I guess you probably think Waitrose is a classy store. Your call, I guess – but the following example of (non-)customer service has left me changing my perceptions of the highly rated retailer.
Shopping at Waitrose is normally great. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, it offers a smashing range of products, is better priced than most people believe and is connected to the brilliant online shopping specialist Ocado.
Unfortunately, a recent experience has left me to conclude that Waitrose is also the kind of retailer that allows an outsourced firm to charge a family (one Dad, a pregnant Mum and a three-year-old daughter) £25 to park for more than two hours in their car park as they spend more than £100 on a weekly shop. Thanks Waitrose.
Rather than drone on like a demented consumer champion (any of my neighbours in Wanstead will tell you that I have already bored them senseless about the incident), have a look at the following droning letter of complaint I sent to Waitrose HQ. And get bored by that instead:
To whom it may concern
I am writing to complain about an incident during a recent visit to the Waitrose store in South Woodford, London. As a regular customer that has received many years of quality customer service from the Partnership, I was dismayed to see the following incident occur.
My heavily pregnant wife, my three-year-old daughter and myself parked in a family bay and shopped as normal in the store. We completed our shop and, on returning to our vehicle, found a £25 parking ticket because our car had been parked in the same place for more than two hours.
First, and as can be seen by the included receipt, we completed quite a large shop. Buying food during a busy weekend is always a time-consuming process and is likely to take a considerable period of time.
Second, your web site refers to the friendliness of the Partnership experience. We met three groups of friends and spent time talking to your affable till attendant. We would not, however, have opted for the friendly experience if we knew there was a chance it would cost us £25.
Third, my three-year-old daughter had to be changed in the toilet. Again, this incident took a considerable period of time. My daughter also likes to look at the children’s books and magazines. While we appreciate the distraction, we would not have dallied if we had known it would cost us money.
In short, I can understand that your company might find a requirement to charge people that chose to stay in your car park and not shop in the store. But when a family spends £100, I think it is reasonable to expect that they will not be charged £25 for the experience.
So, that letter was sent a few weeks ago. What do you think happened? Well, they wrote back quickly – which was nice. And was there a big apology? Er, not exactly:
Dear Mr Samuels
I was sorry to learn that you were unhappy with the car park charges at our South Woodford branch and would like to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for these changes.
OK. Apology – good start. But look closely; they’re sorry that I am unhappy – not sorry the incident occured. Not looking so good now, especially when they say they’re going to explain their reasoning for the charges (also worth noting that there’s an extra space before South Woodford on my copy of the letter. The more cynical might suggest that the name ‘South Woodford’ has been simply copied and pasted into a standard letter; that’s what the more cynical might suggest…).
Whenever it can Waitrose is keen to provide unlimited free parking. Unfortunately, this is not always possible especially in areas where we must conform with local restrictions or the car park is under the control of the local authority.
Fair enough, they have limited spaces and I guess some people park and don’t buy stuff in the shop. But what’s this…?
At South Woodford there is a very high demand for the number of spaces, and to ensure there is a continual turnover of spaces so all of our customers can find a space during peak periods, Britannia Parking Limited control the car park by introducing a charge after a reasonable period of time. You would therefore need to contact Britania direct.
Woah! So to ensure shoppers can find a space, they fine you after a couple of hours. What? I spent £100 in your store – what on earth has ‘reasonable period of time’ got to do with justifying a turnover of spaces when you’re actually spending cash? If they want to keep spaces free for customers, fine – but surely not by charging people that are in the store shopping. And while I’m on the matter, what is ‘reasonable’? Does it not include spending cash, looking after your kid and having a chat with people? Clearly not.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to attention.
Fine, it’s given me an opportunity to moan and some free content for my blog. So, thanks to you, too.
I appreciate that whilst what I have written will not have been what you wanted to learn, I am glad to have had an opportunity to clarify our position.
Good for you. And you’re right; it isn’t what I wanted to hear – or, more importantly, what I expected.
I can assure you of our continued commitment to providing you with the service and merchandise you espect when shopping at Waitrose and hope this unfortunate incident will not deter you from shopping with us again in the future.
You’ve already failed to meet my expectations regarding service, Waitrose. But why would it deter me from shopping with you again? I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face; I like your shops. But I tell you what it will do – it will make me angry and push me to write a load of stuff on my blog about how disappointed I am. And I’ll tell everyone I know about how you left me feeling rubbish. Shame, really. I expected better.
Moral of the story? Don’t park in a mother and baby spot, and spend too long spending £100 in a Waitrose store. If you do, you’ll be charged an extra £25 for the experience.