July 5, 2016
Sonya Fladun – mum in the suburbs

Shopping just hasn’t been the same without Betty. Betty, or “Satan’s Little Helper” as my husband liked to call her, was one of my favourite partners in crime. Working at a major department store in the city, Betty practised old-fashioned customer service. I was one of Betty’s regulars and she always knew what I wanted, often before I did!

Whenever I’d turn up at her counter, Betty would have some special item tucked away that I just had to see – maybe a lovely new necklace that was a total steal or some gorgeous rose-gold sunnies, because rose gold is so hard to find and she knew how much I loved rose gold.

On another day, it might be a handbag that was just a bit different and appealed to my taste.

My more frugal husband said Betty was “just plain dangerous” and, indeed, whenever I needed a little shopping therapy, I would head to her counter like a moth to the flame.

Of course Betty wasn’t my only conspirator. There was a wonderful woman in the children’s department who was an unbeatable fount of wisdom when it came to baby related purchases and a whiz at settling the concerns of anxious, first-time mothers.

Of course, I had an excellent relationship with a lady in the shoe department, too.
But these exemplars of the sales assistant’s art are all now gone. Betty retired years ago and there are fewer and fewer of her ilk. Customer service just isn’t what it used to be. That’s not the fault of today’s shop assistants. Many are casuals and part-timers and there’s just too few of them spread too thinly over more and more areas of today’s department stores.

These days, I find shopping a much less satisfying and often much more frustrating experience than I once did. Venturing out to recent department store sales, I’ve found long queues of people trying to find someone to serve them, no-one who can provide any advice or information, and frequently – to my annoyance – finding items that appeared to be on sale just weren’t.

Other times, it’s the tiny, almost-impossible-to-read fine print at the bottom of the “50 per cent off” sign that explains that really, virtually nothing is actually on sale at all.

Recently, I heard the major retailers complaining about the loss of sales to the internet. These days, I don’t frequent the big shops so much; I have a few small retailers I favour and, otherwise, I shop on line so I can compare prices and avoid the stress.

The big retailers ought to have a long and hard think about returning to some former standards of personal customer service. Maybe then they would win back some of their lost business.

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