The Sheffield retail experience

Tony Spillane

Sheffield, S8

I normally use the internet, particularly eBay, when I need to buy specialised parts for my classic car and scooter hobbies, it gives me a global marketplace from the comfort of my home. On the rare occasions when something goes wrong, I have found the on-line retailers are excellent at quickly and easily resolving the problem.

So what more can the city centre retailer offer me? Today my wife and I found out. We caught the bus into Sheffield city centre. It didn’t start well, with all the roads grid-locked. People were blaming students, presumably because of the start of the academic year, but that’s another story. Eventually we got there. Part of the reason for choosing today was the advertised “Taste of Sheffield” on Fargate, so that is where we went. True, there were some stalls mainly around the town hall, and we had a burger from the local Whirlow farmer, who tried to short-change me (Five pound notes and ten pound notes are not the same thing). We weren’t exactly overwhelmed. Fargate is still effectively cut into two, thanks to the perpetual restoration of the W H Smith’s.

We then went down to the Moor. Again, this seems to be a perpetual building site rather than a prestigious retail centre (If there is a prestigious retail centre in Sheffield city centre, please let me know). My wife believes in this out-of-date concept of customer loyalty. She has a Debenham’s card, and hopes that the loyalty will be translated into good customer service. We went into Debenham’s today to sample good old fashioned customer experience. We have heard how the high street retailer is having a tough time, and realising that they have to offer more of an experience, hence the in-shop cafes, etc.

Firstly my wife went to a pay desk to pay off her Debenham’s card. Unfortunately, there was an error on it, but there is no in-store customer service area that can help, simply a very broken telephone handset with an unobtainable contact supposedly on the end of the line. Having to see my wife have to undergo this public humiliation made me weep. There is not even a desk or chair to use, just a broken up phone on a pillar in a corridor, no doubt been subjected to previous customers’ frustrations. My wife took the phone number, and decided to call them later from home.

We then went into the Debenham’s café to recover. We struggled to find a useable table, as they were all stacked high with customer’s discarded crockery, cutlery and trays. I had a slice of cake, but the metal cake slice stuck to my hand, there was so much jam on its handle.  My wife had to wipe the chocolate cake off her chair. The paper serviettes were more like pieces of toilet paper. The experience goes on and on.

The final irony of this is that at Christmas time, Debenhams heavily promotes the sale of “experience days”, although I didn’t see the one for “shooting yourself in the foot”, they must have already sold out!

And the roads were still gridlocked when we came home. Presumably someone must be enjoying it!