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Posts tagged ‘Marks & Spencer’

Inconsiderate Cyclists

As a car driver in London, cyclists are not my favourite people. I find the way they ride aggressively and in packs quite disconcerting, and their disregarding of red lights and the rest of the Highway Code appalling.

When I could walk, albeit using an elbow crutch, I had several encounters with cyclists riding on pavements and was knocked over twice. Neither cyclist cared about what happened to me – just riding off swearing because I didn’t get out of their way, dispute the fact they were in the wrong.

A few days ago on my way across London I decided to go shopping at the largest Marks & Spencer store in the capital. There are five Blue Badge Bays at the rear of the Oxford St shop, luckily I only had to lurk for about 20 minutes before a space was free. I manoeuvred into it quickly as other cars were also waiting.

It was only when I got out of my car to unload my wheelchair that I realised I was going to have a problem, a very inconsiderate cyclist had chained his bike to the post displaying the Blue Badge signage. This meant that getting my chair out was going to be very difficult.

I couldn’t move my car any further back, as that would have meant that I did not have enough space to get my wheelchair out. If I moved any further forward, the front wheels would be over the bay markings and I would get a parking ticket. I contemplated doing that, and then moving my car back inside the bay, but obviously that would mean leaving my wheelchair on the pavement. I was really uncomfortable with that option as I feared my chair would be stolen whilst I was re-parking. I’m not being paranoid, this not unknown.

So I decided to try and get the chair out without moving my car. This was easier said than done, the positioning of bike meant I couldn’t set the chair down whilst standing in front of it, the best and safest way. I had to try and guide it from the side, this was much slower to do, and took more time than usual, causing me pain. In doing this, I had to move round my chair to operate the control used to hoist it. My balance hasn’t been good recently and, inevitably I fell, landing on the bike and injuring my leg.

I was really cursing the cyclist by now! Though I suspect he had no idea at all that he had caused any inconvenience to anybody.

Eventually a kind person helped me up, and I managed to move my chair so I could sit in it and get the electrically operated hoist back into the car. I put the footrests on my chair and went off shopping.

Sadly, my hunt for the perfect small black cross-body bag was not successful and I couldn’t find the sleeveless t-shirt I was looking for either. As I got into the lift to go to a higher floor to mooch the garden furniture (well I might get a flat with a balcony or garden when I move) I was joined by two other women. One was, at a guess, in her late sixties, the other about 20 years younger, and as I later discovered didn’t speak much English. As I went to push the lift button to go up, the older woman pushed my arm away, hit the down button and said; “I’m going to the lower ground floor first, you can wait, you’re in a wheelchair.”

For a moment I didn’t quite know what to say, but then I found my voice, “There is no need to be rude to me, I’m entitled to use the lift as much as you are.” By then we had reached the lower floor and the older woman just glared at me and walked out of the lift. I quickly pushed the button to send the lift upwards.

The younger woman looked at me and in broken English asked what had been said, I just shrugged my shoulders pointed to my head with a screw-like gesture saying, “The old lady was rude and mad.” By now we were at the floor both I and the younger woman wanted, I wheeled out of the lift and drove off towards the garden chairs.

I’ve encountered all sorts of reactions to being in a wheelchair, including the women who as she entered the lift with me on my way down to the store exits, just demanded straight out; “Why are you in a wheelchair?” I gave her a quick, truthful response (as I’ve done numerous times before), which thankfully ended our conversation. But, being regarded as a second class lift user is a new one to me!

However, as Eleanor Roosevelt said; ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ So, I held my head up high and wheeled out of the shop and went off to browse bags I could only pretend to afford across the road in Selfridges.

The Power of a Tweet

When I posted my ‘Why the Difference?’ blog it was also sent as a link to my Twitter account.

I soon got a lovely thank-you from M&S, closely followed by message from Tesco asking which store I had used, and subsequently inviting me to contact the store manager when I’m next in store.

I will be doing this, and blogging what happens. But I’ve not yet ventured out shopping this year, the weather has put me off going anywhere and I’ve got a Tesco delivery coming later this week, so if that is missing any items I’ve ordered, a not uncommon occurrence, I will be forced to go out to Tesco.

So, watch this space………… update coming soon.

Why the difference?

This week I’ve had two very different shopping experiences in two major store chains.

Food shopping is never my favourite job, I order on-line as much as possible and I try to avoid busy and crowed times. Usually my shopping helper is my neighbour’s teenage daughter, she has Aspergers, and is a good helper, her traits mean that she knows my routine and remembers it. So shopping without her isn’t easy, but her Mum is ill and needs her daughter at home right now.

So, off to Tesco’s on my own for a quick shop for perishables. I use a local big store, which does have one motorised buggy with a large basket, but even if I use it I still can’t reach items on low or high shelves, so I still need a helper. Also, even if I can park near enough to stagger to customer services to collect the buggy, it has to be fetched from another part of the store, which can take up to 10 minutes, I can’t stand for that that long and there is not seating available. The buggy used to be kept by customer service, and I could sit in it it whilst the key was found. For some reason I could never fathom the key was kept somewhere other than the customer service desk! When the buggy was moved I did email the manager, explaining that the new arrangements would make it difficult for both myself and other disabled people, but got no reply. That was a foretaste of my shopping experience.

When I got to the customer service and asked for an assistant to help me shop, the first response I got was; “Why can’t you just use the trolley that attaches to a wheelchair?” When I explained that it only worked for manual wheelchairs (which I knew from trying previously) I was greeted with a blank stare. So, I asked for the assistant again, and with a big sigh, the woman on the desk sent a Tannoy message out, I was glad I was sitting in my wheelchair as it took over 10 minutes for someone to come, and then the man who arrived looked at me, spoke to the woman on customer service, and walked off, without explanation! A few minutes later he came back, and grunted he was ready to help.

My assistant was a man in his late twenties, whose first language was not English, and whilst I’m used to employing people from many different ethnic backgrounds, having managed nursing homes for over 20 years, I reckon my communications skills are pretty ok, but the guy helping me seemed to not understand me at all. Whatever I said I needed, he didn’t seem to know what it was, at the sandwich counter he didn’t know what a wrap was, and at the sushi bar picked out salmon when I asked for prawn, similarly he didn’t seem to know what Brie cheese was. For other items, he didn’t know where they were in the shop or was similarly puzzled as to what they were. Also, when he took something off the shelf, he didn’t check with me if it was the right item, so I had to constantly ask to check he had picked what I needed.

I was very glad when we got to checkout, where he packed everything well. On the way to the car I asked the man what training he was given, but he didn’t answer, just shrugging his shoulders. I don’t think I was an usual customer in terms of my shopping, I had a list, stuck to it and was as systematic as possible. But somehow nothing was quite as it should be. I felt as if I had been an inconvenience, that my helper would rather have been doing something else, anything other than working and assisting a customer.

Just a week later, 5 days before Xmas, I did my final shop, this time at Marks & Spencer at Kew retail park. My treat for holiday. What a different experience. Although customer service was busy, another assistant came up to me and asked if I needed help, no sooner has she left to go and find someone, another assistant came up to me and asked if I needed assistance. Just as she was speaking to me the first assistant came back and introduced me to my helper. She was probably in her late thirties, English was not her first language, but she understood exactly what I was saying.

The shop was really busy, but nothing was too much trouble, she checked exactly what I needed and found it, often suggesting I wait at the end of an isle so I didn’t need to struggle to get through the crowds. She doubled checked with me that everything was what I needed and even suggested other things I might like to try. There were two things that seemed to be out of stock, one of which was my favourite cherry juice. So, my helper went to the stock room to try and find them, but thoughtfully put an alternative, which was running low in my trolley to ensure I got a fruit juice I liked. The cherry juice soon arrived and we were off to checkout. Again, nothing was to much trouble, I was asked how I wanted everything packed and she made sure no bag was too heavy. There was no need to ask about customer service training, I couldn’t have had more assistance if my helper had seen one of those posh personal shoppers you see on TV at Liberty. I tried to give her a tip, but she wouldn’t accept it, saying it wasn’t allowed. So this is one way I can thank her for her excellent customer service.

Why was there such a difference in the two shops? Was it training, or the lack of it, was it attitude, or just gender, the woman being the more attuned to another woman’s needs. Was it that unsaid word ‘class’?

Well, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a combination of all of those things. As in any organisation, attitudes permeate from the top downwards. I’ve shopped at both Tesco and M&S for years. Even when I was able bodied I was well aware that each of those shops treated customers very differently and that difference is stronger and starker when a customer needs a little extra help to do any everyday task.

I wish I could afford to shop at M&S every time, but DLA does stretch to that, it’s definitely a treat and I cannot buy everything I need there, So I’m forced to shop at Tesco or Sainsbury, but a trip to my nearest Sainsbury about a month ago did not inspire confidence. There is no other large supermarket within reasonable travelling distance.

So I’m running out of options, I have to accept what is begrudging and what, in different circumstances I would not. Just because I can’t be totally independent. If I were back at work, and something similar had happened to a client I would be the first one trying to sort things out. Calling the shop manager, trying to explain how staff should have behaved differently. But, for me, there are more important battles to fight, more urgent things to do, which take up my emotional and physical energy.

Maybe Morrison’s will open a new supermarket in west London, but until then, I’m going to be putting off doing food shopping as much as possible.

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