We have a cute little high street where we live. I’ve eaten in a great Turkish restaurant out there this evening, with the kids, and it was throbbing with people. We have Starbucks where the staff are friendly and it’s huge and cosy at the same time. The pleasantness in there almost compensates for their limited contribution to the nation’s infrastructure. We have a traditional hardware shop, a couple of small supermarkets, couple of pubs, an office suppliers, an independent card shop, a shoe shop and a sizable second hand bookshop and loads of other things that add up to a street where most of your every day needs are catered for.
We also have a tiny little WHSmith. It’s just a bit bigger than a cupboard, and stocks a few books, a few papers, a few magazines and a selection of rulers. It’s quite handy when an independent store doesn’t quite nail your stationery / news / emergency present needs. It’s also been a little WHSmith oasis, because in most other WHSmith’s they seek to grind down the shopping experience by herding you to self-service machines, asking if you want a bar of chocolate for a pound, giving you endless vouchers for crap food or ocado shopping, churning our endless paper with £5 off printer cartridges (every time…really?) and refusing to give you a receipt for purchases coming under £5.
But now WHSMith’s mindless corporate policy making behemoth has rolled into even cupboard sized branches. So, on Saturday, when purchasing an emergency present and birthday card, I came across a sign on the cash desk counter; please use the self-service machine. I approached the desk, where two staff were standing doing fiddle-dee-dee and asked whether I had to use the machine. ‘Yes’, they replied. ‘It’s company policy,’ they said. ‘Do grab your vouchers’, they continued, cheerlessly. I commented that I hated using self service machines where they were completely unnecessary (like in branches the size of a backyard pond, where there are two staff, no queues and no-one buys anything more than a pack of envelopes and a paper). ‘The company doesn’t listen to us’, one of the two employees muttered, by way of apology. I suspect they won’t listen to me either.
One of the staff came round to the machine on the pretence of helping me. She scanned all of my items, took my card and placed it in the machine and got my receipt for me. That was EXACTLY WHAT SHE’D DONE IF SHE’D BEEN ON THE TILL.
I’ve loathed WHSmith’s descent into dumbed down shopping for a very long time. Cash desks increasingly forlorn in branches; counters piled high with discounted chocolate; irrelevant vouchers and bits of paper thrust into your hand on leaving to dictate where else / when you shop and distressingly few staff within the stores themselves to actually help you find things and aid your experience.
Now their hideous policies are infiltrating my high street, I think I’ll go somewhere else.