Friday, 7 December 2012

Are We Being Served?

I have a great fondness for Marks & Spencer.

I still remember that leather-look burgundy raincoat, three-quarter length, tightly belted at the waist, turn up the collar, high heeled boots and feel like a million dollars.  No matter that there were three others, all identical, in the same train carriage - it still felt good.  Then there was the floaty button-through navy dress with a wafer-thin jacket. All silk. Pricey, but so much cheaper than anywhere else and heavenly for hot summer nights in London. And oh, when Per Una arrived on the scene and I bought that grey, short, multi-patterned jacket that still has pride of place in my wardrobe and people think I bought it at some chic shop here in France.

It's true that they lost their way for a time and I discovered Next and flirted with Laura Ashley, but M&S was the place I went when I first set up home all those years ago and needed affordable good curtains, decent duvet sets, hard wearing place mats and pretty vases.

And since we moved here, visits back to the UK have always included a trip to M&S to stock up on underwear, socks, T-shirts, perhaps some new swimwear and those cropped jeans the French so love that are much better made and cheaper in Marks.

So I was thrilled when they announced they would be delivering to France.  Oh joy! I could now go online and order what I wanted, with an incredibly reasonable shipping fee. This then, was the year that I would finally replace our aged, thread-bare bed-linen.  I had searched fruitlessly through numerous French retail establishments horrified at the prices and appalled at the designs and quality. The style of French haute couture certainly does not get as far as the towns in south west France.  Marks & Spencer online would answer my prayers.  And they did.  Our guests in the cottage now sleep under the prettiest of blue French toile duvet covers. And given the so-reasonable shipping fee, I bought some extra sheets and pillow cases, just in case.

Naturally, when I realised we needed another duvet set for the big super-king sized bed that's made up of two singles, but you'd never notice as they are well-strapped together and very comfy, I turned to the M&S website and started to fill my "shopping basket".  A snazzy shirt stripe duvet caught my eye and good, it came in super-king size. A couple more sheets, 100% cotton, virtually non-iron, in a luscious teale green, and deep navy also popped into the basket.  So now to check out and fill in my address.  Oh the joy of sitting at my computer clicking on "home delivery" and having it shipped to me here in France.

But what's this?  No France on the list of countries they ship to? Albania's there,  Denmark and Finland. But where France should be it says Hong Kong. How absurd! Must be something wrong! But no.  There in small print at the top: "France, Germany, Mainland Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Austria now have their own dedicated sites. If you wish to deliver to these countries Find out more"

I click on the link and find I'm on a new site, with an empty shopping basket.  But I've just spent half an hour choosing what I want!  And the French site has a much more limited choice and the sheet sizes are different (because French beds are a different shape) so how do I know whether I'm buying "super king size"?

I rant at Tod. (Poor man!) I slam off a disgruntled post to one of the forums and find that I am not alone in my frustration.  We share suggestions as to what to do.  A facebook campaign has started.  I call M&S head office and speak to a polite young man who listens to my fury and murmurs he will tell his international colleagues. I receive a cheerful email telling me this is being done for "my convenience"!  I try phoning to place my order, but the staff are adamant I MUST use the French website. But the French Marks & Spencer website doesn't have what I want and you do!

I'm saddened.  It's true I can buy my bed linen online from elsewhere. 

But, I care about Marks & Spencer and right now I feel they don't care about me.  Seemingly, they don't care that they are losing my business because they are forcing me to use a website that is poorly stocked; with sizes that don't meet my needs and a different layout, so I struggle to find my way around..

And sadly, they don't seem to realise that in this increasingly joined-up world, even a retired woman of mature years sitting in deepest rural France expects, at the click of a computer mouse, to have the freedom and choice to buy from anywhere in the world and not to be told by a marketing manager in Head Office what she can and cannot do. 

Are those of us who live in France and still love to buy from M&S being well served?  I think not!

1976 cast of "Are You Being Served?"


  1. Ah, now...bedlinen. Several years ago, I discovered (mostly on, although also a little on and on treasure trove of antique monogrammed bedlinen, most of which was made by young french brides-to-be around the end of the nineteenth century, and was presumably put away for ever after, on the basis that it was too good to be used. Much of it is made of Metis (a cotton/linen mix) which is indestructible, and indescribably comfortable to sleep in. Prices are comparable with new bedlinen, but this stuff is both much more beautiful and will last much longer. Limited supply, though, for obvious reasons...

  2. Ah Pomiane, I envy you! Not sure I could cope with (presumably) all that ironing! :)

  3. I feel your pain!
    M&S really should be able to sort this, they want your business after all. Square pillow cases just wont do. Let those who want to buy French sizes do so in the comfort of their own language.
    Stiff letter (on cardboard - as my Dad used to say) to the Top Dog in London would be in order.

  4. What a disappointing for you, Sue. I can think of a number of French-resident friends who must be bewailing this change along with you. How terribly short-sighted of M&S.

  5. True - but there's an answer to that as well. I have (just for things like bedsheets) one of those machines rather like a press that flattens and steams many thicknesses of fabric at one go...which means that for a large sheet, you just have to fold it efficiently at the outset, and then it takes perhaps three minutes to deal with the whole thing, pressing one folded section after another. It felt deeply extravagent when I bought the machine (also on ebay, I confess), but now think it an absolute godsend. Whilst, for limited periods at a time, I can find ironing a relatively therapeutic activity, it is definitely only for a 'limited' period...!

  6. That sounds wonderfully luxurious Pomiane! Ironed sheets! :)

  7. Yes Perpetua, much wailing and gnashing of teeth! M&S are reading the facebook campaign I gather (I'm not on it so haven't seen) but their reactions show they are just intent on "fixing" the French site, rather than recognising that we want choice. :(

  8. Hi Lesley - love your father's comment. :) Yup, a letter will be on its way shortly (when I emerge from the task of making curtains), but I fear for entrenched attitudes - it's very hard for large businesses to admit they've got it wrong. :(

  9. This reminds me of demanding to know why one of the ferry companies insisted on charging me in euros when I was paying with an English credit card just because I had a billing address in France. They started off by saying it was the law, no it's not, then said it was to stop money laundering, !!!, then when I started off my next email with 'Please don't insult my intelligence...' I got, finally, the real reason, someone had programmed the site that way and they didn't know how to change it.

  10. Oh Victoria - how depressing!

  11. Faceless big business. M&S are continuously getting it wrong. What a time to mess about with the site and delivery changes. Everyone all geared up for Christmas orders............up in a puff of smoke!

    Whatever happens-have a wonderful celebration there. :))

  12. Hello "mixed" - shame isn't it. Thank you for your best wishes. You too. :) :)