I am feeling well and truly underwhelmed by last week’s budget. What has actually changed for us normal folk? Yes, they are putting more money into a Home Equity scheme but one must still provide a 5% deposit – in London that still means a minimum of £10k (and the rest). And what is the big deal about this apparent overhaul of the childcare vouchers? It is going to do absolutely nought for women on a middle salary working in London. I would be able to claim up to £1200 towards childcare over the entire year, but based on the £85 a day nursery costs in London, working 5 days a week and minus the 4 weeks holiday a year, I would need to find another £19k to cover the rest of the year. On my salary I would already be in negative equity before then having to pay for travel to work. This would then mean that unless I get a massive pay rise or the government do something about the ridiculous childcare costs, that women are going to continue to drop out of the work place.
Other countries across Europe, the government has either put a cap on the amount a childcare provider can demand or the childcare is subsidised. In Spain, working mums pay around €250 a month for a nursery placement. Owners of nurseries in the UK are raking in the money. They pay their staff minimum wage whilst charging their clients full whack thus providing a nice high margin for their already full pockets. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the governments reluctance to stick their ore in. As with the energy companies, the government need to get involved and put a cap on what customers and mums should be expected to pay. How is it right for a nursery to charge more than the UK average wage in childcare?
I, like the other 7 million viewers have been completely engrossed in the ITV series ‘Mr Selfridge’ every Sunday night. The costumes, the characters but most of all the back drop of the original Selfridges store. The luxurious marble decor can still be found at the main entrance of the London store where the perfumes are now displayed.
I am under no illusion that the script is gospel but the major events such as last week’s with King Edward visiting the store are in fact true. The thing that makes me admire Harry (Mr Selfridge) the most is not that he has come from nothing, but that he always puts the customer first. Over the episodes we have seen that Harry wanted to be different from any other shop on the English high street. He stole elements from the US and from Paris culminating in a high quality and friendly service with forward thinking fashion and style for the repressed British woman.
Yet today Selfridges seems a little bit lost to me. Whilst the majority of people still equate the store with luxury items and designer handbags, the schizophrenic mixture of high street (including HMV) with high end designer and mass produced products to me equals lost. Anything you buy in Selfridges can be bought anywhere, it is no longer a store that offers unique items or a unique service. In fact, because they appear to be trying to ram in as many brands as possible, the range of each of these brands along with space in between the micro-stores is seriously suffering. My partner received a £100 Selfridges for a Xmas bonus and was excited about buying some new trainers. However he was left massively disappointed by the row upon row of the same pair of trainers in varying colours. When he did manage to find a pair that he liked he was told that the biggest size they go up to is an 11… Surely good customer service (and common sense) would tell you that it is better to cater for a variety of customers not just the 18 year old skinny jean wearer.
Which leads me to customer service, there isn’t any. I have been surprised and frustrated by the behaviour of workers at Selfridges. The hourly rate of their sales staff is very competitive and would likely entice the best in the business, yet I have been served by disinterested and arrogant young adults who seem disgruntled when I ask them anything that would mean they have to move more than 1cm. There is absolutely no excuse for these bad manners. I spent many of my teenage and student years working as a sales assistant in various high street fashion stores and prided myself on delivering high quality customer service.
My point being by my above rant is that the series ‘Mr Selfridge’ has highlighted the fact that the essence of Harry Selfridge and his vision of a great customer experience has been lost. I believe that Mr Selfridge would be horrified by what his legacy has become. Only the board of Selfridges & Co could tell us the real reasons behind what I think is the deterioration of a beloved brand, but my diagnosis would be a mixture of; the profits possibly being down and the billionaire owner (Galen Weston) not understanding the high end fashion industry as he made his money being a supermarket and food distribution tycoon. Latter of which we can all agree is infinitely different from a luxury store. Selfridges is not a supermarket and needs to have space, atmosphere and quality service. [The spirit of] Mr Selfridge where are you?