I’m not the person to ask about retail therapy. I don’t shop. I make an exception for second hand bookshops, but then so does every other civilised person.
But I am beginning to ask myself whether we’re trapped in a downward spiral. We’ve been here before. Food had to be cheap. Quality didn’t matter. Back in the 1980s I remember hearing a supermarket buyer talking to a group of farmers and I asked him about quality and flavour. His reply was ‘Just produce meat. We’ll add the flavour cheaper during manufacturing.’ That was the road that led to the horsemeat scandal.
I was asked about buying shoes. Look. I’m the chap who has no hair on the back of his calves because I spend so much time in Wellingtons. I’ve also got broad feet which means that I just walk into the shop, find the pair that fits, buy them and leave. Choice is for other people. Anyway, I’ve got a pair of black shoes to go with the suit. (I think they’re about ten years old but they aren’t worn every year). I’ve a pair of walking trainers that I will wear out within a year. I’ve a pair of elderly sandals which I use as slippers around the house and I’ve got myself a pair of light weight walking books (or perhaps they’re slightly heavier trainers) so see if they’ll last better.
For me the joy of new footwear is that it doesn’t leak.
But I was listening to a discussion about shopping. Someone had been into the shop, tried on the garments, then had gone to a coffee shop, got out the tablet, and had purchased the same garments on line. I guess the saving would more than pay for the coffee and the bus fare into town.
There’s a lot of it about. I remember a radio interview with a camera shop in this country that now point blank refused to give advice over the phone. They knew that it was never going to bring them trade; they’d never see the person walk though the door of the shop and buy anything. Indeed they were thinking of making a charge for advice.
An Australian shop is actually doing that. A speciality food store in Brisbane is charging visitors a $5 AUD ‘just looking’ fee. Buy anything; you get the $5 knocked off the bill. Now obviously you might say you wouldn’t go into such a shop, but should they be bothered? What is the custom worth of someone who doesn’t actually intend to buy anything?
But what really drove this home to me was a piece in the paper about ‘Pets at home’ Store group intending to expand their vets business across the UK. They’ll have a vet in the store.
The vet will probably be cheap and convenient, but it worries me. OK I’m used to large animal vets where you pick up the phone at 3am and the vet is in the yard by 3:30am. But when old Jess got caught by a hit and run driver, the vet kept her in overnight. When she had to have her operation she went in the evening before so they could have her quiet and relaxed for the operation in the morning.
Is a supermarket going to want to have staff available to do this? Given the way they’ve been driving costs and staff out of the system I wonder. Mind you, let’s not beat about the bush, one reason they have to get cost out of the system is that people wander in, get the advice and then see if they can buy cheaper on-line.
So the question that I think we all have to ask is really, ‘How cheap are we willing to go?’ Are we going to accept that we have to pay a browsing fee or are we going to just lose the service?
Because someone has to pay for it; if we’re not willing to pay then the service won’t be offered.