Marketers often say that men find shopping for clothes frustrating and alienating. It’s almost as though the entire process was designed for women, if you believe the stereotypes.
Some very clever online businesses have sprung up based on this premise, making it easier for men to find clothes they want without having to go through an embarrassing ordeal.
I’m not like that, generally. Over the years I’ve found a few good shops and clothing labels that usually have stuff I like that fits me, where they don’t have crappy dance music at eardrum-bursting volume and where the staff are helpful and unpretentious.
Most of the time.
Not so this weekend, though, when I visited a very large department store in the CBD, renowned for its quality products and customer service.
Me: This is a nice shirt. Do you have one in my size?
Fashion retail person #1: (Flips through rack) No.
Me: Yes, I already looked there, that’s why I asked you. (Waits for fashion retail person to make helpful suggestion.)
Fashion retail person #1: (Starts sorting clothes hangers.)
In case you’re wondering, yes, at this point I checked if I could buy it online. The manufacturer had very pretty website that took 10 minutes to load on the iPhone (Yay Vodafone!) and, of course, no ecommerce capability. So, half an hour of fruitless shirt shopping later, I was back where I started, with a different person.
Me: This is a nice shirt. Could you please check if you have it in my size?
Fashion retail person #2: Yes, but I’m pretty sure all the stock we have is on the rack. I’ll check. (Goes out back)
Fashion retail person #2: No.
Me: That’s a pity. Do any of your other stores have it in my size?
Fashion retail person #2: Let me see. (Twiddles computer) Yes, Chatswood. Can you get to Chatswood?
Me: It is not convenient. Can the Chatswood store send it here?
Fashion retail person #2: No. (Complicated explanation, I didn’t really pay attention after ‘no’.)
Me: Alright, I will take some time out of my work day to pick it up from Chatswood tomorrow, but only if they put it away so someone else doesn’t buy it before I get there.
Fashion retail person #2: (Spends 15 minutes on phone trying to find person in Chatswood store) I spoke to Alex, he said he’ll put it aside, but you have to get it tomorrow.
The next day, in Chatswood…
Me: I had a shirt put away yesterday. Could you get it for me?
Fashion retail person #3: Hmm… I can’t find it. Was it a BRAND A shirt?
Me: No, it was BRAND B.
Fashion retail person #3: Oh! You need to go over to the BRAND C counter!
Me: (Goes to next counter) I had a shirt put away yesterday. Could you get it for me?
Fashion retail person #4: I can’t find it anywhere. Who put it away for you?
Me: I think his name was Alex.
Fashion retail person #4: Oh, ALEX. It doesn’t look like he put it away.
Me: (Speaking in the spirit of Homer Simpson trying not to swear, “Oh, fudge. That’s . . . broken. Fiddle dee dee. That will require a tetanus shot.” ) That is . . . unfortunate. I can see it over there on the shelf. Perhaps there’s still one in my size.
Fashion retail person #4: Here’s one.
Me: This has “XL” written in biro on the cardboard label but “L” on the shirt label. Are you sure it’s XL?
Fashion retail person #4: Oh yes, they found it was the wrong size and it’s really XL.
Me: Wouldn’t I better off getting this one over here that says “XL” on both labels?
Fashion retail person #4: Sure, if you like.
This is the hardest I have ever had to work to buy something, other than a car or property. Can anyone spot the dozen or so places along the way where the retailer made it harder for me to buy the shirt than it needed to be? And was it really such a nice shirt that it was worth all the aggro to get it?
How do businesses survive, treating customers with contempt? Is it only because all their competitors do the same? Surely there must be a huge opportunity for shops that sell clothes and help their customers buy them!