Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why Shopping in South Africa is Losing its Charm Fast

This blog post may not mean anything to my international followers, so you're welcome to move on.

These are the reasons why South African retailers need to catch a wake-up fast as online shopping is becoming way more appealing by the year. They're going to lose out on business and push customers away for the following reasons:

1. This is the ultimate turn-off to me - the harassment at the door going out of the shop.

Retailers are fighting against crime or theft. Yes, I know it's rife in our country, although come to think of it, does it really justify the way retailers treat their customers when they leave the shop? I don't care how much you lose in profits every month from shoplifters; you are losing my patronage by harassing me at the door!

We pay for our purchases at the till, which oftentimes is within metres of the exit and quite visible. We get given a bag with the store's logo on it to put our items in, then we get accosted by an aggressive and rather abrupt security person at the door who wants to check our slip against what's in our bag which holds our own personal stuff that we've just bought. Oftentimes, we may have slotted our slip back in our handbag or wallet and now we have to fish it out and wait for the person to rummage through our purchases to check that we didn't steal something in the short few steps between the cashier till and the door!

It reached a head when we were in Joburg a couple of months ago and bought some items at a large department store (which we were already disappointed with as they didn't have the things that we'd planned on getting). The long line of cashiers were directly by the door and as we'd just finished purchasing our items and the packer had put them in a bag, we headed to the door where a woman stood armed with a machine in her hand and piercing eyes, waiting to pounce upon us. We were in a hurry to travel back home after a tiring weekend and the security lady stopped us at the door and asked to scan our slip and check what was in our bag, which we could only have gotten from the long line of tills directly by the exit, so my husband said "no" and continued walking. She followed us! She ignored all the other people streaming out the shop to follow us to the car park. I felt so awkward, like some criminal because I'd bought something from their shop! I'd supported them and they were treating me like some thief. We walked to our car and she came storming after us, shouting "wait!" It was so embarrassing. She eventually caught up to us but by this time, my husband was so livid, he got into the car and started driving off, but I stayed behind to give the woman my slip. She stood scanning it for ages, like she deliberately wanted to annoy us. I don't know if they rescan every item that we buy. I have no idea. She didn't even check our package. All she wanted to do was rescan the till slip we'd been given. My husband was furious, as you can well imagine, and it didn't help him face the long journey home.

It truly is a humiliating process which makes honest patrons of a business feel abused as they exit the shop. Some places insist on just stamping your till slip as you go out the door and don't even bother to check what's in your bag. Tell me please, what is the purpose of this? Are they not able to tally their sales from the cash registers? Are their organisational systems so bad that they can't do simple business while making things unpleasant and tiresome for their customers?

2. The harassment at the door entering the shop!

Okay, this one doesn't bother me as much as I sometimes manage to slip by these ones without them noticing. But when you enter a shop here in South Africa, carrying a bag from another shop, you have to stop and wait for the security guy / lady at the door to tape the bag closed. Sometimes, they do it so stupidly, I'm sure it wouldn't deter a true thief anyway as it can be pulled open in a moment and other times, they tape up the bag so much that you can't get your stuff out once you reach home, so you have to cut or tear the bag open. What I don't understand is that I often carry my fabric bag in, which I use to carry purchased items from previous shops, but they don't stop me to check those. So, I could stash all manner of items from their shop into this, but they wouldn't know a thing. Really, are there not better ways to ensure shoplifters don't have a go than harassing your honest customers? Can't they plant cameras in the stores? Or hire people to walk around and watch people? Why do we have to work through these scowling individuals who make it hard to go in and out of the store?

3. Honestly, how do you pack your merchandise on the shelves and do you actually hire someone who has any notion of organisation and safety to do the job?

I'm shocked at the poor way things are packed on the shelves. Some stores are a real nightmare. Some clothing stores pack the racks so full that when you take one item off, the rest go tumbling down onto the floor.

And the way items are hung up or displayed is often not conducive to ease of choosing. I went to buy some bras yesterday. What a mission it was to try the different items on! They always make the straps ultra-tight to suit someone whose boobs hang up by their neck. They put these nasty security things on the items which sometimes make them impossible to open and try on. Now, let me not talk about the great disparity between different items of the same size. I had to try on so many bras and it took me ages to open them up to try on. Don't they realise that most, if not all women don't have boobs by their neck? Why don't they loosen the straps to make them "try-on-able?"

Grocery store shelves are so narrow and they stack two cans of baked beans or cat sardines or boxes on top of each other, so tightly so that you can't get them out without putting everything else in your hand down and manoeuvring and wriggling the item sideways and all manner of strange angles to get it out without knocking over the whole lot and denting the other cans in the process.

Sometimes the merchandise is put so high up that even someone six-feet tall would struggle to get it down without standing on a stool or ladder or calling someone from somewhere in the shop to get a ladder to bring it down. Yesterday, my husband and I went to a home store where we'd been given a voucher gift for our 20th wedding anniversary. What was meant as a pleasant, fun shopping experience, in certain ways became annoying. We were looking at buying new dinner plates so my husband wanted to look at a box of four plates. But they were so high up, that even on tiptoes, he couldn't reach them. Not to mention the risk of them being breakable. Then he found a set lower down (notice only one set) but he couldn't get them out the shelf as there was a lip on the top and bottom of the shelf, holding the item captive inside the shelf. With much manipulation and difficult manoeuvring, he eventually got it out. We also wanted to look at some other items but they were all boxed. They didn't leave a set out on display so we had to fiddle with the tape of a sealed box so as not to tear it, so we could look at the items inside. Then we had to seal it carefully afterwards. All the while, concerned a shop assistant would complain at us for opening something up.

Not to mention the many times things are put in dangerous and precarious places. My husband is also a safety officer and the things he's noticed in shops! Well, let's say - not very safe.

4. Cleaning is more important than the customer having a relaxed shopping experience.

Instead of arranging for shift workers to clean the shops after trading hours, cleaners do their job while we're in the shop. Sometimes, they stick up their "wet floors" sign and we have to avoid the section we need to go in or we promptly ignore the sign and walk there anyway. Other times, they get in our way with their mop and big bucket, making it hard to navigate the aisles. But the worst is when they get annoyed with the shopper for walking on their wet floor and huff and puff and roll their eyes at us because we just want to buy things from the shop to give them the sales they need to pay their employees (including cleaning lady herself.)

One day, a woman with some fancy floor-cleaning device stood staring at us in the one shop where I was looking at sale clothes on a rack. She gave us the beady eye, waiting for us to get out of there so she could push her machine past us. By the way, there was plenty of room for her machine, but for some reason, us being near her was an issue. We refused to budge. I was the shopper. I was the one who helped to pay her salary. What was her problem? I'm not sure what happened then, but she moved to park herself in the walkway and another customer wanted to walk past but she refused to budge. She kept this angry scowl on her face. Eventually the other lady got so angry with her and spewed a whole lot of words out at her. My husband and I couldn't believe how much the cleaning lady thought that she owned the floor space of the shop and that the customers were just an annoyance.

I'm truly disappointed about the state of retail in this country. I have to say some shops are a pleasure to shop at most of the time like the Pick 'n Pay down the road and Bargain Books and possibly some high-class shops in the big cities. But the big retailers who have large franchises and some of the little independent stores in our town need to catch a wake-up soon!

Why Vinegar is a Staple in my Home

Huh? What did you say? You may be wondering why I wrote such a weird thing in the title of this blog.

That's because I'm in the mood for blogging about random stuff for a while. Yes, I know I'm a romance writer, but I also have things to say about life which don't pertain to writing. Contrary to some opinions, writing isn't my whole life. I have quite a bit going on outside it.

This is why the simple, rather cheap and elemental product (vinegar) is now a staple in my home and why I always have a big bottle of it on hand:

1. It makes a great fabric softener which doesn't clog up my washing machine with those funny, waxy flaky things that stick to my lovely white clothes.

I have a top loader which is great for a family of five and for someone who hates washing things by hand and carting heavy, dripping clothes and blankets through my house to hang up outside. The machine can take a blanket or two in one load and spins a large amount of the moisture off first so I can take it outside to hang up without dripping all over the floor. But top loader's have a weakness - after a few months, horrible waxy, grey, gungy flakes suddenly spew out of somewhere and land up all over the load of washing. It's best to shake them off once the clothes are dry else they can smear all over the garments, making them look dirtier than they did before the wash. Then I discovered that you can use vinegar as a fabric softener instead of buying the expensive softener bottles at the store. I put about a quarter cup in, add a few drops of lavender oil inside to cut the strong vinegar smell and it makes the clothes soft and fluffy. It's cheap even with the lavender oil which lasts at least six months. And added bonus - I no longer get those flaky things.

2. It's great for cleaning bath rings.

Before I run a bath, I spray vinegar on the tub, then wipe clean with water. I bought a cheap spray bottle and filled it up with the acid. It does two things - helps get rid of residual dirt from the last bath or the kitty's paws or whatever happened to land up in there. And it balances the ph in the bath water, hence no yukky thrush which us ladies are prone to get when something is too alkaline. Store-bought bathroom cleaners are very alkaline which doesn't do well for our nether regions. Vinegar is great! Sure, it stinks the room out a little but soon the soap smells take over.

3. It's magic in baking.

Ever heard of using vinegar instead of eggs in a recipe? They basically work the same and you don't get to taste it against all that yummy sugar and butter, etc. So when you forgot to buy eggs or Aunt Lucy is allergic to them, you could always substitute 1 tablespoon vinegar for an egg. I'm also gluten intolerant but if I soak wheat flour in a one or two tablespoons of vinegar and milk or water for 12-24 hours, I can eat wheat bread and biscuits without any hassle to my tummy. Strange, I can have slices of this bread without a problem but I have a bit of flour in a store-bought gravy and I feel sick!

4. Vinegar truly is a marvel with cleaning things. My new discovery is freshening the dishwasher. I don't know about you, but I love my dishwasher. Being a family of five with three hungry teenagers and preferring home-cooked, balanced meals over take-outs and rushed, slopped-together food, we generate lots of dishes. On top of that, whenever I bake, I have to make a gluten-free version of it for myself. Unfortunately, my family hates gluten-free baked goodies, so I couldn't just make one kind. So, we have lots of dishes every day - piles in fact. Not that I bake every day, but you get the picture, I'm sure. So, the dishwasher is a godsend indeed. But after a while, it gets grungy inside and doesn't look sparkly and new and smell fresh anymore. Thanks to a wonderful blog I follow, I found a quick and easy way to get it looking and smelling like new. Simple - put a cup of vinegar in a glass jug on the top shelf of an empty dishwasher and do a normal, hot load. When you open up, the jug will be full to the brim of brownish water, but the machine will sparkle and shine and smell a whole lot better.

Oh, and it tastes wonderful on fried chips or in a salad dressing. Or even sweet and sour sauces.

Do you know any other helpful uses for plain old vinegar? I'd love to hear them in the comments.