Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The myth of the friendly newsagent

My corner shop
I was listening to a piece on the radio the other day on the way home from the STFC (not a football club - but that's a different story). The piece was bemoaning the rate of closure of local newsagents. 'We are losing a vital local resource,' they said. Are we? Are we really?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of local enterprise and such, but are the typical local newsagents all that wonderful?

As I've mentioned before, my local corner shop, 5 minutes walk from my front door, is a massive 24 hour Asda superstore, alongside the likes of Marks and Spencer, Next and Starbucks, so I'm not exactly typical in local provision. But I've had plenty of experience of local newsagents in the past, and I really can't see what all the fuss is about.

Those on the programme, bemoaning their loss, had two principle arguments - that the local newsagent gave better customer service than a supermarket, and that mostly they are being replaced by 'metro' or 'express' versions of supermarkets, i.e. diabolical large companies, worming their way into the neighbourhood, rather than friendly locals.

I know there are exceptions - but I think in most cases this is not a viable comparison. Yes, I have known one excellent corner shop/newsagent/post office - to be precise a village shop, where the service was very good. But frankly many of the newsagents I go into are dingy and unpleasant, and have surly staff who haven't a clue about customer service, other than taking your money. Oh, and they are expensive to shop in. By comparison, our nearest supermarket 'local' (which I admit I don't use much because it's further to walk than the hypermarket) is bright, clean and relatively cheap. And in my experience the staff are just as friendly, if not more so.

For that matter, I don't really do small talk. I find it embarrassing and irritating with people I don't really know want to act as if they know me. Of course I like to chat to friends, but these aren't friends. I really don't want to have a conversation, I want efficient, quick service. (Which is why I frequently use the self service tills.) But I'll put that down as my failing. I know a lot of people do like to speak people. But the 'better customer service' argument simply doesn't hold water.

Of course you can't really argue against the 'big evil supermarket' bit. I'm no fan of Tesco, say, as a company. However I'm not sure there is more social benefit to be had by contributing to the coffers of one family rather than the many more people who work in a supermarket 'local'. And in the end it is a financial transaction, not a social service. I would like to be able to make that transaction with whoever does it best, not based on a personal bias against a large company.

So are we really losing a hugely valuable local resource when a local newsagent closes? I'm really not sure we are.

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