Could we have some service here please? By @Jasmine of @MoneyMagpie for #IndieRetail

I hate to kick a dog when he’s down. The retail sector is being hammered, I know, but it doesn’t stop me grumbling. In fact, I think I have a constructive grumble for you so bear with me… It’a the usual complaint that most people have about retail in the UK: the lack of good service….everywhere.

I do think it’s getting worse and we need a concerted effort to improve things.

The British way is to give bad service and to receive it without complaint!

For example, I had a couple of American friends to dinner last night. Both used to live here and they were back for a visit. As ever, they commented on the ridiculously bad service meted out in British shops and restaurants.

“I was in a department store and I went to pay,” said Justine, “There were two people serving at the tills. One was serving a woman with about a hundred items and the other guy was free but putting stickers on things. I went to him but he said he was busy and couldn’t I just wait for the other server to be free. ‘No I couldn’t I said’, ‘couldn’t you serve me instead of putting stickers on things?’ Eventually, and with a bad grace, he took my money. Don’t they want my custom?

“In another department I asked the lady serving if she thought the dress I’d tried on suited me. She said ‘I’d give it 8 out of 10’. That would never happen in America. People who work in shops know how to encourage customers to buy. They go out of their way to look after you and take your money off you!”

It’s true. It’s the British way to give bad service and to receive it without complaint. We have only ourselves to blame.

It’s just as bad in restaurants and bars. A friend and I popped into a cafe in St Martin’s Lane the other day. We wanted a quick bite during the interval at the Coliseum. It was about 8.45pm. The conversation with the person at the counter went like this:

  • Us: We’d like to have something quick to eat. What would you suggest.
  • Her: Sorry, we’re closing in 15 minutes.
  • Us: But we won’t take long.
  • Her: Sorry, we’re closing in 15 minutes.
  • Us: But you’ve got a table and chairs outside. Couldn’t we sit there?
  • Her: Sorry, we’re closing in 15 minutes.

We went to Pret a Manger instead.

The high street is changing. It’s shrinking and will continue to shrink as the web increases its share.

I think it’s a cultural thing. We’re all to blame. There’s something about the British culture that fosters a slight contempt for anyone common enough to want to pay for goods or services, rather than get their butler to bring it to them. There’s an innate laziness about us that begrudges going the extra mile (or 15 minutes) for people who have the temerity to be customers and offer to give money to our businesses (how dare they?). Fawlty Towers was based on a real-life experience, remember.

This is not just a grumble, though. This is a warning.

The high street is changing. It’s shrinking and will continue to shrink as the web increases its share. I think that the retail units that survive will largely either be small, local places full of essentials or they will follow the Apple model and be customer-friendly, life-enhancing spaces that people come to see as a home-from-home that is more fun than their own home.

Only companies that go the extra ten miles will survive and thrive in this sober decade…this digital decade

It’s not just the recession that’s hitting the high street. It is, as we know, also all the other ways that people can buy things and have fun that put the high street in jeopardy. If the retail sector doesn’t step up to the plate and create happy, attractive and enjoyable shopping/eating experiences, it will continue to lose out to these competitors.

It will only be companies that go the extra ten miles that survive and thrive in this sober decade…this digital decade. The old models that were able to make money while expressing thinly veiled contempt for customers, are already crumbling.

So come on. Give us some service and get yourself a profitable future.

Jasmine Birtles is the founder of money-making and money-saving website 

As a TV presenter specialising in business and personal finance, Jasmine presented “The Insider” documentary on debt for Channel 4 in 2007.  She also co-presented BBC 1’s “Homes Under the Hammer”, ITV Scotland’s “Spend Spend Spend”as well as “First Time Buyers” and “Doctor Dosh” for UKTV Style.  Her most recent presenting role was for the BBC website’s RaW money strand (at

She often appears as a financial expert on GMTV, BBC Breakfast News, This Morning, BBC News and Sky Newsas well as regular stints on the sofa of The Wright Stuff as their ‘money-making’ expert.

As a financial journalist she has a daily column in the Daily Express, she also writes for the Independent on Sunday, The Independent, Prima, You, ivillage, AOL Money, The Observer, Essentials Magazine, and many others.

She is a regular pundit on BBC Radio 4 and Five Live, and an always-amusing talking head on magazine, current affairs and comedy programmes such as “Quote Unquote” and “Off the Page”. She is also the author of 37 books, including her latest one ‘The Money Magpie’ (Vermilion).

Finally, as a speaker, MC and corporate presenter, Jasmine has hosted conferences, given business speeches and entertained audiences for a wide variety of companies, including BT, IBM, 02, BBC, Moneyfacts, Ernst and Young, Barclays Stockbrokers, Sainsbury’s, Egg and Abbey National.


About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email
This entry was posted in Blog-a-day for Indie Retail, Independent Retailer Month 2011, Service and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Could we have some service here please? By @Jasmine of @MoneyMagpie for #IndieRetail

  1. Wow, I really associate with the is blog. We have a shop full of local deisgners and go out of our way to go the “extra mile”.. not just so they spend, but so they feel welcome and want to return. I really feel like re are having to re-educate people though and its strange. People have gotten so used to the clinical and cold customer service that we all appear to have accepted as the norm, I seriously believe that if people look in our shop window and there are no customers on the ground floor, that they do not come in for fear of being “spoken to” . Its quite funny, though rather damaging to a small independent shop. Believe me, by the time they have done all three floors and come out of the other side, they “always” comment on how great it is. Bring Back customer service and being on first name terms with a shop you frequent. I LOVED this blog and will continue to fight the good fight!!

  2. derrick2 says:

    Whilst I agree with Ms Birtles that poor service is far too prevalent in the UK, I would suggest that it stems from the (unacceptable) British belief that “serving” is beneath them and only suitable for others, which is no doubt why so many restaurant staff are non-British! As for the anecdote about her friend trying to buy a dress, I certainly would have no regard for an assistant whose only concern was to make a sale no matter how inappropriate a particular outfit might be for the customer. Far better to offer tactful advice and help steer the customer to something more suitable.

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