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 5pm. Not exactly convenient when I’m working.
On other occasions, I would find I have to pick up my parcels from my nearest mail distribution centre, which is a short drive from home but thankfully open 24 hours, five days a week. However, it was always anyone’s guess as to where my parcels would end up. I have even asked their Customer Service manager how it is determined which shop my mail goes to and the answer was that it depended on where the delivery driver was closer to at the end of his shift! Thankfully, I have managed to overcome this issue now since the introduction of parcel lockers by the postal service that is free of charge and allows me to send my parcels to a more convenient (and certain) location when required.
But wait…there’s more! As if the uncertainty of delivery wasn’t enough to put me off online shopping, I recently had a very bad experience buying a new mobile phone from an online store that a friend recommended. Granted, this friend last purchased from this particular store three or more years ago so her experience may have been fine back then but mine was certainly anything but acceptable. Generally, when you are purchasing from an online store, they provide an indication as to whether your item was in stock or not, and also estimated delivery time. In my case, my item was marked as “In Stock” and when I spoke to their customer sales rep to verify my order, they advised I would be receiving my order by the end of the following week.
Over two weeks later and a couple of very rude tweets from whoever operates their Twitter account, I finally received an email notification that my order had been shipped…what this actually meant was that they had located my item in a warehouse (somewhere on the other side of the world) and that a courier had picked it up from that warehouse and was en route to the courier’s HQ to sort for shipping. A day later, that item was finally on what I hoped was a plane headed my way. Another day later, it was being sorted at the local courier’s HQ and finally delivered to my door. Total time from placing the order to receiving it in my hands: 19 days (as opposed to 5-7 days quoted). *sigh*.
I’m not saying I will never order anything online because sometimes, you just have no other options, but I am saying that I do agree with Harry Gordon Selfridge that shopping should be a wonderful experience for the customer. A store should be a place where a person can stroll down the aisles, touch the goods, try them on for size, and experience the thrill of smelling nice, looking nice and feeling nice. It should be a joyous feeling to look at pretty things and be greeted by helpful staff. If you’re not getting that feeling, then your stores aren’t doing it right. Let’s bring back good customer service and make shopping a joyful experience once again! Who’s with me?