Category Archives: shopping
We’ve all heard of MeToo: in the absence of a monopoly, an idea that is seen to work for someone generates a bandwagon.
I’ve recently been frustrated by its dark twin me-neither in retailing. When a product disappears from one shop, others soon follow. And I suspect there’s a very bad explanation: we’re all losers from it.
The story starts when I serendipitously encounter a particularly delicious herb tea: Peppermint and Eucalyptus on the shelves of our local supermarket (Morrisons). It rapidly became a favourite. Then it disappeared, along with most of the other Twinings varieties I would buy: what remains are the sweet blends which I like occasionally but not so often as to want a whole pack, and some ‘popular’ varieties (like mint, nettle, fennel) where I won’t buy the supermarket ones because there are nicer versions available from a local wholefood shop.
My reaction was to see if I could source it online. Indeed I can: I can buy it at the Twinings website. But there’s a catch: their delivery is not merely several times more expensive than the product itself, but also quotes 2-5 days. That’s a helluva long time to stay in waiting to take delivery. Ugh.
Could I get together with a few friends to form a ‘tea club’: batch a lot of purchases to bring an order above the £35 threshold for ‘free’ delivery, and add a bit of value to the ordeal of waiting in? I started to ask around, and John hit on a better idea: he was going to Waitrose in Exeter a couple of days later and thought they might have it. So I prepared for that by reviewing varieties available on the Twinings website and making a list of half a dozen to look for – including some I’d never tried “on spec”. He came up trumps with Lemongrass and Eucalyptus: another delicious blend and a worthy alternative.
Having found that, I was subsequently able to buy more at Waitrose in Brighton, when visiting the parents there (Brighton being a city with lots of shops, I also looked in many others there; only Waitrose had it). OK, there’s a plan: I can maintain supply just so long as I find time to go to Waitrose each time I visit.
No longer. Waitrose have followed Morrisons in abandoning any kind of interesting flavours. I tried on my recent visit to the parents, and asked a member of shop staff when I failed to find it. I asked John if he had any plans to shop in Exeter: he did, and he found it’s gone from there too.
MeNeither retailing. One shop drops it and they all do. The last-shop-standing has lost my reason to visit, along with anyone else who likes the flavour.
Surely I can’t be the only person to like these flavours? I suspect another explanation is more likely: as the interesting teas disappear from Morrisons – and indeed other mainstream supermarkets as evidenced by my looking around in Brighton – shoppers like me were driven online as a last resort. And for many, delivery may be less of an issue: for example if you can get it delivered at work where someone else will be around even if you’ve stepped out. Instead of the last shop standing benefiting from all the demand, we are driven to a thoroughly unsatisfactory alternative.
 Can I have a monopoly too?
I’ve just taken delivery of a new phone, to replace the one that drowned. A similar model, but I won’t dwell on that in this post. What impressed me today was the delivery.
It wasn’t cheap. The retailer (Handtec) didn’t offer a free delivery option, and I decided to pay a couple of quid extra for next day delivery rather than spend several days potentially in limbo.
What happened next was rather good, and suggests that online shopping may be finally taking the problems of delivery seriously. On placing the order I got the customary acknowledgement email, followed by the email telling me my order has been cleared and is being dispatched. Another hour and a message from the delivery company (GPSK) telling me it would be delivered on Tuesday, but giving me options to select another day. Better still, this morning another message giving me a one-hour delivery time window (12:43-13:43), again with the option to request a different day. So on hearing a diesel van pull up at 12:53, I looked out of the window, saw the logo, and went down to take delivery. All very smooth!
Both the messages from GPSK came both as text and email to maximise the chance of reaching me in good time, if I had wished to make a change. And both contained embedded reply mechanisms to request a change. This attention to detail is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been asking for, and suggests that the business of online ordering and delivery is finally reaching a decent level of maturity!
Having all the shops shut for two days calls for a little discipline. OK, I’m not going to starve if I run out of something and can’t go out and buy it, but I like a little bit of luxury.
And so it came to pass that while the fridge was not yet bereft of milk and fruit juice, yet were they not so plentiful as to last even unto the fourth day hence (Dec.27th) without undue frugality. So doing epic battle with the crowds, I ventured forth even unto Morrisons wherein I stocked up on these things. I’d hoped also to grab a couple of bottles of a wine that I’d recently picked up on half-price offer and which had mightily impressed, but alas it was no longer on offer.
Although the crowds in town were indeed mighty, those at Morrisons were surprisingly reasonable: much less than earlier in December. So it was that I took a moment to see if anything interesting was on a good price reduction, and found myself so richly rewarded that I not only have tasty provisions for the days of total shutdown, but a surplus selected from such fresh items as are suitable for home freezing. Delicious!
Also chatted to a lady who was loading up with bargains and described doing even better a year ago, when snow and ice kept most of the customers away and the shops had been truly desperate to shift the fresh food at any price. Guess I should be shopping on Dec.24th more often!
I have some vouchers for £5 off shopping at the new Tescos in Callington. Went today to see it (and spent one of them), leaving three more which I’m unlikely to use. Free to a good home if any local reader could use one.
The shop itself is a decent-size but not huge supermarket. Strongly in its favour were freedom from muzak, and decent trolleys. Against it, prices at the till that didn’t always match those advertised on the shelves, and staff who hadn’t a clue what to do about it.
I’ve just been to Tavistock’s long-anticipated new shop, which opened last Thursday. After they proactively consulted us ahead of time, I was slightly surprised when the first I knew of it was when I saw customer activity in and around it.
Our new Lidl offers one huge advantage over Morrisons and Somerfield/Coop: peace and quiet (no muzak). That makes it an altogether more pleasant shopping experience! To add a further touch of luxury, it offers trolleys that, although they have a lock, keep it out of the way of holding the bar, so they are usable without doing the back in. Just as well, since they don’t have baskets! The downside of that is that I left with a heavier load on my back than I’m accustomed to of late.
Lidls offers a fair range of supermarket produce and a few other things. There’s less choice of many things than in Morrisons or Somerfield, but at the same time there are a few interesting and luxury things. Combining it with the market and the smaller shops in the town centre should help greatly reduce my use of the unpleasant supermarkets. Unfortunately it doesn’t replace everything I’m accustomed to getting at Morrisons, and only some of those things can be replaced by DIY. For example, I can and sometimes do squeeze my own oranges for fresh juice, but I can’t brew my own wide range of good English beers (Lidls had only one brand I would consider worth buying).
All in all, a modest but welcome improvement to my life!
Heard an interesting program on back pain on the beeb, featuring some apparently-novel clinic whose mission is to help sufferers cope and alleviate their pain. Most of what they were doing sounds very familiar from my own experience. But what they didn’t say was how ignorance amongst non-sufferers can lead to decisions that make things cripplingly much worse than they need be.
I’m interested in this because I have a history of back pain going back to my teens, and the long daily journey on a ghastly school bus. Maybe it’s because it came upon me so young that I’ve learned to manage it, so that nowadays I rarely suffer anything more than mild discomfort (though I am at risk when my posture is constrained, for example in a theatre seat, or anywhere my legroom is too badly blocked).
But dealing with back pain does have an impact on my lifestyle. Most importantly, it’s a (maybe even the) major reason why I work from home, having suffered badly in office environments at various times in the past. It also affects what I can wear (clothes and shoes cannot have tightness or pressure in certain places, and definitely no wristwatch), how and where I can sit or lie, etc.
On the plus side, some things I enjoy doing are positively helpful. Cycling is great, probably because of the muscles that get exercised. Carrying the right backpack helps, probably because it holds me to a good posture. When I worked in an office and suffered serious pain, these were sometimes the only reliefs that kept me going, though at worst even cycling was difficult.
There is a critically important point that the program did not make. We should have more public information, not just for sufferers themselves, but for people who hold power over them. The worst possible thing in an office is a bad chair, but almost as bad are most office desks, and above all those marketed as computer desks/workstations. That’s because they force the legs into unsuitable positions which cause rapid onset of serious pain. Best is to sit not at a desk but at a table with ample legroom under.
An office manager who insists on furniture conforming to institutional norms can basically drive a back pain sufferer out of a job. It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone!
A lesser gripe is with those supermarkets whose trolleys have a coin-operated lock on the handle. I can’t push a Morrisons trolley, because the lock forces the right hand into a totally unsuitable place and buggers up my posture. Since Morrisons is now my only local big shop, this is a real inconvenience. I’ve tried complaining, but all to no avail: presumably there’s simply no appreciation that it might matter.
In other health news, my tennis elbow has mended to the point where it’s no longer a significant problem, just something I need to be aware of and avoid setting it off again. But I’m still using a mouse left-handed!
 Tuesday, but I fell asleep before blogging it.
 When I moved here, it was a Safeways, and the trolleys were not encumbered with those infernal locks.
This time last year, Lidl consulted us about plans to build a new shop here in Tavistock. I was in favour then, and I’m in favour now for exactly the same reasons: new housing creates demand for new retail capacity; Lidl will complement our existing retailers (especially the nicer independent shops and market); and above all, Lidl promised no muzak when I went to the consultation
What’s changed now and deserves documenting here is that they’ve reached the stage of actually building the store. I look forward to shopping there, and will be especially pleased if I can abandon the muzak-infested supermarkets (Morrison, Somerfield, Coop) altogether in favour of Lidl and the small shops. And Tescos in Plymouth a couple of times a year …
In other retail news, the old Woolworths premises in the high street has evidently found a new tenant, and is being refurbished. But the three former estate agents that have shut down are still vacant and looking unloved. And I fear the Woolworths-replacement will be a waste of space: the word “fashion” in the name is a bit of a giveaway.
It’s just been announced: Sainsburys to buy 24 stores from the Coop. 22 of those to be former Somerfield supermarkets (Coop is taking over Somerfield).
We have two in-town supermarkets: a Coop and a Somerfield (the one small, the other middling sized). And a very healthy footfall in the town centre, with a thriving market and a bunch of other shops (though also some closures – a Woolworths, and several estate agents). So we should be a prime target for the Coop to want to dispose of one of the two stores, and for AN Other (like Sainsburys) to be interested in buying.
We already know Sainsburys is interested in Tavistock: they’ve been poking around and AIUI put in a planning application for an out-of-town superstore that would be in competition with Morrisons. But AFAIK nothing came of that, and one of the in-town stores – ideally the existing Somerfield – could be a good alternative.
I just hope that if they take it on, they’ll revert it to muzak-free. The current Somerfield was a nice shop, as well as really convenient, before they inflicted muzak on us.
On a related note, I thought the old Woolworths building would do nicely for a smaller supermarket shop – maybe something to fill a niche between Somerfield and Crebers (the latter being small and very upmarket). But if Somerfield gets rid of the muzak, that would become unnecessary.
 John’ll know if I’m wrong
About a week ago, a circular came through the door. Not quite junkmail: this was from Lidl, who are consulting us (the people of Tavistock) about plans to open a new shop here. Open day yesterday and today at the Bedford Hotel – our local venue for corporate functions.
It’s a slightly out-of-town site, next door to the existing Morrisons (our big supermarket). Being a small town, it’s walking distance to everywhere for an able-bodied person, but unfortunately that won’t stop it attracting cars. The site is currently derelict, as other retailers have closed there, so it’s not paving over anything green, which is a Good Thing.
I’m not familiar enough with Lidl to have any clear idea what to expect. But I think I’m in favour:
- With the vast amount of new housing being built, the town could use more retail capacity.
- I’m optimistic that Lidl will complement more than it competes with our market and the smaller in-town shops.
- Above all, Lidl are promising no muzak (halleluja!). So at last, we’ll be able to shop in peace for supermarket staples without having to travel an additional 10 miles (each way) to Tescos in Roborough.
That last one alone will get them my custom!
Tavistock is not bad for day-to-day shopping. In fact it’s pretty good, with a market, an in-town supermarket, and a range of small shops.
That is, hitherto.
Now the supermarket (Somerfield) has taken to playing muzak. And it’s a nastier strain even than DIY-store-mindless. Nor was it a one-off: I’ve walked in and been driven out three times in less than a week.
That means we no longer have an in-town source for a wide range of everyday staples. I get bread, fruit&veg, and wholefoods in the small shops and market, but other food, as well as household stuff, comes mostly from the supermarket.
In the morning, I’m going to have to traipse off further afield. My options are Morrisons, a mile or so further away but not very nice either, or Tescos, which means an extra ten miles (each way) across Dartmoor. I expect I’ll be using both of them rather more in future.