A curious wee interlude. . .
Having recently redecorated our spare room, converting it to a dual-purpose guest room-cum-study, I was out shopping in my favourite department store last week when I spotted the perfect little bedside table. I couldn’t believe my luck. The soft green colour would match exactly with our new colour scheme. Or, I could choose a similar model in mustard, which would go with the new lamp and the existing light shade.
It turned out I was a little naïve regarding expected procedure, as I drew some curious looks when I lifted the very lightweight table and carried it to the till. Approaching the desk, I apologised, saying, “I wasn’t supposed to carry this over, was I?” I pulled a suitably sheepish expression.
The assistant excused my ignorance and blamed the situation on the shortfall of her colleague for not springing to my aid.
“Would you like me to put it back where I took it from?” I asked.
But, with a gentle I'm-here-to-help-you voice she explained that she would call said colleague who would happily replace the table for me and another one, which I would need to collect in a couple of days’ time, would be procured from the warehouse. Or, I could have it delivered, if I preferred. Would that be okay?
“Oh,” I said, crestfallen. “Isn’t it possible for me to take this display one, then?”
“Oh, no,” the assistant told me. The sudden disapproval in her expression suggested I was completely insane. “We need that one as a showroom item.”
“Okay, then. In that case I’ll collect it when it comes in, thank you.” The assistant’s fingers were busy at the till.
“Hm, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m afraid there aren’t any in the local warehouse.”
Ah, here’s my chance, I thought. If I’m a bit cheeky, surely she’ll let me take this one. I mean, if there are none in the warehouse, what’s the point of this one being here?
“So, does that mean I can take this display one, after all?” I asked.
“Oh, no.” She was aghast. “You can’t do that. I’ll order one in from the main warehouse for you.”
“Ah, thank you,” I said, smiling. “That’ll be great.”
She returned my smile and I pulled out my debit card and watched her type. Then she squished her face up.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “There aren’t any available to order at the moment.”
I was disappointed but I thought, surely, then. . .
“So, I could, in fact, take this one, if there are none left in the warehouse and none available to order?”
“No. You can’t do that,” she said again.
“Well.” I sighed. “That’s such a shame. If there are none available, it seems a little odd that you would need to keep this one for display. Never mind, I’ll just order one from the online store. That’s what I’ll do. Thank you for trying for me.”
“Ohhh,” she said, and puffed out her lips, and I could see she didn’t want to tell me the next part.
“I’m afraid this item isn’t available to order online.”
“Then,” my patience was running out by now, “please can you explain why this table is even on the shop floor? You’re telling me it isn’t available in the warehouse, locally or centrally. It isn’t available for me to order online. And I certainly can’t take this one which sits here in the shop so that customers can come and look at something which isn’t available to buy.”
“Well, it’s on display because it’s part of a new line and we will be selling them.”
“I see,” I say. “I know what, I’m sure you could order one for me, you know, for when they do eventually arrive, and give me a call when it comes in. I can wait.”
“No. I’m afraid they just aren’t available to order at the moment because we don’t know when they’ll be coming in.”
“You’re joking?” She’s not, if the shake of her head is anything to go by. “And I can’t take this one?” She’s still shaking her head, not saying anything, just giving me a slightly pitying, slightly exasperated look. And she’s getting fed up with me, so she’s calling over one of her colleagues.
“Mark, can you come here? Can you take this item off the floor please?” Then, to me, “I’ll make sure it’s taken off the shop floor.”
“Thank you. I think that’s a great idea,” I say and walk away.
Exactly a week later, this morning, I went back to the department store. (Incidentally, she was right. I checked online. The table I like so much is ‘out of stock’.)
I tracked all around the furniture department. At first, I couldn’t see the table and I thought, brilliant, she did have it removed from the shop floor. I was disappointed though. I really fancied seeing that table in my new room. Then I spotted the mustard version. Then. . . I spotted the green one. There it was, in a slightly different place from last week. Then, I spotted three members of staff having a conversation. Two young men and one young woman, with her back to me. I thought, Hey, I’m going to do this properly this time. I approached the nearest member of staff, the woman, and cleared my throat to gain her attention.
“Excuse me,” I said. She turned round and I recognised the unflappable assistant from the week before.
“I’d like to buy this table, please?” I said.
“Oh, well, erm, that table isn’t available to buy at the moment…”