Behold, the story of two retailers.

I'm what Country Road considers a VIP Customer. I have a little card that says David Mejia-Canales VIP.  Calm down, it's not me grand noting myself.  It's that I spend too much of our money buying their clothes out of a misguided sense of supporting an Australian brand.  

It's no longer an Australian company as such, it's owned by South Africans.  Nor is any of their stuff made in Australia anymore, it's all made in China but with a markup as if it was made in South Yarra. They don't even reflect what Australia looks like in their advertising campaigns.  I've gone back as far as I can looking at their catalogues online (early 90s) and not a single face that isn't white anglo. None. It's the 1950's for ever in a Country Road catalogue.

Anyway, given that I buy a lot of stuff I hardly ever go in to one of their shops, I buy stuff online- why would you go in to a shop when you can shop from home? I got this shirt and a pair of pants that looked ok on the website but when I greedily opened the courier package found that it just wasn't for me.  Off I went to return it to a shop, enter Michelle into my life.

Michelle was the sales 'assistant' I had the misfortune of meeting at Country Road Melbourne Central. Our conversation went like this:

D: "I would like to return this shirt please"
M: "I've never seen that shirt before."
D: "I got it from your online store."
M: "Well I've never seen it before."
D: *shows the terse Michelle the Country Road tags still on the garment- unworn*
M: "Well, I just have never seen it before." *Michelle walks off, and asks someone else to help me.*

Clearly the sales 'assistant' must have been having a bad day. I went to see if I could buy something else from the store with the credit I had now gained and I overheard her ask someone to put the recently returned shirt away (that she had never seen, that I had returned) and while pointing at me with her pursed lips said to her co-worker: '[this shirt was returned by] the guy that's just having a look around now'.

Fuck that shit- so I left.

I returned a week later to get a refund on some pants. The conversation with Michelle who appears to be omnipresent went like this:

D: "I would like to return these please."
M: "Have you got a receipt?" *not looking up at all to acknowledge my presence*
D: "Here it is."
M: *Doesn't look up, types furiously on her computer for a good couple of minutes*
M: "$190 back on your Mastercard?"
D: "Yes"
M: "Back on your Mastercard?"
D: "Yes"
M: *looks at me from over her glasses* "GIVE ME YOUR MASTER CARD"
D: "You're very aggressive."
M: "I was asking if you wanted the money back on your Mastercard, I thought you thought I already have it."

I left the shop feeling like I was under siege, mind you I was what they consider a VIP customer. I hate to think how they treat their run of the mill customers.  I was walking back to the train station after being severely scolded by Michelle when I walked past a big Japanese retailer that has just opened in Melbourne; it's name begins with U and ends in niqlo.

Given that I had just had money returned to me ON MY MASTERCARD, I thought I'd go in.  Firstly, greeted with a smile by the many bright young things working there.  One pair of ill fitting pants at Country Road over $100, at Uniqlo $40. Not only that, they had free hemming, and happy to tailor the pants for you so they fit you, just you.  They're also made of some cool material that keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. I went crazy.

A sales assistant saw me carrying things in my hand and rushed to give me a funky little basket to store all my goodies in. Once check out time came, I was asked if there was anything else I would like from the sales assistance and if I had found everything I wanted that day. Let's say, she didn't scold me.

Lesson for you all:

Retail in Australia is not dying, shoppers are becoming much smarter about how they use their money. Retail is changing due to an increase in competition from overseas retailers either online or in their brand new stores.  

People aren't happy to just get low prices, they want good quality, a great experience and superb customer service.  They expect help when they need it, how they think they deserve it, all in a setting that is inviting, and personally appealing. 

Australian retail could once rest happy knowing that we were so far away from anything that they could charge us through the nose for everything that we had no option but to pay for it and be thankful, regardless if we liked how we were served or not. They were doing us a favour.

What we're seeing in Australia is a flushing of the old guard. Shops with outdated business models and customer service policies are folding hard and fast giving rise to niche retailers, overseas brands and those that are happy to evolve with the growing taste and demand for good, reasonably priced items that are all delivered with nothing but the most attentive of service.

My advice to Country Road, it wouldn't kill you to feature non anglo faces in your campaigns.  Also don't bank on being an Australian company because you are not.  The only thing Australian about you is your lack of customer service.  

I don't expect to be worshiped when I walk in to your stores, VIP or not.  I expect to be treated cordially at least.  Needless to say, I'm going to use up all my Country Road gift vouchers I still have and then I'm going to let my VIP membership lapse.

I don't need it anymore, because you clearly don't need me.

My advice to Michelle, if customer service isn't your bag, then maybe go in to something that isn't very people-facing.

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