/ Shopping

What makes a good shopping experience?


The great British high street has been going through a turbulent time recently. So where are these shops going wrong? Is it the layout, the customer service, or even the cleanliness – what keeps you loyal to them?

Well it’s worth having a look at the results of our hot-off-the-press annual shopping survey. In February 2016 we surveyed 10,006 members of the UK public, asking them about their experiences in the shops they’d visited in the past six months. It’s the UK’s biggest investigation into the shops that are impressing customers – and those that are failing to make the grade.

Customer opinion seems to be one of the best barometers of success, and we found that shoppers voted BHS among the worst performing stores just weeks before it went into administration.

Shopping experience

BHS came joint 96th out of 100 brands overall, with a Customer Score of 57%. And it came last by some margin in the department stores category, scoring poorly for customer service and its store environment.

In fact the high street stalwart has finished towards the bottom of our shopping table in five of the last six years. The chain had been working on a turnaround plan after years of loss making, with its new owners promising to review costs and refresh its brand.

Customers visiting BHS told us that the shops were ‘untidy and unappealing’ with long queues, crowds and poor service. One shopper told us they felt it was ‘drab, confused, and crammed in’ adding it had lost its identity.

From our survey, we’ve found that generally, customers shopping on the high street are most irritated by queues, crowds, unhelpful staff and expensive prices. Which perhaps goes some way to explain why BHS struggled for so long.

So what is that makes a good or bad shopping experience for you?


For me it starts with FREE parking. Then good prices. Then very small queues at till, and preferably no piped muzac to assault my ear drums. That sound , I can’t remember the last time I was in a high street store its been many many years now.

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Number one cause of bad shopping experiences is piped music. The evidence is all there in previous Conversations, which had a huge response on this subject.

A good shopping experience is when you come home with whatever you intended to buy and we seem to come home empty-handed far too often.

First you need easy access to parking or park and ride. Then a good choice of goods. There was a time when you could go round a few shops and see a different choice of quality products in each shop. Now they all seem to have the same rubbish.

We want a new loo brush. Doesn’t anyone make one that goes round the bend?

We wanted a new cooker. What a load of rubbish. We accepted the third one delivered.

We wanted a new quilt cover. Not everyone likes white flowery fabric or retro so put up with the old ones a bit longer.

I want a new computer chair that is supportive and comfortable. Don’t manufacturers try out what they produce?

Why are loos small and uncomfortable these days? The hunt goes on for a new one.

All in all, shopping isn’t a great experience these days when you can’t find what you want.

Well said Alfa. I have been griping to myself about loo brushes for some time now and I am glad I am not alone, and it’s not just me that can’t find one that is fit for purpose. My solution to this problem is to get a washing up brush with the longest curviest handle so that after the bleach has done its work I can easily brush all round the rim, pan and trap. A bit of red adhesive tape round the handle designates it as not for use in the kitchen.

I’m glad we are not alone and we also use an old washing up brush !!!

Now if a few more people have the same problem and report it here, with a bit of luck some forward-thinking entrepreneur might think it is a really good idea to make curved loo brushes and we might see some in the shops soon. 😉

Being able to pick up something and have a good look at it before deciding to purchase. Does it feel flimsy or well made; is the size right; does it feel comfortable; does it fit; do the switches and controls work smoothly? These are things one has to take on trust when buying on line, relying on customer reviews and professional advice that’s unbiased. There is also the pleasure of going out and finding an item without putting it in “your basket”. Easy access to the shop is important as is having enough staff around so that it is possible to chat about a prospective purchase. I balance this with the ability to find almost anything on line and order it as the mood strikes. This is both good and bad. Apart from the impulse to buy there have been products that I wouldn’t have bought if I had seen them first and there is always the risk, on line, that payment details could be stolen. If a shopping experience contains a coffee and a nice lunch somewhere plus a wander up the concourse, without being jostled, then that in itself can be worth going out for. I would be sad if my shopping had to be confined to the computer, but also sad if things I couldn’t buy locally were not on line.

My two main concerns when shopping for important purchases, rather than weekly groceries, are (1) that there are staff visibly on the floor who one can ask for assistance, and (2) that the staff know their products. I regret to say that I find John Lewis are slipping in these key areas. The reason for going into a department store or other major retailer is to buy something physically, as Vinor has said above, where we can examine alternatives and get advice. There is a price for that and I don’t quibble. We frequently have to wait far too long for a member of staff to become available and far too often they cannot answer predictable questions about the performance or characteristics of the products. We had a recent experience of that in the lighting department of a John Lewis store where the response to a question was to look up the product on the website which I had to point out contained unreliable information and was the reason for the visit to the store in the first place. In fact, John Lewis’s website contains so much poor information on certain product specifications these days I get the impression they are merely parroting the manufacturer’s blurb. Particularly in terms of light fittings, the information is often inconsistent across similar products, or is incomplete, or is factually inaccurate. I expect the store staff to know more about the goods they are trying to sell.

I realise that maintaining a reliable website is a huge exercise but it goes with the territory and it will repay itself in better sales figures. Retailers that trade on-line as well as through a physical high street presence must also accept that the two channels are complementary and both should offer a comprehensive shopping experience. Half the time we see something in the store and buy it through the company website, and the other half we do it the other way round.

Two other minor grizzles are (a) that M&S have one till for an acre of trading floor and are locked and hard-wired into a seasonal formula so you can’t buy holiday clothes in the winter and can’t buy a good sweater in April, and (b) that BHS sell some really good products like towels and bed linen but hide them away in the remotest corners of the store. In both cases the companies take no notice of what their customers tell them since they obviously know best [persistence with unwanted music is Exhibit A, M’lud].

The worst shopping experience on the high street these days is WHSmith. Since I won’t go there I shan’t comment. One of the most useful and helpful shops I find is Wilko [formerly known as Wilkinson’s].

We were in Waitrose the other day and asked if a product on the deli counter had milk in it. The unfriendly person behind the counter said they were not allowed to tell us the contents and we would have to go over to the information desk and ask. We didn’t bother as there was no guarantee we could be talking about the same product the other side of the store.

John Lewis staff ain’t like they used to be !!!

And why on earth don’t products on the deli counter have a full ingredients label with the product?

As seasons in shops get earlier and earlier, it won’t be long before you can buy next summer’s gear at the end of the previous summer!!!

Cheer up! Christmas is coming…

I have to say I have always liked BHS and can usually find something I like in there unlike M&S which is hopeless, no staff, dreary clothes and often the stores are far too large. For example if you want jeans they are in about 10 different areas of the store whereas surely they should all be together so you can see the full range! I hope BHS can survive!

Wilko is my current favourite shop for so much – I guess it is like the new Woolworths but much better priced and friendly helpful staff.

John Lewis annoys me when they have company reps in on a weekend in the electrical department, ie Cannon, Sony etc so how an earth are you going to get non- biased advice for a camera or laptop.. I find generally the staff in JL are not nearly as helpful or knowledgeable as they used to be.

All shops seem to be cutting staff and you can never find anyone to ask – M&S have said they will be improving this so we will wait and see!

TGM says:
31 May 2016

Lack of staff training especially since laws have changed. The music the stores play. Some of it is ok others l just cant stand. not being able to move in shop due to every last inch being used for products. Rude Staff. Long queues. Shops not having my sizes in clothes.
I hate to say it but the Carrier bag charge has not helped. I found staff in some shops would offer to pack bags or help pack bags now they just throw your stuff down the bottom and sit there drumming fingers or loudly signing if you are not packing quick enough especially if you are still unpacking the trolley on a large shop. The internet is great for me as l am petite. Only certain shops near me have petite clothing. 9 out of 10 shops tell me l have to order online or go to a larger store which is 40 or more miles from me. Laws on returns have changed a couple of times over the past 2 years but staff are not trained in the new laws so are quoting out of date and get funny when the customer advises the new laws. Shops like BHS are not selling what the customer wants or needs. Another thing is loyalty Shops have these loyalty cards or schemes but they keep changing them so they are no longer drawing customers into them. For example Tesco price promise was great but when it changed to brand match its is useless as a lot of people don’t by branded goods. Now l don’t get any discount unless l shop about myself. Shops putting prices up to double what they use to be and shrinking the pack sizes. If l was to shop for my whole grocery shop in just Tesco then it would cost me about £300 when 10 years ago it would cost me £150. Today l took deliver of a £150 order from Tesco but it was only 4 baskets which was 1 of fried 1 freezer and 2 general 10 years ago l would have had to be sitting on my freezer to close and have tins bottles and jars of herbs bursting out of my cupboards now l struggle to fill them.

I see M&S are to abolish piped music. The claim being they want to bring back the original store customer.

I’d expect it to be more like not having to pay royalties anymore.

That might be it, William! Or hopefully they have realised that older people really don’t like being forced to listen to pop music, and we’re the ones with all the money!

Hello everyone,

On the news that BHS is to go into liquidation our Director of Policy and Campaigns, Alex Neill, has said:

‘It’s a worrying time for everyone when a company goes into liquidation but for customers it’s important to remember you do still have consumer rights. Our advice is if you have BHS gift vouchers you should spend these in-store as soon as possible.

‘However buyers beware, if you make any purchases during the closing sales it is unlikely you’ll be able to claim any refund for faulty products as the retailer will have ceased trading.

‘If you spend more than £100 make sure you use a credit card as you’ll be able to make a claim against your credit card company under Section 75 Consumer Credit Act if anything goes wrong’

For further information on your consumer rights when retailer goes into administration please visit our consumer rights site here:

Thanks for this timely post, Lauren. Looking back at the advice provided by Comet in 2012 when it went into liquidation, I see that customers were advised to contact the manufacturer for goods within the manufacturer’s guarantee period: http://web.archive.org/web/20121115131916/http://storage.comet.co.uk/www/splash/html/questions.htm#7

I don’t know if manufacturers have any legal obligation if a retailer fails but I have often found manufacturers helpful when retailers have failed to honour their responsibilities under the Sale of Goods Act (which was replaced by the Consumer Rights Act in Oct. 2015)