In Oxford yesterday we popped into the main Blackwell’s bookshop, just across the road from the Sheldonian.
The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
We ended up spending about £46 on books. I paid at a cash desk in the subterranean hanger-like Norrington room and the sales assistant pushed the pile of new books across the counter towards me with a receipt on top. No bag to carry them out in.
‘Could I have a bag?’ I asked.
‘We charge 5p for a bag’, replied the assistant. She had run my card through the machine and taken payment without bothering to mention this. I was already carrying a camera, camcorder, sound recorder, eBook reader and two loaves of bread. I really couldn’t take away the books unless they were inside a bag, something she must surely have been able to see.
‘I’ll just use Amazon next time’, I snarled, fishing a 5p coin from my pocket and slamming it down on the counter. The assistant smiled, a most irritating smile. ‘We are trying to help our customers cut down on waste and to be more ecologically aware by making them consider whether they need a plastic bag’, she lectured.
”I didn’t ask for a plastic bag’, I said.
‘I will not have you shout at my colleague’, shouted a second assistant who was serving another customer just along the counter from me. I hadn’t shouted at her, of course. I was annoyed and I was arguing, which is now sufficient in all dealings with sales assistants to be accused of shouting and being aggressive, which then gives them licence give up the pretence of decent service.
I couldn’t bear this rent seeking1 presented as a sneering ecological paternalism. If Blackwell’s wanted to cut down on plastic bags used, why not offer paper bags? If they’d like their customers to think about their use of bags then plaster the shop in notices and remind them before a sale is made – Blackwell’s did neither. And if a customer needs a bag, as I did, and it would not be appropriate or even possible to walk out of the shop without a bag then supply a bag.
This was a £46 purchase, not an unusual sort of amount for us to spend when we pop into a book shop. But now I won’t use Blackwell’s again, ever, and I’d suggest you don’t either – unless you welcome being needlessly lectured by the bookshop staff about environmentalism when all they’re really trying to do is make a slightly higher margin on your purchase.
Bye, bye Blackwells. You must be having a hard time of it in this Amazon-dominated world. May you go bust soon and may your supercilious staff only find work in call centres.
These are the books we bought. Forget Blackwells and buy from Amazon instead. Cheaper and better customer service.