I have loved shopping in any sense for as long as I can remember. I can shop anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances. I can even go as far as to say that one of my favourite movie references is, in fact, shopping related. That iconic scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts walks into an upmarket boutique on Rodeo Drive wearing, erm ‘streetwear’ (see below) and the shop assistants don’t want to wait on her because of how she appears. She then returns to the store a few days later dressed head to toe in the chicest outfit and tells the assistants that wouldn’t serve her that they had made a “big mistake, big, huge” leaving them aghast. I love this for many reasons, firstly the smugness, secondly the outfit and thirdly I love Julia Roberts.
Picture the scene, 3 pm, New Year's Eve, 2005, I’d hoovered up one of my Shu Uemura eyelashes the night before and needed to wear them that night, this is clearly why I never hoover, a very hazardous activity. Fenwick Newcastle were the only stockists and I decided to do an emergency lash run, yes, that is a thing. I left the house at breakneck speed looking a little dishevelled and filthy, covered in unwashed tan, lifting to high heaven of an aroma that can only be described as curry/wet biscuits, hair in a bobble, no bra (because of the tan), tracksuit pants with a saggy butt and a hoodie…..stunning! Even with some effort, I don’t think I could have looked more of a clip. The girl on the counter that normally serves me clearly didn’t recognise me, she looked me up and down and told me that this brand was an expensive brand and Mac eyelashes were a third of the price. There you go, my very own Pretty Woman moment (aside from the fact I was not dressed like a prostitute and didn’t have Richard’s credit card). I was absolutely foaming mad, I never bought those lashes again and 4 years ago the counter closed in Newcastle and then other subsequent stores, I assume this is because of my lack of custom. Big mistake, big, huge.
Back to the present and brace yourselves. Jilly from Instagram/blog is not always polished and stylish, sometimes I am just in dog walking gear and no makeup. On these days I would go as far to say I am unrecognisable. I have four categories of style; work, going out out, daytime off duty and then the aforementioned absolute clip; wearing trackies and zero makeup and I may or may not have brushed my hair. I have no shame to admit that I will pop into town wearing the latter, sometimes I am just popping in to collect a parcel and therefore cannot be bothered to glam up, I dress for me and no one else, so if I don’t feel like it, I don’t bother. I have experienced some unpleasant attitudes lately, this may have been due to the heat and shop assistants being chewed or in reality, maybe it's just because some people are absolute dickheads. So I decided to visit some of my favourite most frequented stores in Newcastle to collect an order or make a purchase (excellent excuse) both in a nice shopping ‘Jilly a life in style’ outfit and then a couple of weeks later looking like a hot mess. The results may or may not surprise you.
Reiss - Blackett Street, Newcastle
I frequent this store regularly and have done for many years, I had a big order to collect, so I thought looking like a mess would be a good test, clearly, I had the money to shop in Reiss as I had already paid for my items. I waited at the cash desk, the shop assistant was serving someone at the time, clearly I was next in line, however, she walked away to help someone with a fitting room, whilst I was blatantly standing directly in front of the cash desk. I was not happy. So, giving her the benefit of the doubt I stood there calmly, then she came back, and she didn’t even acknowledge me! I had to ask her to get my order and then off she went, took a left instead of a right towards the fitting rooms where the orders are held. She then proceeded to help someone else and then I had to ask her again, so rude. A week later, the same store, different assistant and wearing a much more ‘Reiss’ acceptable outfit I was asked 4 times in the space of 10 minutes if I needed any help and one sales assistant commented on one of the items that I held up would look fabulous on me. Overall, really disappointed.
Flannels - Northumberland Street, Newcastle
The Cruise store that used to be by the Central Library has recently been bought out by Flannels, they stock the same items and are known for being fancy and have the license for the most high-end brands in the City. I actually used to work in Cruise when I was at University, I have seen so many beautiful and expensive items arrive into stock including a £3500 Gucci leather jacket, arrive in stuffed into a cardboard box, these stores are not as glamorous behind the scenes as they appear. Minimum wage, poor staff discount, and my only highlight was staff training on how to use a steamer, there is, therefore, no need for staff to look down their noses at you. I couldn’t afford the items that I was selling when I worked there so hopefully, there should be no judgment here and thankfully, there wasn’t. I was treated exactly the same on both visits, no difference at all. All the glossy surfaces, a trendy light installation and the only local stockist of high-end labels such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and Balmain in Newcastle had no reflection on how the staff treat their customers, thank you nice no-judgment Flannels people.
French salon, Fenwick - Northumberland Street, Newcastle
Wow, just wow. It feels like writing an obituary telling you this. Fenwick is my most favourite store in the city, so be mindful that this is only one department and not representative of the amazing staff in many other departments (such as Andrew in Whitewall Galleries, amazing at what he does). The staff in the French Salon couldn’t have made me feel less welcome if they had of glassed me in the face, from asking to try on a dress to complete my purchase. I asked for a fitting room and was pointed in the direction and given a withering look that screamed ‘don’t expect any help you peasant’, to make matters worse, I wasn’t even in my dog walking gear, I was in my nice shopping attire. For the purpose of the blog I went back in my less stylish alternative, lets just say that the staff were significantly more attentive, but don’t be confused here, this was due to the fact that I was being watched like a fox in a chicken coop, in case I did a smash and grab.
John Lewis - Eldon Square, Newcastle.
For as long as I can remember John Lewis have always prided themselves on personalised and professional customer service. The stores have a certain prestige to them and for some reason, all of the stores smell the same, it is a smell of comfort, quality, and reassurance. I had high hopes for John Lewis, with the addition of the ‘Style Studio’ on the 1st floor where ladies fashion is located the store has really started to be a big player on the Newcastle fashion map. Thankfully they did not let me down, the staff were attentive professional and no more or less helpful depending on the outfit. It is nice to know in an ever-changing world that John Lewis remains steadfast in its promise to customer service.
So what have I found out? I have discovered that your style can impact your shopping experience, I have also found that I still couldn't care less how shop assistants judge me, I have written this post because I know many people do. I have had many conversations with friends and bloggers about the intimidation associated with visiting certain high-end stores and I am sad to confirm that sometimes you are made to feel like a provincial peasant as Karl would say. Remember, they are just shops that sell things, so no matter if you are buying tampons from Boots or a Gucci bag from Selfridges the process is the same, pick the item, shopping assistant processes item, pay for the item, you leave with an item. Any store that makes this process more judgemental than it needs to be is making a mistake, big, huge. I will be on Rodeo drive in a couple of weeks, cannot wait to try this out there in my thigh high boots and stretchy Pretty Woman outfit (even though I will look like Julia’s grandmother borrowing her clothes), I will let you know how I get on……..
Update - right to reply
Everyone deserves the right to reply, just because observations are how I found them (albeit via what I consider to be an immense and rigorous investigation that would stand up in any court – a fashion court that is), it’s only fair that the stores I featured got to respond to my findings.
I sent them the post, they didn’t get back to me, I assume that in their case this was because no bad news means that they can continue as normal. A little thank you ever hurts mind, but c’est la vie.
I sent them the post and got an instant reply saying ‘thank you for my email and I would get a response’, unless the response is coming via a Fendi clad pigeon I am assuming my blog post went in to the proverbial fashion spam black hole.
A standard response from Head office saying that they were ‘sorry and disappointed’ and would pass it on to the store in question and I would hear back…. I mean I have to say at this point if this was a prospective date I would be checking my digits and assume that I had been ghosted.
Fenwick was the hardest post to write as I felt the strongest personal attachment to the store and was the most disappointed with my experience here, I wrote my entry with a heavy heart and as with all of the others passed it on. Holy shit, Fenwick did not let me down in their response.
It’s always easy to be nice, pleasant and engaging when the game is good but when the chips are down (I am talking metaphorical plastic ones not the delicious salty carb based snacks) is a really good indicator of customer care. I received a very detailed and personal email from Head Office addressing my findings and several steps as to what they planned to do about them such as passing on the information, staff training (mentioning specific areas) and customer care training. A very good response I felt, my faith was restored, all was right in the world and Fenwick were back in my good books, phew. But, it didn’t stop there! The Newcastle store itself contacted me to invite me I for a personal visit. This visit would be two-fold, on one side this would be to meet with the Manager of Ladies Fashion and discuss in depth what my experiences were in store and feedback from nice local blog readers that have commented or sent emails regarding their experiences both good ad bad. And secondly, if I was happy with that meeting I was invited into store to trial the soft launch of their personal shopping experience, alongside a Charlotte Tilbury transformation and some delicious nibbles and canapés! Oooooooooooooo. I politely accepted both invitations (read ‘politely accepted’ as snapping their Fenwick arm off) on the condition that I would write up the personal shopping experience from a genuine honest perspective, they agreed, so I will let you know exactly how it went. Fashion fingers crossed, post coming soon.