The internet is a truly wonderful thing and shopping is one of the many things it has revolutionised. However, sometimes you just need something now. It is those moments when the high street and out-of-town retail parks have a chance to claw back some power over the mighty web. It has occurred to me, however, that the physical retailers are now offering a wide choice of metaphorical nails to drive into their commercial coffins.
On my way back from work I am in the Leamington Spa branch of Argos when, as planned, I decide to find a printer cable from the ‘laminated book of dreams’ (Bill Bailey, Bewilderbeast tour 2004). I have to set to one side the glaring imbalance that I would probably be paying about 4 times what I would pay on the internet, but hey; I have an expensive new printer and I want to use it NOW.
Tippy tap go my piano player’s fingers on the touch screen to check the stock of their cheapest cable. Out of stock. OK, I’ll have to get the unfeasibly more expensive one. 8.99 is too much for a printer cable but sod it i thought, I’m here now, let’s get this over with and start printing. Out of stock. Annoying. Off to Sainsburys I go. A new, large Sainsburys with an awfully-laid-out car park.
Parked up and ready to go, I dart straight for the electricals section, aware that it is likely to have been plonked on an aisle end or next to the batteries or something. Aha, printers. Printers, printers printers, they’ll have ink and cables around here somewhere… no? Becoming impatient, I break the male rule of shopping by asking a member of staff. “Do you sell printer cables”? “No we don’t”. It took a few seconds to process this. Anyone who’s bought a printer recently will have noticed that they don’t come with cables, so the natural thing to do when you sell printers is to hit the punter with an accessory sale. Alas, no. In this shop, you can buy a laptop and a printer but you won’t be able to connect the two.
There’s a Currys across the road, I had been there only the previous Friday when the model of printer I needed was sitting on the shelf covered in dust without a boxed, sellable version. Here’s a ‘digital connector cable’, but WTF I will not pay 18.99 for it. No sir. They have to have a cheaper one. £12.99? Still 1.5 times as much as the expensive one I saw in Argos.
The mind goes into map mode. Rugby has to be the best place to try next, they have a retail park that resembles a graveyard where people used to go to have fun (it has a cinema). There’s a small Maplin there. This will be my last attempt. I will walk out of this shop clutching a printer cable. Pulling into Junction One Retail Park, the signs at the road side are not lit up. They never seem to be. Perhaps it really is a graveyard.
There is one other car parked outside the shop, leading me to believe that it would just be me and the staff in there. I was right. shhhhoom, the automatic doors open and I make the world’s fastest scan of the store. Computing is where I head to. My peripheral vision detects an excited member of staff showing signs of wanting to engage with me, and i NEVER want to be approached by staff in a shop. A brief game of cat and mouse takes place, to avoid this needless exchange. Alas, the man in the shop fails to read my body language (Don’t forget I’m already pissed off by this point) and I have to swat away the words “you alright there?” before I’m allowed to look at what they are selling. Right, I’ve found a printer cable for less than £10 so I will buy it. Probably their best sale of the evening so far. On my way to the checkout I realise that the staff outnumber the clientele by 2:1. They clearly want to acknowledge that someone has entered the shop, so here’s their chance to shine. “Thank you” is my polite greeting, loaded with finality; as i hand over the item and produce my debit card. “Would you like a Maplin catalogue for £2?” I give a one word negative answer without the thank you. Blunt but clear. I am here to buy this cable and I don’t want to chat with you. I’ve only said a few words in my entire 5 minutes in the shop, but my mood could not be much clearer.
My card is hovering over the machine. “If you give me your postcode we can send you some Maplin vouchers…”