As someone who doesn’t really get any overt joy out of the process of shopping, I tend to avoid going into shops, other than when I have to buy food and drink. As such, I tend to forget about the nuances of shopping over here, relative to most developed consumer economies. I do witness the generally apathetic approach of supermarket staff and the looks of contempt they give you on realising that you don’t have the exact change required for your 27.58 zloty shopping bill. But, having recently been positively frightened when engaged in an extremely jovial and in-depth conversation about my flight, country of residence and raison d’être in the Birmingham Airport branch of Marks and Spencer, perhaps I prefer to be under serviced in this area?
But I digress. Today was an opportunity to buy a luxury item – in this case a mobile WiFi router to see me through to the end of my stay in Bydgoszcz – and so off I popped to the Play store in Focus Park. Focus Park is the largest mall in our fair city and is by far and away the most central, so I had assumed that this would be the most likely place to find said product. In I walked, with a lazy Tuesday morning smile on my face and a couple hundred zloty burning a hole in my pocket. A lady made her way from her seat and the back of the stool and said “słucham” – “I’m listening” to you and me. This is a little bit abrupt, perhaps what you might expect at a busy bar, rather than a deserted phone store but, unperturbed, I made my enquiry about my product. Her face immediately soured and she told me that she didn’t have it. Still trying to remain upbeat, I queried whether this was an internet-only product (I had found it on Play’s website) or if I might find it in a different Play store, elsewhere in the city. “I don’t know, but I don’t have it!” she spat at me. I replied that this was fantastic and thanked her more than a little sarcastically for her ‘help.’
Artist’s impression of shop assistant
I left the store in something of a state of rage, at this total lack of customer service that simply would not be stood for in another country. What perhaps grates the most though, is knowing that a fair number of people in the city are unable to find work at all, while this miserable hag sits on her high stool in the store, biting customers (metaphorically) for having the audacity to want to buy something.
I should take pains to point out that, after this, I went into Saturn and was greeted by two really helpful fellas, who even offered to switch to English to make life easier for me. I was really impressed by this and, despite them not having the product I was after, I departed feeling much less tension.
This got me thinking more generally about the whole customer / seller relationship and I have found it to be truly remarkable, some of the things which are considered “norms” here. For instance, my girlfriend works for the CCC chain, the biggest shoe company in Poland, with a store on every high street and in pretty much every shopping centre. The returns policy in this store is absolutely bewildering. If you have a pair of shoes which, it becomes evident, are faulty, what, dear reader, would you do? What I would do, is take them back and request either a new pair of shoes, my money back or, as an absolute minimum, store credit. In CCC, when you take your shoes back, the company takes the shoes from you and has a period of 2 weeks to inform you of their decision as to whether they will refund you, exchange your shoes or repair your shoes. If they decide they ought to be repaired, they will then also set a timescale for the repair. As a man with a non-stellar income, I only really have one season-appropriate pair of shoes at any given time. According to CCC’s policy, I could face walking around without shoes for up to a month, for something that is their fault. While I disagree with the throwaway policies of British culture on clothing and shoes, the disparity between the rights of the consumer and the seller seem to be way off here. I’m still not sure, incidentally, whether that policy is in fact legal under EU law.
One thing that is encouraging here though, on a positive note, is the real step change in the approach to service in the catering industry. Even since I’ve arrived in Poland in 2011, I’ve seen that a friendly, attentive approach to service – particularly in restaurants – has gone from being a pleasant rarity to more or less what I expect. The hope is that this trend will continue and spread to the retail industry, where some places seemingly have a long way to go!