Whatever happened to "the customer is always right"?

If you are running a shop, it always used to be a rule that you should give the customer what they want. Not any more it seems. Increasingly, presumptuous managers are coming round the the idea that THEY know best.

Until recently, I used to have a couple of fresh-baked poppy-seed rolls or ciabattas from my local Sainsburys for lunch. Notably these two types were easily the most popular types, and often sold out. I was therefore completely mystified and a little put out when, shortly before Christmas last year, the store stopped selling poppy seed rolls and then, to compound the felony, discontinued the ciabattas a few months later. As both types remained on sale elsewhere, I assumed that this was the result of some kind of mixup, but after months of correspondance had failed to resolve the situation, I finally got to the bottom of the matter – “This is based on our policy to provide a wide and varied range of products and to offer our customers the opportunity to try something different.”

Excuse me, I’ll decide when and if I want to “try something different”. For my part, I “tried” shopping at Waitrose instead of Sainsburys, which is “different” but probably wasn’t the intended consequence of this policy. Unfortunately, Sainsburys are not the only offender. The sandwhich chain Pret a Manger is virtually synonymous with its All Day Breakfast – a bacon, sausage, egg and tomato sandwhich which is even described as “famous” on their website. Except try finding an outlet that actually sells it. If you live in Glasgow or Liverpool, you are fresh out of luck – “None of our shops in Glasgow or Liverpool sell this sandwich” I was informed, after frustrating experiences in both these places. The situation in London is little better; earlier this week I gave up in disgust after trying no fewer than four outlets.

The explanation: “This sandwich is one that Managers can choose whether to sell or not in their shops dependent on sales and customer demand.” Right, once again, the manager knows best. If you are nursing a hangover in Glasgow or Liverpool – hardly an infrequent occurrence – you’ll have to make do with some ghastly rabbit-food special and tell yourself it it so much better for you than the all-day breakfast you’d dragged yourself out of bed for.

© Christopher Seddon 2010

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