Changed And Unchanged

So today I went to Harvey Nichols to make my token purchase (as promised here), and walked out without making one. Here’s what got up my nose about the place.

Harvey Nicks has changed. It’s no longer the calm, classy establishment I knew and loved from a dozen or so years ago. Now it’s brash, very pretentious and looks like someone in Marketing said, “I know! Let’s cater to parvenu Russian oil oligarchs’ wives and children!”

I was going to make a small purchase — I can’t afford Harvey Nicks’ prices on, well, anything — so I wanted to get something small, a present for a friend, nothing fancy, a beautiful bath soap that would be pure indulgence every time she used it. I walked up to the first salesgirl I saw at the cosmetics department and said, “I’m looking for some luxury bath soap. Where do you stock it?”
Soap?” The little tart acted as though she’d never heard of it.
“Yes… you know, a bar of something fragrant, something sinfully expensive and indulgent?”
Soap?” she repeated. “I don’t know… let me ask someone else,” and she sashayed off to another tart behind a different counter. Much whispered conversation, pointing and even a curl of the lip.

I was being snooted.

What was worse, I soon discovered, was that Harvey fucking Nichols does not stock any fucking bar soap, of any description — at least, not that I could discern or the snooty little shit knew about either.

So I left, and such was my dismay that I had to go to Fortnum & Mason for a recuperative lunch. So I did, hoping that Fortnum’s hadn’t made the same stupid marketing decision.

Bless the Lord, they haven’t. It’s still the same lovely, old-fashioned place that sells stuff like $1,500 carrier bags and $10,000 Christmas crackers, and which offers shoeshine service delivered by a young man in formal clothing.

I felt like I’d come home — or at least, home to Free Market Towers, which is very much like Fortnum’s, only without anything for sale. Anyway, after a frighteningly fine lunch of duck rarebit and coffee, I went up to the second floor (Ladies Accessories) and found… about a hundred different kinds of sinfully expensive and indulgent bath soaps. A delightful young lady — not a snooty little tart — with a charming French accent was only too happy to help me make a choice, showing me all over the floor to the different placements of said soaps, opening packages to let me inhale the fragrance, and in general making me feel like my business meant everything to her — and all this, for a $10 purchase, mind you.

So I ended up buying a lot more than one bar of soap — total purchase well over $40 — and then went down to buy small gifts of tea and such for my rotten, ungrateful and spoiled children.

Which I did. Then, still having not exhausted my ire at being condescended to by a snotty little shopgirl, I went down the street to the Maille mustard store, where a charming, helpful young man let me taste about a dozen exquisite mustards, and such was my self-restraint that I only bought half a dozen small jars thereof.

Such is the power of helpful, sincere and well-trained customer service.

And fuck Harvey Nichols. They’ve lost me as a customer, too.


  1. Kim, if you want to get snooted when you come back to Texas try the Beretta store in Highland Park Village. I have owned three o/u Berettas, still have two and the gun smith at that store was a genius working on Berettas, a real jerk but a genius and the hired help always knew I did not fit their customer profile and probably should not be allowed in the store but I came in anyway.

    I was in that store four times getting work done on guns that had been shot a lot and every time I left the store pissed off and angry. So if you want to get your dander up try those folks out. By the way, it didn’t seem to matter much that, at that time, I owned a fountain pen store the next shopping center up on Lovers Lane and Inwood and shared a lot of the same customer base.

  2. I’ve worked a lot in retail, and I was told, and found to be true in my experience, that good customer service is absolutely essential.

  3. There must be an aphorism know as Du Toit’s Law – “assistants who focus on the tip of their nose are likely to sink the business”. Or similar
    I recall 2 department stores and 2 car dealerships. There are other stores and dealers, but perhaps they do not know (dumb) or do not care (self-absorbed bubble dwellers).
    I think the rule of thumb is that a bad report about a business spreads 7 times further than a good report.

    1. Research I did at a Great Big Retailer revealed that for every customer who complains, there are fifteen others who feel exactly the same way. Sadly, when a customer calls to compliment, there are only six others who feel the same.

  4. Youth usually goes with the tarts. No respect.

    And then they wonder why they are unemployed/unemployable/business failure or other calamity that should not have happened in their perceived perfect world.

  5. I worked retail briefly and can’t say much, but I worked the food and bev business for years.

    My old boss operated by his own iron hard rule about employees: If they are comfortable in the physical environment, then the customers are not.

    examples: if the temperature is just right for the staff, then the customers are freezing. If the muzak is just loud enough to please the staff, it’s bellowing in the customer’s ears.

  6. You should’ve gone to Grace Bros. The service probably would have been better. 🙂

  7. If I were in London and wanted to buy something uniquely British that smells wonderful and is “sinfully expensive and indulgent” I would go to the Ormonde Jayne boutique.
    The owner and perfumer, Linda Pilkington, is famously insistent on perfect customer service. I would be interested to know whether that is actually true. I’ve been snooted a lot buying expensive perfume, since I look like the middle-class person I am. I’ve shelled out many dollars ordering from OJ online–worth every penny, as pricey as their products are.

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