Saturday, 17 July 2010

In Which I Go Shopping

I do not like shopping.

I particularly don't like it when it involves big malls or crowded places, which tend to combine the panic-inducing large-numbers-of-people with the cluastrophobia inducing no-natural-light. I think that online shopping is the best thing since, well, ever, as far as shopping is concerned, but there are some things which cannot, to my satisfaction, be bought online. Clothes are one obvious example, and beds are another, albeit not one which creates an every day problem.

I have known for a while that I needed a new mattress, but new mattresses are expensive, so I have been busy saving up. I have also known that buying a new mattress would, at some point, involve going to try out mattresses and that this was going to require that I go somewhere where I could find many mattresses gathered together. I alos wanted to make sure I bought from somewhere I felt I could trust.

I have not bought a very large number of beds in my lifetime, but my bed-buying experiences have not, in general, been happy ones:

Bed #1: Picture the scene. I was a new graduate, on a low wage, and just about to move into my first house, from (furnished) rented accommodation. I had used up every penny of my savings to pay the deposit was starting out with furnishings limited to (i) the desk, chair and rug from my old bedroom at my parent's house (ii) the 2nd hand fridge selected at Dodgy Electricals R Us on the basis they were keeping their beer and sandwwiches in it so it clearly worked (iii) the cheap bed which I had ordered, and arranged to be delivered on the afternoon of the day I moved in.
I moved. No sign of the bed. No phone call.
I called the shop. The call went something like this:
Me: "Hello, I can't help noticing that my bed hasn't been delivetred, are you running late? Can you tell me when you're likely to get here>"
BedShop: "Oh. Our warehouse burned down last week. We don't have any beds"
Me: "And you were planning on telling me this, and refunding my money when, exactly?"
There followed a short conversation where they expressed their hurt that I should expect them to give me my money back on the flimsy excuse that they had totally failed to deliver the goods and had no prospect of being able to do so in the forseeable future, which was followed by my friend and I making a high-spped dash to get to IKEA before it closed and to buy their cheapest futon, the alternative being for me to sleep on the bare & splintery floor of my new house.

Bed #2 This was an improvement on Bed#1 purchase, in that a bed was, in fact, delivered. It would have been less stressful if the holes in the headboard & legs part of the bedstead had been drilled so that they alingned with the holes in frame part, and if the number of long and apparently non-standard length bolts supplied had been equal to, or greater than the number of bits of the bed requiring bolting together, but that was nothing that a lot of swearing, a trip to B&Q and some last minute drilling couldn't resolve.

Bed #3 Refreshingly, all the pieces of Bed#3 were provided, and once I got it into the bedroom it was comparatively straight forward to fit together. Getting it into the bedroom was the tricky point, as the bed-delivery people (from the specialist bed shop, whose job consists entirely of delivering beds) were shocked and incredulous to learn that I expected them to actually deliver the bed, and, crucially, the mattress, to the bedroom. This would have been irritating even if I had not checked when I ordered it that it would be taken upstairs to my bedroom for me on arrival...

Bed # 3 is the one (or rather, the mattress for bed#3) is the one now being replaced, as it was a cheaper mattress and is now rather lumpy and very uncomfortable.

So, I got up early enough to enable me to get to the Giant Shopping Centre of Doom not long after it opened, in the hope that it would be less crowded, fortified myself with toast and marmalade, took a deep breath and set off.

Fortunately, it seems that the bed department of John Lewis' is not the most popular shopping destination, and Colin, the bed-salesman was very helpful and not at all pushy, plus when you are shopping for beds you get to lie down a lot. I feel shopping generally could benefit from this approach. I'm sure I would get les stressed about finding shoes to find my apparently Very Awkward feet if I had the option of a quick snooze in between tryings on.

Having identified what seemed to be a suitable mattress, I decided to go away and think it over for a little while (after all, it's a major purchase, plus I need a little bit of a run up if I'm going to spend £700 odd.)

I ventured out into the rest of the Mall. My aim was to see whether any shoe shops were selling respectable black shoes for office wear, and possible to look for a new suit (again, for the office) I even found, and bought, some very cheap flats which I should be able to wear to work.

However, as I passed my 4th or 5th phone shop I thoguht I would just pop in to ask when they expected to have new iPhones in, as most of the websites have been saying that they don't have stock except for upgrades for existing customers.

I walked in, and was immediately greeted by a young woman who seemed extraordinarily cheerful for someone who spends their life trapped in a phone shop in a giant mall. I wonder whether permanent exposure to cheesy piped music has some kind of hypnotic effect? Or maybe they put something in the water.

This time, the conversation went something like this:

Worryingly Chirpy Saleswoman: "Hello, I am so happy you wandered into our shop! Can I help you?!? (Bounce, Bounce)
Me: "I know they aren't in stock anywhere but I was wondering if you have any idea when you're likely to have the new iPhones, for new customers, not upgrades?"
WCS "I'm so happy you asked me!! Actually, I think we had a delivary this morning. We've got lots!! Do you want one?"
Me "Um, yes, maybe, can we have a chat about different tarifs?"
WCS "I'm so delighted that you asked me! I'm really excited by this! (Bounce, Bounce) Come over hear and I will read you the shorter and less confusing words from the handouts displayed prominently all over the shop!!!"
Me "Thanks. Er, I've actually read those, I was hoping you could go into a bit more detail"
WCS "I am alsomost dizzy with joy. I will certainly not let the facts that I don't actually know anything about the tarifs and am having trouble navigation my own computer stand in my way!! It will be no trouble at all to go and repeat your question to one of my more geeky but less insanely cheerful colleagues, and I bet I can repeat their answers to you really well with only minor details like what product I'm talking about, and any number they may mention, being missed out. Did I mention how very happy this all makes me?"

Me [sits down quietly and reads the small print and other details from her computer, instead, while she riccochets around the shop]

Time passes. I agree to buy a phone. There is some momentary confusion as the complex issue of buy-one, get one half price on the accessories is negotiated. We establish, after one or two false starts, that this means if I buy one of the stickered accessories I get a second one half price.

WCS tried to put the booster battery I decided not to buy into my bag, I let honesty get the better of me and point out that I don't think she meant to give me a £40 accessory as a free gift. This makes her, if possible, even happier than before.

More time passes. I stumble out of the phone shop, exhausted by so much unrelenting cheerfulness. By this point, the Mall was starting to get pretty busy, and I felt unable to face trying on clothes and trying to find a suit whihc would be respectable without being eyewateringly expensive, so headed back to the comparative calm of John Lewis' bed department, where I lay on the mattress a little more (as much to recover from all that cheeriness as to check it still felt right) before going to actaully order and pay for it.

It will, apprently , be delivered next Saturday, possibly very early in the morning. And I checked, and they will definately carry the new mattress up to my bedroom, and carry the old one down and take it away. And when it is John Lewis' who tell me that they will do something, I belive them.

On the way home, it being now lunchtime, I stopped off in Bradford on Avon and treated myslef to some nice cheese and olives and bread. The advantage of buying a mattress and an iPhone all in one day is that when you then spend £10 in the deli it feels incredibly cheap and restrained :-)

I am not 100% sure, as I believe the brain tends to edit out traumatic experiences, but I think this was my first visit to the Giant Shopping Centre of Doom since I incautiously agreed to go with my mother, in exchange for my father doing some DIY in my house, shortly before Christmas of 2006. I can only hope that it will be at least as long again before I have to return.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a shiny new toy to play with...

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