If you believe the reigning mythology, we ladies loves us some shopping. Never are our hearts gladder, apparently, than when we're off on a spending spree, riffling through the sales racks and maxing out the credit cards. Shopping, according to social convention, is the panacea for all feminine complaints. Bung marriage? Depression? Gangrene? Hit the mall (maybe not the shoe stores) and everything will be tickety boo. It is a wonder we have any time left over for life's more vital chores: child rearing, hair removal, gainful employment.
But do we love shopping, or have deteriorating levels of customer service made this once-noble pastime a joyless task? Is buying things actually NO FUN AT ALL? Yes, I really said that. Deep breaths, the dizziness will pass.
Such was the shocking epiphany I recently experienced, when, for the first time in forever, I found myself with too much money. Filthy lucre was fair burning a hole in my pocket, so, in an effort to avoid death by spontaneous cash combustion, I went into a Bed and Bath emporium with the intention of commerce. I'll admit, I was dressed tragically. My hair had not seen a brush, nor my lips a chapstick. Nowhere about my person was there a hint of the contents of my wallet. The two sales assistants (young, bored and monosyllabic, with no concept of 'please' and 'thank you') naturally ignored me completely – continuing to gossip about someone called Tia, who was, from what everybody could overhear, a bit of a skank.
I found what I was looking for, at 70% off, and gleefully took it took the counter. The more orange of the two sighed and swore under her breath. Come on, I thought. This is how retail works. Goods are exchanged for money, if not pleasantries. It was a Pretty Woman moment (without the prostitution). Big mistake. Huge. I should have stalked off, returning later with bags full of goodies bought elsewhere, but this was the only store with 70% off.
So instead, I seethed.
If the customer is king, why was I made to feel scruffy, stupid and poor? Are we simply an annoyance; unfolding jerseys, asking for our money back and not being the standard size? Customer service, like bikini lines and the right to free and fair elections, varies wildly from country to country. In Israel, there is no such thing as customer service: pack your own damn groceries. In India, it translates to a form of fawning supplication, shopkeepers clinging to your ankles, beseeching. In Thailand it is a constant cloying chorus of, 'Welcome Madaaaam.'
“In New Zealand you'd love it if they'd just deign to take the money from your hand and pour you a beer,” observed the economist. “How hard can it be?” Sure, there's a difference between service and servitude, and maybe we Kiwis are too proud and egalitarian a nation to grovel or be overly obsequious. But rudeness is another thing all together.
I've met my share of rude people, I am a rude person, but if you work in a shop, maybe don't get snooty when a member of the public asks you a question.
Key offenders: record store employees, reveling in the fact that they have a superior knowledge and conveying this with eye-rolling snideness. I'm sorry I didn't know that record wasn't released on vinyl, but HOW WOULD I KNOW THAT?!?! You only know because you blimmin' work here! It's your job to know stuff like that, you hipster dickhead. While back in the day everyone who worked at Dunedin's EMI was in a band, this is no longer the case, unless its an alternative no-instrument ensemble called Look Straight Through You.
However, the absolute worst, the hyena of the customer service savannah, would be the barista. With hole-punched ears you could toss a caber through, baristas, like boys who aren't ashamed to be DJs, have an overinflated sense of importance – obnoxiously correcting your drink order into inane special terminology, thus suggesting you're a not-cool thicko: 'Oh, I think you mean a Venti Quad Caramel Macchiato, not a Quad Venti Caramel Macchiato.' Honestly. Drop the attitude, dude. You make coffee for a living. Coffee, not antibiotics.
As with cafes, shops have become complacent, when they can little afford to. If retail therapists don't shape up soon, snap to attention when I enter, or at the very least throw a smile my way, I'm going to shack up with the competition, the Internet. Actually, I've been having it away on the side with online shopping for ages, quietly cheating on the high street (I feel no shame), and I have to say the courier who delivered my Kathryn Wilson shoes couldn't have been nicer.