Secret Shopper – Just How Important is Customer Service?

Posted in Fashion, Writing.

Like so many others, last night I watched Secret Shopper on Channel 4. The series follows Mary Portas as she takes on the British High Street with an aim to revolutionise the customer service offered in our favourite shops.

I worked in high street and high end retail stores for years. My first job was in a discount shoe shop selling peep toe platforms for a fiver. I was paid £3.10 an hour (below minimum wage) and worked like a cart horse. And let me tell you – squeezing a fat, smelly, size 8 hoof into a size 6 slingback does not make for a positive mental attitude. But I always smiled. I learned my stock, where specific items were located and how to do refunds on the till. Not through professional training, but through trial, error and practise.

Mary visited Primark, H&M, New Look and Pilot with an undercover camera to investigate the level of customer service in ‘fast fashion’ stores. Predictably (and very sadly), all failed miserably when measured against her pretty reasonable standards. Is it really too much to ask that staff in Primark know what an aviator jacket is? Or where it might be on the shop floor? When a customer walks through the doors of Pilot, should they be greeted with a smile and a quick hello, or should the staff continue their conversations? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

During my time in retail, I also worked in a branch of Levi’s. The difference between the cheap, ‘fast fashion’ ethos of the shoe shop and the higher end, ‘designer’ positioning of Levi’s was immense. Staff were incentivised with vouchers, huge discounts on stock and gifts for providing excellent customer care. We offered an alteration service that saw us sitting at a sewing machine, altering leg lengths while our customer shopped elsewhere, returning an hour later to pick up their purchases. We worked hard but we played hard too – team nights out were regular and often provided by head office. It was a service that the higher prices (£40-50 for a pair of jeans) paid for.

I last retail position ended in 2006 and since then, the high street has changed almost beyond recognition. Smaller boutiques and more bespoke high end chains have been pushed out by the demand for fast fashion and low prices. Focus has shifted – it’s now more common to go into a shop with sharpened elbows and clear idea of what you want than to spend 20 minutes discussing the benefits of one product over another with a sales assistant. But that doesn’t mean customer service should be non-existent. I don’t think Mary’s high-octane plans for Pilot’s dingy fitting rooms will ever make it past that first concept store, but the simple lack of communication skills and brand knowledge she uncovered should be addressed. Are brands like Primark pushing our traditional idea of shopping too far? Is a minimum wage salary combined with a busy store and high turnover making it impossible to motivate and inspire staff?

As a passionate and regular high street shopper, I’ve developed opinions on brands that influence my decisions when purchasing. Here are my top shops for customer service and experience, and my biggest losers…

They’ve got it
Next – staff hang your purchases up in the fitting room for you, and there’s a call button inside if you need help. On a rammed Saturday before Christmas, a very busy but helpful assistant quickly tracked down a pair of trousers in the size I needed.
Coast – their beautiful fitting rooms make trying on dresses a wonderful experience. Heavy velvet curtains, gilded golden rails, vases of flowers and charming assistants all convince you to spend.
LK Bennett – simply, the staff really know their stuff. A knowledgeable assistant (who was impeccably dressed) picked out a dress and shoes that fitted perfectly and made me feel fantastic.
Gap – American-style service with a touch of British reserve. Greetings at the door, staff on the shop floor always willing to help and neat, clean displays.

They don’t
H&M – I’ve never been served in less than 10 minutes in H&M. Long queues at the tills, one person serving while five stand around, seemingly doing nothing.
New Look – messy, chaotic fitting rooms, supervised by staff who can’t leave their post to get alternative sizes.
Reiss – judgemental, snooty assistants to whom the concept of a size 12 is alien. Definitely don’t go in if you’re carrying a Pound Shop bag.
Urban Outfitters – a greeter on the door who ignores you, which you soon find out is a common trait amongst staff.

It’s not quantative research by any means, but my experiences in these shops do influence where I spend my money.

What are your thoughts on customer service? Is it important to you, or are you happy to put up with bored assistants, messy shops and long queues if it means bagging a bargain? Which shops do you think get it right, and which get it wrong?



Customer service is so so important and can really make a difference to whether I make a purchase or not! I avoid places like H&M, Primark, Topshop and New Look like the plague as their staff just don’t care and it really changes my shopping experience.
I was extremely impressed recently with my local Bench store when my husband was buying jeans recently. The assistant there spent ages going through piles of jeans trying to find the right fit, shape and suitable price….. even staying there whilst he tried them on and was honest with him when he said my husband looked ‘a bit MC Hammer’ in a few of them! I love it when staff really care about what they do!

Victoria India

I didn’t watch that programme, but it’s something i will get around to doing at somepoint.
I think everything you’ve said it spot on, however if i go in to Primark i expect it to be messy, unhelpful and busy. Because that’s what you’re paying for.
Topshop however is different because you’re paying more, you expect someone to be there to help if needed.
It’s an awful way to think, but i think that’s just the way it is now! Doesn’t mean it’s a good thing though lol xo


Havn’t watched this yet but i will defiantly be catching up on 4od!. I work at New Look so it will be interesting to see what she says about our customer service xxx


I work in retail, in a video game store, and we are always given incentives to give the best customer service possible. Whilst I don’t know everything about the industry (I don’t think one head possibly could!) I make sure that I know everything about Nintendo (my speciality) and as much as possible about the other brands. I always know who to pass a customer over to if they need more in-depth help, and I will always, always, always try and smile.

I find that Monsoon also give great customer service — but you’re right when you say Next is the best. It’s one of the reasons actually I will always go into Next first even though I can barely afford their prices — it’s worth it for the shopping experience!


i didn’t watch it because i’m over in sweden but i’ll try and find it online… sounds interesting. i’ve got massive amounts of sympathy for low paid retail staff. i worked in topshop/topman for about six years overall and at the start of every shift i tried to do my best and provide the best customer service i could with a smile on my face, but to be honest – i was never paid enough for me to “go out of my way”. bad attitude maybe.. but i worked there to pay my phone bill and to indulge in my serious magazine habit – i didn’t take the job seriously because it was only “part time” and “retail” which is an attitude i think many others share…

good post! x


Customer service is upmost to me. A smile costs nothing! I too worked in retail and as a store manager I ensured all my staff were motivated to give the same level of service they’d want to receive. I now work in a different type of custom service role – as an adjudicator for the FOS. Its a thankless job most of the time but I continue to provide the same level of service I would want in the same position.

I was absolutely appalled by the behaviour of the sales staff in last night’s show. Yet as Mary said – good service has to be taught – shown. I lived in Japan for a couple years and that is a country that knows customer service. Every customer is greeted as they walk through the door – regardless of if you are entering your local convenience store or an upmarket department store. Staff are willing to assist – even someone who speaks pidgin Japanese and they have to spend the whole conversation acting out what the customer wants. You know what astounded me the most – I was 3 days off the plane and I was trying to buy an international phonecard to call home & tell them I’d arrived safely. I went into one convenience store but they didn’t sell the card so the teller took me to a rival convenience store down the road and explained to the teller there what I wanted! Would you ever find that in England?! I don’t think so.

We could learn a lot from Japan – even the staff in the 100yen (similar to £1 shop) offer better service that we do here and sales staff are paid are mainly students and don’t get paid anymore – maybe even less than our sales staff.

Anyway this has been an incredible LONG comment – sorry but its something I feel really passionate about!


I work in next and it is drummed into us about customer service. We have a traffic light system that we get tested on over few 6 months. White is exceptional, Green is excellent, Amber is average and Red is awful. If we are on red twice in a row its an instant sacking. Harsh but it does it job.
I know what you saying about how people should greet at the door but its hard. I hate being on front service because people are so rude, even just saying a simple hello causes customers just to glare at me. I do it because its my job but can understand why some employees dont bother.
I personally love being on the fitting rooms because it gives me a chance to offer my opinion. Once i spent an hour and half lugging different clothes into a changing room because a young girl was trying to make her mum “modern”. It was like i was a personal shopper! Its the part of my job i love, encourging people to try things they would not normally.
We have to learn the shop floor and have tests on where everything is.
Primark is awful, completely awful. Some staff do not say a word as they serve you on the till. It does not cost anything to say “hello” or thats a “nice blouse you have”. Its polite. No one know where anything is in their shop. But ill still shop there because it is cheap haha!


I must admit, as a sales assistant who was treated like crap from 99% of the customers I served, by the end I pretty much gave up. I kept smiling and welcoming the customers but I stopped bending over backwards for rude people. I can probably count on one had the number of customers who were a pleasure to serve in the 8 months I spent in my last job and that was a relatively high end department store. Of course not all customers are rude, I think that has a lot to do with the target audience of the particular establishment I worked for.

I can also sympathise slightly with staff not knowing about every item of stock, especially in huge shops. The turn around of stock is often so quick I found it hard to keep up, and with different staff members assigned to different departments it’s even more difficult. Maybe I’m just a crap shop assistant, and if anyone were to accuse me of that I’d agree, there are some fabulous ones out there!

I’m a shopper that actually prefers not to be talked to by staff, I don’t know why. I just prefer to look around for myself but I’m a serial online shopper so maybe that has something to do with it. A simple hello or even just a smile is something that I would expect and that’s non-existent in an increasing amount of shops. Simple manners shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s a shame when they are but sadly I’ve come to accept it now.

Was a very interesting programme though and I don’t think her vision is unreasonable. Maybe things will improve but I imagine it’s more likely they will stay the same. x


I watched and was glued to the screen. Mary is such an inspiration, she always has so much passion and determination to get things done!

And that pretty much was my Primark: untidy, queues and staff who know absolutely nothing about anything! x


OOOOH, this is my major bugbear and I can wax lyrical on customer service for ages, long past the point where anyone else cares or is still listening! Like you, I’ve worked in a lot of shops over the years and in the customer service industry for 15 years.
I taped the show yesterday to watch tonight but by everyone’s reactions on twitter I can but imagine! the last two times I’ve been in Primark I’ve overheard (and from quite a distance, too) staff bitching about their employers and talking in quite crude language about their nights out and what they’ve got up to. Nice, given that I’d imagine a fair few of their customers may be on the lookout for jobs and would love to work there!
Fair enough it’s not a high end store, but basic manners should be a given no matter where you work. I SHOULD maybe have said something to them at the time but tbh it would only have made me feel bad all day so I didn’t.
This is far from an exclusive problem to Primark- Debenhams in my opinion is consistently by far the worst and it extends way past the shop floor to their customer service “department”.
As far as messy shop floors go, yes it annoys me but not nearly so much as dismissive staff. Customers that drop things and don’t pick them up annoy me just as much!

xxx Maddie


I don’t do High St. I do online. Same thing. Customer service via email or ‘phone is massively important. And I don’t have any complaints.

The British aren’t good at service. It’s a shame. I’m a teacher and I see myself as providing a service – I’m not some little Hitler. I’m there to get the kids what they need. Public servant. Nothing wrong with it. There’s honour in service.

Pearl Westwood

Love Mary!! I actually dont shop on the high street anymore because of this, Zara is the only shop I will go in if I absolutely must, I find the staff in there are hit and miss but the shop is well laid out so everything is easy to find, what I do hate is that the changing rooms are like a sauna so I will only buy in there if I absolutely need to. That said many of the designer shops are as bad Harvey Nics is apauling, Ive had to ask for the manager so many times because the staff just couldnt be bothered. My favourite shops are Cow vintage and Vivienne Westwood, but even in VW I will call the SA’s I know and make sure they are in the day I want to go in. It is ridiculous really that you cant just walk into every shop and have someone help you! The last time I went into Topshop to try something on all the fitting rooms had chewing gum stuck along the sides where girls had tried to stick the ill fitting curtains, vile!!


AAH i completely hated the program and spent the duration screaming at my tv, mary completely missed the point. About to have my rant on a post i’m uploading so i won’t fill your comments with my rage lol x


As someone who’s worked in Primark (only lasted 4 months) as well as Topshop, I truly believe it depends on the individual rather than being taught. I have a natural interest in fashion and trends, so even when I was folding mens t-shirts in Primark, I would still go out of my way to help customers as surely, everyone deserves to look good. I’m naturally a chatty person, so everyone I served got a smile and a thank you so really it’s down to employing the right personalities and keeping them in the loop. I think most of the people I’ve worked with in Topshop give great service, but it is annoying when you’re expected to know every item of stock when everything is moved several times a week and you might be doing a four hour Sunday shift. Also due to staffing problems it’s not always possible to keep the shop tidy, especially when people phone in sick and the tills suddenly decide to freeze. I think we’d sometimes like a bit more understanding as customers assume we all work full time and have seen every possible magazine feature. Anyways I’m just used to finding things myself these days, I don’t really expect much from places like H&M and Primark.


Some great thoughts here. Thanks for all your comments!

@Kb – totally and utterly agree with your comments. It really *is* down to the individual – some people have a natural way with people and having an interest in the product you’re selling helps. But that makes me wonder why people who DON’T have that natural service affinity are hired in the first place? Is it a lack of applicants? A need to fill a position quickly? Laziness from managers?

I also understand the all the comments from retail workers – it’s not an easy job and if often totally thankless as well as hideously underpaid. You can’t be on it 100% of the time or you might go crazy, and rude customers don’t deserve a smile or extra help.


I didn’t get to watch the show last night but I’m totally going to 4OD it after dinner!! My hometown of Putney is pretty small with only one main road, there are a few shops (Topshop, River Island, Gap, Next and some random shops) so even on a Saturday it isn’t heaving, this means that the majority of the time shopping is a pleasant experience. Though I love it, H&M is probably the worse offender in my book, always a mess, long queues and rubbish staff. Saying that I did have a very helpful till lady last time I went into the High Street Ken store. To be honest, most people on the high street probably get paid minimum wage with very little benefits so it’s no wonder they never smile. Levi’s sounds like a wonderful place to work for though =)

Hannah xx


I didn’t know about the programme, I think I’m gonna try to catch it later sounds like something I would enjoy watching 🙂
As far as the service.. I think it’s really sad what the shopping is becoming. People just want to get things quickly and cheaply. I never go to Primark anymore, because there’s clothes lying on the floor, completely uncared for. Ok, I know it’s a 3 pound tshirt, but a girl in china gave up her life to sew stupid primark clothes so it can be 3 quid, gosh! It just kills me to see clothes just like being destroyed in many many shops.. Not mentioning assistants, there are hardly ANY conversations between me and them and not because I wouldn’t want to.. And then they all wonder why Asos is doing so well.. Because there at least you know what to expect – computer screen, ha!


The staff in Primark are terrible they’re all students who spend their time dancing in the changing rooms, swearing and messing about. H&M is the same- all unwilling to get on the till.
What I hate most about shopping is the limit on the amount of clothes you can take in. Primark is huge and they only let you try on 6 things very annoying and there is no sense to it they don’t even count the items you bring back out.


Another lovely one for customer service is Monsoon – I’ve always felt really valued in there, especially in the lush changing rooms!

I don’t mind the attitude in Primark – you get what you pay for, right?



i started on £3.00 an hour at my first job at allsports of all places, remember that one? well i work at topman now so i always treat people as i want to be treated myself, seems fair. i do everything i can to help people and obviously i can’t say hey to everyone i can smile and body language is so important isn’t it. a picture says a thousand words. obviously i can’t say for every topman/topshop but customer service is the number 1 priority, without the peeps the company is nothing.

for me shops that get it right – COS, Paul Smith, people in selfridges seems pretty good most the time. that is all i can think of. topman is manchester is top actually, they don’t know i work there so i can have a little bit of a test can’t i. agreed about Reiss, hmmm.


i enjoyed reading this and you reminded me i need to watch it on 40d tonight – so thanks.

the attitude of most staff is just awful. the customer isn’t always right, but jeez – look like you give half a shit.


it’d be great to compare experiences from over the country…I’ve found New Look and UO on the better side here,
whereas Next has been one of my worst experiences!

Adorable Beauty Bubble

I always thought h&m were bad for their queues, theyd have two cashiers with a massive queue and they usually dont apologise for the wait, ive actually left clothes there and walked out cos the queues were too long, and they dont even move along quick either. John Lewis have really good customer service theres always someone there and they usually take you to the product, theyre not allowed to just point in the direction its in.

Pink Flower

See i’ve found people in Gap to be be miserable and love having disappearing acts, whereas H&M in York is free of queues.

I was in Zara at the weekend and the only words the women behind the till said to me was the price of my purchase, they laughed throughout and half heartedly attempted to fold my tops.

I guess alot of it depends on the day.


Totally agree with your assessment of customer service – I hate going in to Reiss or Urban Outfitters because the shop floor is such a horrible experience. The stupid thing is I do buy from them, I just buy online! For H&M and Primark I feel like I’m not paying for good service, but for these expensive shops I expect better!

John Lewis is my absolute favourite for customer service. Like Adorable Beauty Bubble above says I’ve never had anything but perfection from them.

Penny Dreadful

I’ve commented on a few posts about this now, and will say the same thing again: I think the way staff are treated directly affects how they treat the customers (as you so rightly point out). If you treat people like paid monkeys they will naturally not care about their work. It isn’t just about money, it is about respect.

Also agree with the stores you name and shame. H&M is atrocious and I refuse to enter Urban Outfitters because of the snooty staff. This is why I prefer to do most of my shopping online these days.


Great post and I really enjoyed the programme too. I volunteered in a charity vintage shop this summer having not worked in retail since I was in sixth form and a lot of it’s just common sense isn’t it really. I think being friendly and helpful makes it more enjoyable for the staff as well as customers. I don’t shop there often (for clothes) but I think M&S definitely gets it right too, they have buzzers in the fitting rooms, helpful staff, will order different sizes in etc. I agree with you about H&M, although I’ve found staff in Reiss and Urban Outfitters to be quite helpful.


i completely agree with some of the things youve said, however some i dont. My first job wasn’t in retail, but in a hairdressers, where, like you, i made £3.10 an hour doing anything that needed doing. When i first got my first proper job in Matalan i can’t say i was amazed at how other people treated the customers, but i wasnt put off. Id shopped there in the past, and everyone knows how long it takes to be served in there. Id been brought up to have manners and always took that to work with me. The bosses tried doing workshop type things with some of the staff but it didnt always work. When customers piss you off, you tend to just give up. Theres only so much you can take. At the beginning i was shy, i got confidence and i ddint really let much phase me, especally when i was at the fitting rooms because i know how some people get when trying clothing on. Espeically younger girls. After being there for about a year i got “promoted” i made it to supervisor standars and ran my own tills upstairs and always made sure my staff were nice and kind to the customer. Having to do all the refunds and exchanges i got some really shitty customers, and when other management had to deal with some of them, they got really arsey back at the customer and often slagged customers off behind their backs. I think its part and parcel with working in retail. I know we shouldn’t take it, but i suppose we do, because cheaper places are often, sadly like that. 🙁
i didnt watch the programme last night, but after everyones reaction (on twitter, and posts) i will probably 4OD it. xx


I haven’t watched it yet, I’m going to 4oD it as a treat while I finish my knitting tonight!

There is something that annoys me about the whole set up of Mary Portas criticising sales assistants though. She’s on a lot of money I’d imagine, and is doing a job that she (probably) enjoys. She commands a lot of respect, so isn’t spoken to like she’s dog crap. Whereas a lot of people end up in retail, they don’t like the job but have to take it anyway, then they’re spoken to like absolute shit by both customers and their managers. How can she criticise them without acknowledging that? I worked at Primark for five months, and I spent my days folding the men’s jumpers, T-shirts, and trousers. The lack of respect that the customers had for the clothes and the staff meant that they just dropped everything in piles on the floor (someone even took a load of clothes into the changing room and had a wee on them, then walked out!), often customers spoke to me like I was an idiot/lazy/both, and the managers were horrible to the lower staff. I left after one of the managers gave me a completely undeserved bollocking in front of other members of staff.

It’s easy for Mary Portas to flounce in and expect that H&M staff will attend to her every need. But retail workers earn minimum wage or thereabouts, why would they even be frightened of losing their job? They know that they’re disposable to the company, and have no loyalty in return. If they get sacked they can just go out and get a similar job, so why not faff around and brighten up their day by talking to their mates? It’s human nature to take advantage when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of too.

I’m not defending rudeness. Basic politeness should be the bare minimum standard for all shops, and my own pet hate is staff talking to each other while they’re serving me. But if they aren’t chatty, or particularly smiley, I don’t take offence. Of course, just as I don’t expect much from Primark staff, I expect more and more as the shop’s prices go up, and I presume the staff wages too. So I’d expect better service from an Oasis employee than I would a Primark employee. And even better service from a Ted Baker employee.


It’s really important to me. I worked summers and xmas seasons in M&S when I was a student (gosh, about 20 years ago!) and the training was excellent. We were trained, paid and treated well – management conveyed that we were doing an important job so we felt the same and tried our best to deliver great customer service. Even now I’m always helping other customers out in shops! My BF always says ‘You can take the girl out of M&S but you can’t take M&S out of the girl!’. It’s all about the training and reward I think – and it’s not necessarily a financial reward – it’s having more senior people convey that what you’re doing matters and that a good effort is noticed and praised. xx


I didn’t watch it either, and I hardly shop in the high street, so I’m probably not the best person to comment, but I just wanted to say something related to me experience of the UK vs. Germany. In the UK, most retail shops are filled with temporary staff and lots of part timers on minimum wage. Staff turnover is high and noone ever gets properly trained (this has been my experience from when I was a student anyway). In contrast, in Germany working in a shop has a bit higher status, and people get trained in things like bookkeeping too, so it’s more like a career, so people will work in the same shop for years and will have a sense of ownership of that shop. And it makes a world of difference to the service you receive.

That being said though, I dislike the over the top American style service almost as much as the British non-existent service. Gap used to be awful, you’d go in there and you would literally get asked if you needed help every two minutes. I want the assistants to be there if I need them, not push themselves on me.

pip a la chic

I’ve been in retail/customer service for YEARS! And i think it’s very important to still have excellent customer service skills. Most women know what they want, but then you get women who have no clue. I work in a children’s boutique, men come and are happy for you to look for them. They seem happy for someone to help them.
There’s two competitor stores in Australia called Myers and David Jones…. Myers is shocking in the fashion department, no one says hello, no one asks if you want help. It’s different everywhere you go really.


I’ve noted bad customer service before, but it never really bothered me THAT much. Then after watching this last night, I went into Garage shoes and the service was among the worse i’ve ever had.
While it is mostly the ‘fast fashion’ stores that seem to get the brunt of bad service, there’s nothing I hate more than being silenty judged by the more high end stores. Can’t say i’ve ever even been into Reiss but even just glancing into certain stores, it puts me off going in.
Would much rather be attacked by a sales assistant in Lush than be ignored or judged in another.


When I go into Lush I know I’m going to get great customer service every time. I once got snubbed by a lady in Lush and I complained. Not because I was bothered about the lady looking down her nose at me, but because I was so shocked that if someone walked into the shop and was served by her, I’m sure they’d never have gone back and I’m a serious Lush lover. The customer service I received via email was superb and I will always recommend Lush as a great shop despite that one time.

I’ve worked at Sainsbury’s for a year now and only just received some customer service training. I’ve had 3 customer complaints and been reported to management (well, I think I have as my supervisor only mentioned it to me and didn’t tell me what I did wrong), but I’ve had no advice on how to improve, just to ‘watch my back’. As I received a mental amount of customer service training at M&S when I was just a Christmas temp, I honestly thought that Sainsbury’s didn’t particularly prioritize customer service as that important. They certainly don’t value their staff. I think that if staff are valued, they become much more likely to enjoy and take pride in their work. I’m quite proud of the job I do, but it’s pointless if no one notices or if I’m constantly told what I’m not allowed to do instead of being praised for what I’ve done.


John Lewis and M&S, both treat their staff really well and you can tell through their cusutomer service that the staff actually want to work there! x

Elizabeth @rosalilium

I have also worked in retail, Accessorize if you are interested. And I can also confirm that there are a huge amount of rude and demanding customers who treat you badly, BUT it is your job to provide customer service. Whether it is for a bit of pocket money or career advancement, it doesn’t matter. If you have a job, do it well. I can’t stand that lazy approach to work.

A smile, manners and a tidy-up is really not that much to ask, even if you are on £5 an hour.


I think it’s a shame people working in retail don’t interact with people in the way they should, but from personal experience I think a lot has to do with how they’re treated as employees. When I worked at M&S I was treated with respect by the supervisors. I enjoyed it, the management took their time to ensure I knew my job and I did it well.

At Boots however the senior management didn’t give a stuff, they made no effort of learning your name, which I hated. The supervisors were stuck up and had no respect for their staff. Working for someone who has no time to help or train you and constantly makes you feel like an idiot for not knowing your job (because you haven’t been trained) wears you down to a point where you couldn’t care.


i loved reading this 🙂 i had my first ‘retail’ job over christmas working at next, and their priority is definitely the customer. Every member of staff took it in turns to be on front service, saying hi and thankyou to people as they walked in and out, on fitting rooms we always offered to get clothes in other sizes/check other stores if something wasn’t in stock and did the same for customers who were having a general browse of the store. When i first started i was kind of like ‘wtf, i cba saying hi’ but then i realised how simple it was just to smile at everyone when they walked in, i keep doing it in random shops now when i see someone who works there haha, then you have other shops where the people who work there just seem a bit… up themselves? can’t be bothered to help, all they want is an easy day and money in their pocket, now im done :)!


Hobbs staff are also really helpful – always willing to go and fetch another size for you, reserve changing rooms for you while you still browse and just generally great! But i expect that because you are paying a lot more for their products and therefore their service. In Primark you get what you pay for, hence why I don’t shop there often! Hehe.


i watched it last night . to be honest i havent stepped foot in a pilot for years.. didnt even realise they were still going!!
i think the customer service in primark is awfull.. its like your putting them out!!
i use to work at new look and we were great..our manager was very hot on greeting customers, always had to be busy ..we couldnt slouch over the till and our main objective was to be friendly and helpful with the customers.. ive been left a few years now and the team along with the manager is all different now..and i have to say its pretty pants..does not make for a pleasant shopping experiance!!!

Iris / London Fashion Diary

Customer service is really important, but to be honest I don’t expect to get the best customer service in Primark, it is probably one of the worst places to work for, I really feel sorry for the people working there, some younger ones only get around £4 an hour and I totally understand that they don’t have the time to help me, or the motivation!
Having said that I’ve had some very friendly and helpful members of staff from Primark, it’s not their fault there’s not enough staff and some of them are going to do it their whole lives, not much to look forward to then, right?
but it’s true that having been a sales assistant myself, I do sometimes wonder how some sales assistants got a job in the first place, given the way they treat people! but then again you can blame the managers, the lack of training etc so in that sense Mary is right, that’s got to change! 😀

xx Iris


I worked in Topshop for over 3 years and always did my best to give good customer service. As I supervisor I tried to encourage my team to do the same…treat people how you want to be treated. If a customer couldn’t find what they wanted on shop floor we would check the stock room, call other stores or order stuff in. If someone wanted another size to try on in the fitting rooms and it was busy…we utilised our radios and asked those on the shop floor to check for us. I made every attempt to acknowledge customers and be attentive to them…and yes some were demanding and rude but that came with the territory.

This kind of basic customer service doesn’t exist on the high street anymore, which is disappointing.

The thing that frustrates me the most is when I’m faced with those surly girls on the till having a full blown conversation with their friends and not acknowledging you at all – no eye contact, no please, no thanks, etc – this type of non-acknowledgement is unacceptable for me and I have in the past complained to managers about it. Some might think that’s petty but how can customer service improve if its not bought to the attention of those in charge? (as demonstrated in last nights show by the boss of Pilot’s surprise at how his customers were being treated)

Rant over!!!


Ooh I love these posts of yours Jen, as much for your take on things as for the interesting comments that people leave.

I worked in retail (M&S and Asda) whilst at uni. I know this is a bit unscientific but the training and general ethos were a lot better at M&S and so was the quality of the service. As far as my own performance was concerned, I treated it exactly the same as I do my current role (not in retail but with a fair amount of customer interaction) – I have pride in my work and I want to do it well, therefore I’m polite and friendly to people and try and help them. I don’t think it matters what role it is, it’s whether you care or not.

I don’t like to be pounced on by shop assistants as soon as I cross the threshold of a shop. I’d rather be left alone until it looks like I want some help. That requires the shop to have visible staff with a bit of nouse that are actually looking at the customers rather than gabbing to their mates. I think Lush do this really well. Their staff look interested, know their products and are always really helpful. The lower priced fashion stores (Primark, H&M etc) just never seem to have anyone on the shop floor and it really frustrates me.


I loved Mary Portas’ show and how it’s got everyone talking.
Customer service should be so simple but it’s amazing how many stores get it so wrong.
I love your round-up of the good and bad – definitely agree about Urban Outfitters, I feel like I’m being judged for being “uncool” every time I go in there.


Customer service is always so important. Good customer service makes the shopping experience so much better, and you’re so much more likely to buy from a neat shop.
I remember watching when she went into Primark and I shuddered. Usually, the mess in there is enough to make me walk straight out again, without even browsing. It’s the same in all the Highstreet stores, from Zara to Primark. You never find what you’re looking for and you can never see a sales assistant when you need help.

I have to say Hollister/A&F have amazing service, even if that store is overpriced and overlogo-ed. Staff always say Hi and ask how you are. There are always a few people around helping and constantly making sure that the store is neat.

There’s so much more I can say on this, but will leave it at that to avoid writing an essay.


ooh so much to say. I’ve watched a little of this online yday lunchtime and i get the general idea –

I haven’t worked in retail (well, until recently, but even now it is a small boutique shop owned by a friend, and thus not exactly the same as the jobs in question.)
However, I have worked for a few yrs as a secret shopper, and have to admit that customer service does seem to vary from day to day even in the same stores. You can tell which stores have had training / incentives and learnt from them, as every staff member treats you with their shops’ particular “way”. You can also tell which shops employt he people who just don’t care.
In terms of customer service experience, I have to admit that my expectations are not that high when it comes to Primark, H&M etc, as you get what you pay for. Then again, most of the time I already know what I am looking for, as I have seen ti online, or on a blog or something, and therefore just like to go in and search it out – as Alex mentions, I don’t appreciate being pounced on when I walk into the store, but it is nice to be able to see someone on the shop floor that you could ask if you can’t find something.
I find that the staff in Forever 21 have probably been the most overwhelming in terms of asking if they can help as you walk around the store (ok, so we were in there for over an hour, but one assistant asked us three times as well as others in other depts, but they did exzplain that they were only allowed to stay in their dept!)
Next, I have found to be pretty condescending in terms of customer service – they seem to be the worst place I have experienced where you feel like the assistants are looking down at you – perhaps I just don’t have a “Next shopper” look.
Topshop staff are usually fairly unhelpful, but I think that they are employed for the way they look, rather than their personality.

I think it’s so wrong to have to rely on employers bribing their employees with staff incentives / nights out etc, before they can be expected to provide a decent level of customer service. If you have a job in retail – or anywhere else for that matter – (especially in the current economic climate) you ought to do that job to the best of your ability., regardless of what you are being paid/ whether you will be ’employee of the month’ etc. Otherwise, move over, as there are sure to be plenty of other people who value the prospect of that job, and will actually work for their money.


Great post. The thing that annoys me the most is being ignored when I just want to pay and having to queue for ages to pay because the shop hasn’t opened enough tills. Both will make me walk out of a shop and go elsewhere. I guess customer service depends on the branch as well as the store. We have two New Looks in leamington and the newest one is amazing whereas the other is dire. I won’t go in unless I really have to. I find H&M and primark the same all over though 🙁

High street stores really need to look at the levels of service online retailers such as asos are giving us and think long and hard about their policies/training For £15 a year I can get next day delivery, free collections and can try on in my CLEAN bedroom and when I want to return items it’s fast and efficient.


I always find the service in Long Tall Sally to be excellent, but then their stores are never that busy. However, the staff are very helpful, know their stock and will happily fetch sizes and make suggestions. I was in the Manchester store a few months back and was looking for a specific top I’d seen in the catalogue. It wasn’t out on the shop floor but I asked and the assistant knew exactly what I meant, said she was sure she’d seen it somewhere and went off and found it for me.

Primark and H&M are terrible, but I don’t think it’s really the fault of the staff. There is so much stuff in the huge stores they can’t possibly know what’s where all the time, especially if it is frequently moved around.

H&M always have massive queues though so could definitely do with more staff on the tills.

I would never go into Primark on a Saturday afternoon, so if you are daft enough to do that, then you can expect a jumble sale atmosphere and massive queues because it’s always like that.


I have worked in retail since leaving school and watched the programme to see the feedback.

The company I work for is a large family owned business (Wilkinsons) and they really do believe in excellent customer service. Every team member is fully trained to be friendly, helpful,caring and trustworthy. I know this for a fact as it’s my job to visit the store and deliver the training! People shouldn’t enter into retail if they can’t do these things. You must treat people how you would like to be treated. Does it go wrong? Of course,but that individual has to be given the feedback and dealt with. As a manager I always treated my team member firm but fair and lead by example with my own customer service.

It was unfair of her to blame everything on the manager of the store because as others above have stated the team member can get to a stage where they quite frankly can’t be bothered. Not through lack of training or mistreatment from management but through the rudeness of customers. Call a manager she said, demand service and complain. Only do this is there is a genuine reason to do others it will see more businesses go down the pan.

Georgie Lowen

I watched that show. I loved it, because it did show where retail stores go wrong when it come to customer service!

I work in a super market [glamours I know!] and we get ‘mystery shoppers’ come in and in 3 years I have had 1300%! (thats like 13 perfect scores. I am not bragging, just a happy person!


Miss Lucy

Totally agree. Being pleasant doesn’t cost a thing and yet makes such an enormous difference to the customer’s shopping experience. It’s shocking that in some places the sales assistant on the changing rooms can’t go and get you another size. That’s kind of the whole point, in my book. Fab post X


Working in retail actually made me a better customer, and being a customer made me appreciate good customer service! I think it comes down to treating people who we’d like to be treated ourselves. The managers do have a part to play in this, but a lot of the time I think its down to the nature of the person. After watching this show I went into a sports shop in glasgow to get new stuff for the gym, and maybe I was just being para/expecting too much after watching the show. But it was just a horrible experience from start to finish, for the whole half hour I was in the shop (i wont even go into it, really dont want to rant too much!) but if it hadnt been 5pm, and i desparately needed new joggies for the gym that evening, then I would have walked out and not bothered to give them my money!

I think if I ask for help in a shop, and am polite and reasonable with my wishes, then the sales assistant should give me the time of day. because if it was the other way around, even if I was having a shit day id still try to be as helpful as possible! xx


I can’t stand rude shop assistants. I especially hate standing aimlessly at the till while they finish their conversation before serving me.
I agree about New Look. In every one I’ve ever been in, I’ve encountered rude, bored staff who can’t be bothered to take money rather than chat, and they never seem to know their own stock.

I’ve worked in retail, although in an independent gift shop, not a clothes chain. I was friendly with customers; they came back and I had a more enjoyable day if I got to have a chat rather than stand about with a face on!
I work for Wetherspoons now, where we get bonuses for providing customer service.
I think brands do need to ensure their staff are treating customers well, but I also can’t understand why good manners and common sense aren’t enough to make sure the staff are doing it anyway.


Eugh, I absoutley hate shopping. Seriously. I do the majority of it online because I can try things on in the comfort of my own home, know where things are as the website isnt changed around every 3 days (like my local topshop!) and can feel completely unjudged if I am a little over ambitious choosing a size 12 pair of jeans when I’m blatantly a 14!
My local topshop is the epitomy of bad customer service. As stated before, everything is always moving around, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. The only thing I know to find is the shoes and the exit. There’s never anybody around to help, they’re always wandering around pouting in the mirrors with their radio’s (why do they have radio’s?). The curtains in the changing rooms don’t even fit so I HATE trying things on, and then after all the faff of getting through the above stresses there’s always a half hour wait at the till. Which is a total shame because I love topshop. Juts hate the shop.
I can’t say I’ve ever experienced good customer service in any of my local high street clothes stores. The best customer service I have had is in my local curry’s digital. Maybe it’s the nature of what we’re buying, not where we buy it?
I dunno. Very interesting post though!


I’m a sales assistant at Pilot. I don’t think it’s fair to generalise Pilot staff as a whole after filming at only one store in Essex. There are 43 other stores in which there are completely different people, not everyone is the same. Since the programme aired, we’ve had people coming in and looking down at us and having a go at us even though it wasn’t us that did anything wrong. At the store where I work, we always have someone stood at the front to greet customers or even just smile so at least customers know we’ve acknowledged them. We then give them a chance to look around before asking if they need any help. We can tell from looking at people whether they need any assistance or not and if they look like they do then we approach them straight away.

My manager is strict when it comes to staff having conversations. She puts us each in separate areas of the store so we don’t even get the chance to have a conversation. The only time we do is if there are absolutely no customers in the store. As soon as one comes in we end our conversation. I’ve always got positive feedback from customers about my service anyway.

I hate that because of the programme people have been giving me and my colleagues abuse. We are not the girls that were shown in the programme. Give us a chance before coming in and judging us without even having a look around our store!
Saying that, there are other customers who really enjoyed the programme and didn’t agree with what Mary said. When they’re only spending <£20 then they’re not fussed about customer service. There was an elderly woman who was talking about the foul language the girls used (the ones that were secretly filmed) and said she found nothing wrong with it, the majority of the UK public speak that way, LOL!
The way the show was edited made it seem worse than what it actually is. Funny how TV works isn’t it? It’s like that with everything and people get pulled in without even thinking about things like this. Everything is edited in a certain way to make certain people look good/bad.

Personally, I don’t like when staff approach me before I’ve even had a chance to look around. If I want something then I’ll ask for it. A simple hi/hello/smile is fine but I hate being pressured by sales assistants. I was at a Lacoste store recently and I picked up the new Joy of Pink fragrance and sprayed it onto a card. Before I’d even smelt it, the assistant asked me what I thought of it. At least give me a chance to smell it! I need to take my time deciding about things like that without feeling pressured!


I have worked in public facing jobs all my working life. I’m polite, efficient and helpful. However the minute a customer is rude to me I go OTT sacchirine-sugary friendly with them… pretty much like an American McDonalds assistant. I’m evil.


I’ve never worked in a shop, but I try to be a pleasant customer. There’s never an excuse to be rude whether you’re serving or being served. But I will say something if I get rudeness, shoddy goods or negligent service. I have a decent amount of disposable income and will leave or avoid shops where I don’t get decent service and manners. If the shop wants my money, it needs to work for it not just in terms of service but quality and, very importantly, by sourcing its goods ethically. Mary Portas is right, shoppers can be choosy and critical. There’s a fine balance between being available to customers and being over-bearing to the point that the customer feels pushed. I don’t envy anyone who works in retail, it’s such a tough job. But it’s tough to earn the money to spend too. If I could have one wish granted, I’d ask for a free water dispenser and somewhere to sit in every shop. Hot dry shop air drives me out/home/somewhere else. And customer loos! (So that’s 2 wishes!).


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