I have a lot of things to do this weekend so I make a list. On top of the weekly shop, I have to return a quilt cover I bought at Xmas that I noticed had a tear in before I took it out of the packaging. It is still wrapped in its cellophane and I have the receipt taped to it so there will be no argument. I hate returning things. Actually, I hate shopping and would just rather the stuff I bought worked the first time so I never have to engage with anyone in-store. I never need help in a shop, because I am always just browsing if they ask, I avoid all eye contact with floor staff, preferring to circle endlessly to try and find what I want, and I always use the self-service checkouts when I can. If your dream is retail, I am your worst nightmare. It’s not you, it’s me. I just don’t want a relationship right now.
I head to the store, which is in a local monstrosity of indoor shopping that has the ability to make you feel simultaneously overwhelmed by a cornucopia of choice and completely claustrophobic. It has a big carpark, though, so there is rarely a problem getting parked (another activity guaranteed to send my blood pressure soaring). On top of the return, I also have to print a photo and buy a small frame for a friend of my parents. The photo kiosk is in store and it is self-service – my kind of shopping, so I can kill two birds with one stone.
I approach the returns counter.
Girl – Hi, how can I help you?
Me – Ah! Hi! It is just this quilt cover I bought at Xmas – the receipt is taped to the package – I noticed before I opened it that it appears to have a tear in the fabric – you can see it through the cellophane. I would like to exchange it please, or receive a store credit so I can purchase an alternative one.
Girl – What tear?
Me – Um -this one just here (I point to help her out, poor thing, she must deal with so many products during the day, although it IS only ten o’clock, she is going to want to wake up soon)
Girl – I can’t see a tear.
Me – Yes, there is a tear. You can see where the dark fabric is poking through the light fabric, just here.
I point with my finger.
Girl – you mean the sticker?
She peels the curled corner of a sticker off the packaging. The tear disappears.
Me – Oh! Oh.
I knew I needed to get my eyes checked, but I thought it was just for reading.
Me – I am so sorry. Should have gone to Specsavers!
Shit. SHIT. I am getting old. This sucks.
At least I can get the photo done, and I do. I have it on a USB and print it out, paying for it and the frame at the counter inside the store.
I don’t need to go through the tills, so I make my way out through the entrance. As I do, I hear shouting behind me. I am wearing earphones and listening to a podcast, but apparently my ears are not as bad as my eyes.
The meeter and greeter, who also doubles as store security wants to see me. She had temporarily abandoned her post but has spotted me trying to sneak out. I have not exited through the tills. They do not like this. They can not understand why I could possibly not wanted to purchase something in their store. I must be a thief.
Meeter-greeter – Madam could I just check your bags, please?
This is a policy which I detest but is common to many Australian stores. They want to look in your bags to check you have not popped some furniture in there and are trying to get out without paying. I find the whole thing insulting. If they are that worried about shoplifting, then tag the bloody goods, or have plain clothes detectives wandering the aisles. I remember when I was a kid, the terror of seeing the sign: WARNING. PLAIN CLOTHES DETECTIVES OPERATE IN THIS STORE. Just the sight of it made me feel guilty. I have also witnessed shoplifters exiting a store in the very same shopping center. They just load up a trolley and run.
Me – Oh yeah, sure.
I go back to the store and open the bag that has the goods from the store in it. The quilt cover, with the receipt still stuck to it and the photo and frame that I have purchased, with the receipt.
Me – I thought it was a tear, but it was a sticker – should have gone to Specsavers, eh? Haha
Meeter-greeter/gruppenfuhrer – And the other bags, please Madam
I have a load of empty bags with me because I am heading off to do my weekly shopping and I brought them along for this. Jesus.
Me – Yup, here you go.
I open the bag, which just contains a load of empty bags all stuffed into eachother. I could have anything in there but this is about PROCESS. Enforcing the store POLICY while the rest of the world looks on.
Me – Ok? Thanks then.
Meeter – greeter/ Nazi overlord – And your handbag, please, Madam.
My handbag? My fucking HANDBAG?
‘What in the name of living FUCK are you trying to do? Do you really think that I would be standing here, emptying bag after bag for your pleasure if I actually were a shoplifter? Do you not think that I would know, that under the law,you are not allowed to look around in the bag , or touch the contents of my bags, so that in fact I could have any number of any delicious items inside the bags within bags that you would not be able to see, so that this entire exercise is a fucking FARCE? Just designed to make me, A PAYING CUSTOMER feel bad and you feel like you protected your store a little bit. Well do you know what protects your store? TRADE. People coming in and BUYNG STUFF. PEOPLE LIKE ME. Do you know what a woman’s handbag is, you tosser? It is her pockets. Her external pockets, Do you spend a lot of times searching the men that leave the store? Do you rifle through their pockets? I tell you what, you sell rubber gloves here, don’t you? Why don’t we just grab some and you can do a full body search on me because it is clearly not enough for me to visit your store and BUY some photo print and frame and pay for it. No. I am going to want to steal a lifetime supply of laundry powder and conceal it about my person any way I can. Do you think I would have come back here when you called if I actually had stolen something? I was nearer to the exit that I was to you, and yet I came back here in good faith so we could all feel like we have done our job. But you, my friend, YOU are going beyond the call of duty.’
My voice is raised, Mothers pull their children away from the nasty lady.
‘You know, even the police need probable cause to execute a search warrant, so don’t push your luck just because you have a shitty A4 laminated piece of paper declaring your ‘conditions of entry’.’
‘And another thing – these shopping bags I was carrying were not so I could nick a three dollar pot plant, they are reusable shopping bags I have BOUGHT so I could help SAVE THE PLANET. I am trying you keep YOU in a JOB and save the planet here and you are being a total arsehole.’
Except I don’t say any of that. That is just what goes through my head. I do, however offer a small protest.
‘Oh Goodness me!’ I exclaim in my best British voice, ‘I mean, really!’
I show her my handbag,
‘Thank you, madam,’ she says. The whole transaction has taken about the length of time it takes four shoplifters to sneak though the security gates undetected.
I hate shopping.