Some fifteen years ago, I discovered the joys of internet shopping. I can still remember the trepidation as I waited for my first Ebay purchases. Will they be of the great quality they had pledged to be? Was I being conned out of my money? Well, those first purchases proved to be everything I had paid and hoped for. I took to online shopping like the proverbial duck to water, going so far as to set alarms in the middle of the night to excitingly win a bargain, through many, much-contested auctions.
Yay! I can relax and sit at home in my pyjamas and shop at my leisure. I don’t have to trudge through the crowds in Sliema or Valletta, I don’t have to struggle for parking, I can do it whenever, and I can simply search for whatever I (think) I need, look for a better deal for the same item, pay for it and wait for my ever patient post person to deliver.
Ahh! The comfort! But most of all, I no longer had to deal with disgruntled salesgirls, who, at least in my experience, have at best either been trained in customer service in some remote equatorial jungle and whose only interactions have been with a variety of insentient wildlife or if you’re lucky, manage to grunt their way through your shopping experience without being insolent or indifferent. This, at least, was my experience fifteen years ago.
Truth be told, in my latest very few forays out shopping in local stores, customer service has changed by leaps and bounds. It’s no longer such a devastating experience, except for the very odd few who adamantly believe that they are doing you a favour when they’re flogging you their wares. But now, these are thankfully, few and far between.
However, this is not usually enough to get me out of my PJs, abandon my laptop and make the trip to the shops. But sometimes, needs must, and this is how I found myself just this week making the trip to Paola for what I believed would be a quick purchase for that one single item, which in this sweltering heat and with a UV index to rival that of the Equator, is not only necessary but vital to my wellbeing.
But let me explain. I am a vain middle aged woman, who despite knowing full well that the tides of time can never be restrained, I still harbour the illusion that if I took really good care of my skin, I might somehow stem the flow of the multitude of wrinkles which sadly make a new appearance every week. And as someone who by now has become an authority on the subject, I also know for sure, that the sun, especially our sun, is public enemy number one for good skin.
And so, having done my research online, I settled on this miracle sunscreen which at various overseas online outlets was marked at the princely sum of £19.50, plus obviously some £3 for shipping, which roughly translates to some € 26. Could I wait for delivery? No. Not when a simple trip to the grocery store next door could give me sunburn! So, I ventured to one of the leading beauty and perfumery outlets in Paola and of course, they had the exact same item I wanted. To be fair, no amount of internet shopping can beat the actual physical experience of shopping instore; you can actually see the item you are purchasing, something which is not quite possible online. But I digress.
The lovely salesgirl was just about to package my item, when I absent-mindedly asked about the price. Jeez! € 51 for the same product! “Are you sure?”, I had to ask, and yes it was the correct price. Are these people for real? A two hundred percent mark-up for the same product, not considering that when retailing at £19.50, this product is already carrying what I’d imagine to be a decent profit margin. Why this daylight robbery? Of course, one might argue that a physical store has quite a lot of overheads when compared to an online shop; rent, salaries, utilities. That would be quite true, but this kind of mark-up is just plain ridiculous.
This was not the first time that I have shopped locally for an item, only to find that it’s double and sometimes triple the price of the same thing on sale on the internet! How can any retailer, in this day and age, knowing that the purchasing public in its vast majority is more than internet-savvy, put this kind of ludicrous mark-up on his products, knowing full well that prices can be checked and compared any time? Or is it perhaps targeting the albeit small minority who for some reason still regard online shopping with scepticism? Are these few unwitting shoppers making up for decreasing sales and inevitably bearing the brunt (and the cost)? Sales which are now competing heavily with online outlets which can offer much better prices…
I’m no great shakes at economics but would it not make sense, if instead of fleecing the one single, gullible customer who just happens to cross the shop’s threshold, try to attract more clients with better prices which are competitive? In my case, what’s for sure is that after such an unfortunate foray into the retail situation on the island, I will not be abandoning my bookmarked online shopping malls anytime soon…