Category Archives: Shopping

In which I discourse on fashion

Although this could be a short discourse, because from what I can tell at the moment, the current styles are almost universally horrendous.

Let us begin. This season is going big on what I call either Asylum Chic or Jane Eyre’s Lowood Wardrobe. If I wanted desperately to dress like an escapee from a lunatic asylum, then I’d be sorted. This doesn’t mean that the shops are bestrewn with fetching faux Victorian white lace numbers a la Wilkie Collins either.  It means more of a nod towards 80s American schlock horror movies.

The woman in the blue dress is running, running, still carrying the bloody knife, even though she’s not sure what she did with it, but someone sure got stabbed and she can’t stop crying. Jane Eyre has been told to wear the pink one to the 10th annual Lowood TB Survivor’s Reunion.

Still, once you’ve escaped from the madhouse, or extreme Christian austerity, then it’s time to start partying. Is anyone going to a fancy dress party? And if so, are you thinking of costuming yourself as a migraine? Then [trigger warning] look no further…

These are probably designer, because all the most horrible items of clothing turn out to be designer. The high street’s cheap and cheerful knock offs never quite achieve the same peaks of hideosity. Can you imagine being drunk and seeing those dresses? Or hungover? Dear lord, someone pass the Ibuprofen.

Still, even an ex-Lowood girl can’t party for ever, so the shops have you covered for those quiet nights in as well. You know. The ones when you like to stand in the corner, dressed as a lampshade.

The pink one’s gotta be cheesecloth, right? I don’t think other fabrics can achieve that salmonella pink vibrancy.  For me, though, the blue one is the winner here, effortlessly achieving that ‘lampshade in an asylum’ look and so nailing two key trending influences in one garment. I’m sold.

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In which maybe there are some clothes, after all

I’ve been despairing for months. Is it me? Is it them? I can’t tell, but I can’t spend money for wanting to. The situation has reached such a nadir that earlier this week, I was so disheartened I failed even to buy mascara. I need mascara. It’s the only thing that makes me look awake in meetings.

Summer is always bad, this year has been worse than usual. Off the shoulder, formless, floaty, spaghetti straps. No no no. In any case, the weather hasn’t cooperated so if I did buy any of that stuff, it would be hidden under multiple layers and I’d look like someone who wears their entire wardrobe because they don’t have anywhere to store it. Plus, I work in an air-conditioned, under-occupied office. It might be 25 degrees outside, but cashmere is my friend in summer. In winter, I upgrade to a cape that is basically a faux fur trimmed blanket. Yeah, stylish and warm. Eat that, Slanket!

I’m also going through a phase where I’m bored with/hate all of the clothes in my wardrobe. You know how you get up one morning and everything that was fine the day before is suddenly incontrovertibly wrong? That.

There is hope, though. It’s called ‘autumn’. It looks very much as though straight and wide legged trousers will be available, in lovely fabrics like wool and flannel. I don’t care what fashion will be telling me, these are what I really want to wear, along with a sweater, a jacket and boots or smart trainers. Jeans for the weekend.

Except that I keep trying on smart trainers and realising that they’re ugly. Instead of looking as though I’m effortlessly pulling off a sporty-yet-smart urban vibe,  I look like I work in a care home. I think I might have to get dark grey Converse and call it done. There are, thank goodness, great boots all over the place so that’s not even a concern.

And then, there’s outer layers. I’ve been holding back on jackets a bit, feeling I had too many. It must be said, I don’t have any like this and it may well be it stays that way. But, goodness, it would be fun.

Bomber jacket

 

And, my coats are starting to look a little too worn and my autumn coat is plain black , and really, do I really need an excuse for this? Worn with aforementioned navy flannel pants and dark grey Converse?

 

Coat

Oh autumn, do get on with it.

A tale of two customer experiences

It’s become axiomatic that companies with good customer service are winning at business.  Good customer service is a double edged sword in retail, though. It creates a virtuous circle for the companies that practice it; but it also contributes to the vicious circle for those that aren’t hitting the benchmarks established by their competitors. Customers, after all, mostly don’t just decide in a vacuum how they think they should be treated. Expectations are accreted over time, based on all the interactions and micro-interactions with companies along the way. Occasionally, a company will be so blindingly good that the bar will jump higher; more likely, they’ll be so astoundingly bad that customers are left scratching their heads in bewilderment and saying ‘But I don’t understand. Surely they must have heard of John Lewis?’

I think there are basically two types of companies: (1) the ones that want you to buy stuff from them; and (2) the ones that want to sell you stuff. There is a subtle, but important difference here, and it’s defined by the perceived balance of power in the buying relationship. Companies in category (1) understand that the power lies with the customer, and so they have to woo you and be nice to you, and then you’ll buy stuff. Companies in category (2) think you’re there for their benefit, and, in some strange way, that they’re owed your business.

You can’t always tell the difference until things go wrong.

In the spirit of ‘bad things come in threes’, I’ve been suffering from a recent attack of customer service. Setting aside Vodafone, who are heavily invested in setting the bar at subterranean levels, I couldn’t have set up this comparison better if I’d actually planned it. Two separate purchases, from two separate companies. The common denominator is the courier, Hermes; the differentiator is how the companies have dealt with Hermes’ failure to deliver.

I’ll start with the good, but coincidentally what follows is the true order of events…

Boden

I order online and got all the usual confirmation and despatch emails from Boden. Then I got all the usual tracking emails, plus an email from Hermes saying that they’d delivered the parcel to my letterbox. I was at work at the time, and didn’t really believe this because my mailbox is a slim metal box on the wall and you can’t fit much in it. Still, enterprising deliverers have stuffed parcels through the catflap before now, so I returned home expecting to find something.

Nope. Zilch.

Ok, well, maybe Hermes had dropped it with my neighbours and I’d catch up with them at the weekend.

Nope. So I emailed Boden. Them being Boden, I’d had previous good experiences to go on, so went in with a reasonable degree of confidence that they would sort out this issue. No problem, no question, yes it looked as though the package had been delivered but obviously if I didn’t have it they would resend it. Via a different courier. Could I confirm that would be ok? I could. Package sent, Royal Mail stuffed it through the catflap a couple of days later.

Conclusion

Mild irritation with Hermes, but Boden sorted it. Overall win for them, ongoing good impression maintained. In the light of the Bad Experience below, I think this is because Boden’s basic assumption is that their customers aren’t out to rip them off. Boden started life online and they get it; presumably the percentage of customers who are ripping them off with fake claims for lost packages is minimal. Whereas, the gains from providing spot on customer service far outweigh any losses caused by them giving their customers the benefit of the doubt.

Now, let’s look at the bad experience.

House of Fraser

I got the usual confirmation email, and then an email saying that the package had been despatched, and that tracking emails would follow. They didn’t. Days passed. No further word, until I got a second email telling me my package had now been despatched. Eh? Nothing showed up.

I web chatted with House of Fraser. Now, because I’ve just had the exact same situation with Boden, and it’s been well resolved, my expectation is that this is going to be easy and painless. I started off pretty neutral about House of Fraser themselves. I haven’t shopped online with them before, so I didn’t have any past experience to go on. The website is pretty dated but they’re one of those older, slightly tired, high street stores, so that’s sort of what you expect.

House of Fraser, it turns out, operate to different, much lower standards. According to their records, Hermes had delivered the package about a week ago, and got a signature for it. This puts alleged delivery two days before the second despatch email. I said they hadn’t delivered here and what signature, and what about that second email? They’d have to go check with Hermes, they’d do that right now. Then the stupid satisfaction survey popped up and in clearing that I lost the chat window.

I chatted with someone else, who confirmed that her colleague was following up with Hermes and they’d get back to me in 48 hours. Eh? No, at this point I’m fed up, just cancel the order. Can’t do that, it’s been delivered. We have to investigate and then we’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

It is at this point it becomes clear that attitudes to the problem differ. In my view, House of Fraser, or their minions, have screwed up and need to sort out the situation, a la Boden.  However, in their view, I’m likely to be lying so I can score myself a free bag to sell on Ebay. The risk of House of Fraser potentially losing out trumps the fact that I’m now down both £135 and a new bag.

Twenty-four hours later I receive a somewhat inarticulate email saying that they’ve checked with Hermes (no idea what the conclusion of that conversation was) and that, within a further 24 hours, they’ll be sending me a declaration form. Eh? I can print this out, sign it, scan it and email it back to them. Because that isn’t a shitload of unnecessary hassle. No clue whatsoever as to what the proposed resolution of this problem will be, or in which millennia. This is online shopping, people. In digital time, glaciers have been born and moved, species have evolved and died and my patience has long since expired with them.

Conclusion

This situation remains unresolved, but at this point it hardly matters. I’m sure that after jumping through further yet to be defined hoops, I’ll get my refund. I no longer care much about the bag I attempted to buy, because it’s shifted from being an ‘I just got my bonus’ treat to ‘Bloody hell, that was a right load of hassle’. Way to take the fun out of shopping, guys! So they’ve lost not only this sale, but the next one, because I had my eye on a suitcase as well. This experience just cost House of Fraser £300 more or less immediately, plus an undefined amount of future expenditure.

I will pause for thought with future online purchases from any company using Hermes as their courier. For a start, they can’t find my address (ask the postman); then, they apparently lie about it. Seems to me I’d be setting myself up for another load of hassle that I don’t have time for.

I wil have money to spend on a new bag, and guess where I’m looking? Boden.

Update:

OMFG. Hard though it is to believe, this situation is still dragging on. House of Fraser have now sent me the form to fill in, and then investigation takes 7-10 days. Or, to put that in digital terms, an epoch. There is a day of elapsed time between each email. When I reply, well within business hours, it’s the following day before I get a response, thus making email communication uncommonly slow and frustrating.

I’m trying to get them to get a manager to call me, so I told them some times when I’m available. I’m guessing by the fact that no one called me that this afternoon wasn’t convenient. Who knows if, or when, someone will call?

This is such a total car crash that I’m now rather intrigued. The overall impression is that of attempting to communicate with an organization that inhabits a different period in time (I’m thinking 80s?)  and for whom solving a problem is simply not a priority. Or, in fact, on anyone’s to do list at all. Just how bad can it get? At this point, I expect that if a manager does call me, they’ll make farting noises down the phone for 3 minutes and then ring off, laughing.

Update 2

I know. I thought, you thought, we all thought that the nadir had been reached. Not so, my friends. Not so. Grab a head torch and a long rope, because we’re going in…

This is the claim form I received:

HoF1

HoF2

Nice that we’ve moved on from me rather jokingly saying that House of Fraser assumed I was lying, to black and white proof that indeed, that is very much the case.

Then a manager called me. To my confusion, she did not just make farting noises down the phone and laugh. In retrospect, that would have been better than telling me that the investigation process involved them taking my signature and comparing it with the one Hermes have, to see if they match.

It’s not that they’re accusing me of lying, she was quick to clarify. Although I don’t know how else I’m supposed to interpret this. Fortunately, as it now seems, I was at work when this parcel was allegedly delivered and this signature allegedly captured. I’ve forewarned my colleagues that I may need alibis, and I’m sure our security guys will be happy to share the camera footage of me arriving at, and then leaving work.

On the other hand, I’ve had packages delivered by Hermes before. Somewhere on their systems they may have my signature.

I was unaware that it’s a modern retailing concept to make your customers feel that either they’re appearing in a TV detective show as the early suspect in the crime, or they’re the victim of a major fraud conspiracy on the part of the courier. I can’t wait for next week’s episode!

Update 3

I had the realization that if House of Fraser replicated their online shopping experience in store, a couple of heavies would mug you as walked out after buying something, shut you out of the shop and then challenge you to prove you’d bought anything in the first place. You would only be allowed to plead your case using the medium of mime.

But lo! Is that… can it be… yes, it’s an email telling me I’m getting a refund.  Was it that I’d asked for the MD’s email address? Was it that, shocker, the signatures didn’t match? We shall never know.

One of my sister’s mates has a company that specializes in helping organizations sort out their customer comms. I’ve offered this story up as a case study they can use in a training workshop, so some good may come out of it.

Update 4

In an unexpected twist, both of the missing parcels have just turned up. Hermes had dumped them in a hedge at the other end of the village, and whoever found them there dropped them off with my neighbour today. Which goes to show that broadly, people are pretty honest.  Tempting though it is just to chuck both packages in the pond and call that returning them, I will send them back properly.

In which I fail at shopping

You’d think that, with all the sales at this time of year, I’d be handing over money as fast as I can. And I will not lie, gentle reader, it’s a tempting thought. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. My attempts aren’t helped by the fact that Oxford is my nearest city, and not only is it a terrible place to try to shop, you can’t afford to anyway by the time you’ve been pillaged for parking.

So, I turned to the interwebs, once the unidentified fault with my internet connection had ‘sorted itself out’, as Plusnet customer support so cheerily put it. So that’s all right then. (Note to customer support – not really.) But it’s just as depressing online as in the stores.

The high street is telling the same old story. Jigsaw’s prices are hilarious, I’m bored with every single one of the dresses in Hobbs, Boden’s getting more expensive but their quality doesn’t match. M&S lost the plot years ago and has now lost the cast, crew and director too. French Connection’s great showing last Christmas was clearly a blip, and I can’t do Next or Zara because all their clothes are so cheap and nasty they shrink if you give them a hard stare. Gap consistently looks like a jumble sale. It would help if you could get a nice slice of Victoria Sponge from the WI while you’re in there. I keep trying to like Pepperberry, really I do, because I appreciate their sizing. Who knew that tricksy third button could be tailored not to gape on a shirt? But I want their approach to sizing in better quality fabrics that are properly finished.

Where are the affordable, well cut, classic-with-a-contemporary-edge items all hiding? The good black sweater in a washable sort of wool; the decent flannel trousers; a couple of dresses that aren’t either too short or too long, and in one season only colours. This doesn’t seem as though it’s asking for the moon on a stick. I don’t want to dress as though I’m 24,  but I’m not ready for Austin Reed yet, either.

Clothes shopping shouldn’t be so damn hard.

 

In which I despair at A/W 15 fashions

One of the good things about being born and growing up in the 70s is that, yes, I may have worn some of the clothes, but it wasn’t my fault. I’m not sure how old I was when I got to start exercising my own judgment (which, to be fair, was disastrously flawed for a number of years – I wasn’t always the epitome of well groomed chic y’all know today) but I’m pretty confident we were into the 80s by then. And, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing about 70s style that needs revisiting.

So, I’m finding this autumn’s clothes extremely depressing. I love autumn. Bring me colder weather, and fresh breezes, and leaves whirling from the trees. It’s an invigorating change after the summer, and I like chilly mornings, brisk walks and cozy evenings as the sky darkens earlier. I also, usually, look forward to stocking up on sweaters and trousers and new boots.

Not so much this season, which has apparently won the triple of vile fabrics in vile colours in vile shapes. If I was 20, I might be having a lot of fun with micro miniskirts and fringing, but I’m not. I basically need stuff for work that is simultaneously stylish and not cut up to here or plunging down to there. I also have a body type that requires my clothes to have some shape to them. Make it ‘unstructured’ and I may as well done a cardboard box and paint it paisley.

Let’s look at some key style trends for this season as evidence.

Culottes – are you fucking kidding me? I don’t care how many magazines are throwing their models into them, there is nothing flattering about a wide leg pant that stops at half mast. Nothing. Everyone looks rectangular. Plus, they’re just plain stupid. In real life, people need coverings all the way down their legs, because we have this stuff called weather.

culottes

 

Flat shoes – this just breaks my heart. It’s a continuation of the summer theme that saw skate shoes and orthopedic sandals foisted on an unsuspecting public with the rallying cry ‘They’re really comfortable!’ I had to look high and low for a pair of CFM heels when I needed them over the summer, and my autumn search for brown ankle boots that aren’t horrible is proving similarly troublesome.

Ugly shoes

Granny chic – words fail me. Ok, they don’t, but the only ones I have left are expletives. The shapes, patterns and colors all make me want to cry. Pussy bow blouses; ankle length pleated skirts in 70s orange; angrily patterned fabrics, of the sort that is usually left over at jumble sales. It’s defiantly ugly, and maybe if you are awesomely cute and you live in a movie, you can pull off the look. I am not and I have to go out in public without being afraid that I will traumatize passing strangers by reminding them of their deceased grandmother’s curtains.

blouse

 

Polo necks/roll neck jumpers – Do they have ribbing too? Super. So, these actually work if you are a size triple zero model in a black and white shot that’s pretending to be 60s Paris. Smoke a Gauloise.  C’est bien. If, on the other hand, you are a real person then you may have breasts, in which case your options are: the fitted, ‘here are my tits but I don’t have a neck’ look, or the ‘I am a shapeless blob and I don’t have a neck’ look. If you want, you can try tucking a roll neck into your dubiously coloured flares, thereby giving yourself an artificial roll around the middle too.

polo

I’m heading into the cheapest A/W season in years.

In which an irresistible force meets an immoveable object

Get me with the physics reference! (Um, it is physics, right?)

Anyway, I was in London t’other weekend to go to see Electra at the Old Vic. I think Electra is a difficult play, because although the circumstances are terrible, Electra’s blinkered single-mindedness in pursuit of yet more horrendous crimes is unnerving. Kristin Scott-Thomas played her brilliantly, as a deeply emotionally disturbed and unstable woman wrought to high pitch. I imagine her Electra collapsing like a puppet with severed strings once the action is completed, inner motivation spent and with nothing to replace it. Now there’s a story that as far as I’m aware, no one has touched since Aeschylus. What happens next?

On the way to the theatre, I had to do some shopping due to a last minute invitation to a black tie dinner later in the week (this isn’t a humblebrag, it was a work thing and all the important people had dropped out so there were seats going spare on a table that had been paid for). Fortunately, I only needed shoes, and I only wanted cheap shoes because this is the first black tie event I’ve been to in about a hundred years. So, Oxford Street it was.

I managed not to fall down the rabbit hole of French Connection, which has suddenly grown up and had a ton of stuff in a delectable midnight blue that was pleading with me to take it home for happy ever afters. I hear it still, in my dreams. Somewhat unbelievably, I came away from the stores with only one pair of shoes, and then decided to walk to Green Park tube via New Bond Street.

All the shops there are so expensive that I don’t even aspire to shop in them. I view the whole street more like an art gallery, full of beautiful things that are so out of range I can simply admire them as objects. Also, it’s not as insanely busy as Oxford Street and it’s a handy cut through, so I was striding purposefully along when I was stopped by a free handout sample of a hugely expensive moisturizer. I’ve had samples before, it’s lovely stuff but I’d never contemplate buying it. What I did contemplate was following the salesman inside for a sample of the eye cream.

He embarked on the usual attempts to create rapport, and I had a few minutes to spare so I let him. It was the usual ‘Oh but you have such lovely skin, you don’t look your age, let me just pop a bit of eye cream on and honestly, you won’t believe the difference, now, while we’re waiting for that to work let me just show you our moisturizers. These are the only moisturizers in the world that are made with this unique ingredient that penetrates all the layers of your skin to your very soul and yes, that’s right, it moisturizes your soul so not only will you look amazing but you’ll be a better person too, I mean, that’s got to be worth it, hasn’t it, and oh look, the eye cream has worked, can you believe the difference, ooh, it’s knocked 10 years off that eye, I mean not that you needed it really, but let’s be honest, you do have a few crows’ feet and wrinkles, but if you used this eye cream and our moisturizer every day then they’d all be gone in 3 weeks…’

That boy was working it. The moisturizer and eye cream together were £400, which made me laugh out loud. I said I didn’t mind my crows’ feet and wrinkles, I was 43 so of course I had them and actually I didn’t want to be perfect I wanted to look like a normal person and in fact the pressure on women to look 20 all the time was ridiculous and misogynistic.

What if he was a magician and could say a magic word and all my wrinkles would be gone, just like that?

No.

No? Really? One magic word and they’d be gone? Seriously?

No. I like them. They’re fine, it’s not damage, it’s my life.

He didn’t really believe me but he moved on to the extra bit of the spiel for the stubborn ones. This is their entry level product, which is the facial scrub. This we tested on the back of my hand, and sure enough, it scrubbed off a layer of skin and pollution and the back of my hand was soft as anything. The facial scrub was £150, which I think is supposed to seem like a bargain after that £400 price tag, but didn’t. So I said no. (£400? I want it made by Clangers and personally flown in by the metal chicken, with dinner with the Soup Dragon thrown in.)

He didn’t miss a beat in dropping the price to £75 as an introductory offer, because it’s all about building a relationship, not making a sale. I said no, £75 is ridiculous for a facial scrub and maybe try me again in 10 years if I start feeling desperate. He went to get his business card, and possibly to have a chat with the manager and came back with an offer of £49, at which point the encounter tipped from amusing into brand damage.

I wasn’t going to buy it at any price. He’d halved the price and told me that was cost, so already admitted that the mark-up was huge. He then effectively halved it again, at which point he devalued the product entirely. I don’t believe they weren’t still making a handsome profit at two-thirds off the ticket price, which means that for all the hype it’s suddenly no different to my £10 Oil of Olay. Wrinkles versus snake oil? I’ll keep the wrinkles.

Friday eye candy

‘It’s Friday, I’m in love’, as Robert Smith sang in a rare upbeat moment. Mostly I’m in love with the fact that I have the day off and am about to head to Sussex for the weekend; at least, ‘about’ if you interpret it loosely to mean when I’ve had another coffee and I’m showered, dressed, packed and know where I’m going.

However, general exuberance of spirit has also tipped me over into fond feelings for any number of items, starting with this hedgehog cushion from Anorak (to which I was directed via Domestic Sluttery). For a start, hedgehogs are adorable.

Hedgehog cushion

Look at the hedgehogs! Like little shuffling lemons.

Turns out they’re even more adorable when cast in sunny yellow on a navy background, pretty much guaranteed to brighten up the gloomiest of days. I have a room for this cushion. I just need a chair for it.

John Lewis velvet buttoned armchair

Chair of wondrousness

Perhaps, this chair. I do love this chair, because it is so ridiculous. Really, who has the sort of house into which a yellow (they’re calling it gold, but it is clearly yellow) velvet armchair will fit?

Answer: me. I could make it work, if only to house the hedgehog cushion. And it would glow like a jewel on dark days and brighten my world.

As there is an accidental summery, yellow theme developing, I shall stick with it. What would Friday Eye Candy be without shoes? On a different blog, that’s what.

Hobbs Hattie Sandal

Super sunny yellow shoes

Hobbs brought these to my attention a few weeks ago,  but fortunately my local store wasn’t stocking them. Their shoes are hit and miss for me, so I wouldn’t buy them on teh interwebs because of the heartbreak if they didn’t fit and I had to return them. I graciously share them with you and I hope anyone who buys them enjoys a long and happy life with them.

Now, look. You’ve got a comfortable armchair and cushion, and a killer pair of shoes. What’s missing from this picture?

Far from the Madding Crowd Penguin classics

Bees!

Obvs. A well dressed hardback is almost irresistible. I’m not even a huge fan of Hardy (why does Hardy get the fancy treatment but not Trollope? Dear Random Penguins, Barchester Chronicles in lush hardbacks, please, and be quick about it) but I still want this on a handy side table near my new chair.

And with that, it’s time I was off.