All hail Mary Portas Secret Shopper: vote with your wallet and don’t accept crap customer service any longer

By Aisling | February 3 2011 | 88 Comments

It is with undisguised relish that I have been watching the latest outing of Mary Portas. She’s intelligent, super stylish and so on top of things it’s unreal.

In short I want to be exactly like her when I grow up.

With her common sense intellect she cuts straight to the chase in every situation. I was absolutely enthralled by her last series in which she told hapless shop owners where exactly where they were going wrong and how to fix problems. Like Gordon Ramsey in Kitchen Nightmares or Sarah Beeny in countless property makeover shows, Mary sees the blindingly obvious instantly. Changing deeply entrenched habits is not as easy as it looks when a business owner has operated in a certain way for years.

In her first episode she tackled what she calls “fast fashion” – chain stores where the clothes cost half nothing and rely on volume to give them their massive profits. Pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap in other words.

And here’s he bit that got me. Mary was incensed at the lack of customer service in stores like Primark, New Look and others operating similar models. But I honestly don’t expect any customer service in places like this. Help in the changing rooms? Yeah right. Tidy displays? Pull the other one. Friendly staff? Bahaha.

So that’s how bad it’s got. We have been “trained” to not expect any level of customer service whatsoever and Mary reckons that this is absolutely unacceptable. The least we should expect is a Hello, a friendly smile and an offer of help.

Now that’s not too much to ask is it? But we’re not getting it. And it’s not the fault of individual staff – there’s not enough of them, they’re underpaid and badly trained. It’s the fault of the store who are making HUGE profits. And not giving a flying f**k about the people who are making them rich – us, the customer.

In later episodes Mary moved on to tackling bad customer service of an entirely different sort. Areas notorious for pushy sales people and mis-selling are mobile phones and sofas – and she showed that they quite blatantly don’t care what they sell you, once individual salespeople make their commission and get you out the door.

What do you think? Are you enjoying Secret Shopper?

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88 Replies to "All hail Mary Portas Secret Shopper: vote with your wallet and don’t accept crap customer service any longer"

  • tcup says:

    love mary portas what is she exactly though? i know she in branding and that, but like what is her job?

    but she’s class like she’s dead right about customer service. I was in topshop in cork recently waiting to be served at the till there was one girl at the till she was dealing with a customer now the girl behind the till was grand but she was on the phone for ages looking for something, and no one else came over to take for my clothes i was waiting for a good ten minutes in the end i just lobbed the jumper on the counter and walked out.

  • Lauraloo says:

    I love Mary P! She’s so on the ball wit everything. Loved the set up phone shop last night, way less intimidating and the real phones were great instead of blocks with nails in the middle of them!

  • Aphrodite says:

    tcup – she has a marketing/communications/pr agency that advises retail clients. She’s worked her way up from Saturday jobs in Topshop and window displays in other places. It was her who got Harvey Nicks featured in Ab Fab all the time!

  • speccy says:

    Love, love, love MP! She talks perfect sense and yet it always amazes/ horrifies the folk she’s talking to. Yer man last night was hilarious- it was sooo difficult for him to admit she was right :) She seems to think about real people and not just anonymous ‘customers’, and that makes all the difference.

  • SJP's Missing Mole says:

    Didn’t see the phone one last night. But did see the previous one. I have to say that I find the queues at Penneys/Primark long but they move so fast that you’re served in no more than 5 mins. Even at Christmas. So unlike her, I don’t have a problem with them. But that’s in Ireland – God knows about the UK.

    I think she’s cool though – albeit a bit…..inflexible? It’s kinda her way or they’re choosing to be AN ABJECT FAILURE!!! ;-P

    I also Covet every.single.jacket.she.wears…….

  • tcup says:

    does she have any jobs going?

  • witchgirl says:

    Love her but unfortunately keep missing this show – going to have to catch up on it on repeats or something. Have to say though that someone obviously trained the staff in Forever 21 well. Have never gone in there without a staff member asking (nicely & not pushy) if I needed help, the changing room staff are nice & the ones on the tills chatty even when it’s mental busy on a Saturday. Think American shops (in America) do customer service better than us.

  • tcup says:

    house of fraser in Dundrum can be good too they always approach me and ask if i ok with everything. well apart from the Superdry area in there they just stand around and talk. but there’s lush who just annoy the feck out of ya with there overly friendly “HELLO’S!!”

  • daiseeboo says:

    Love the show, and her previous shows. Missed last nights ep but she is fantastic at what she does. None of it is rocket science really but she just points out the obvious things that will improve a business. I sometimes want to scream at the people she is dealing with though, when they drag their heels and think they are doing things better than she could. Wake up and smell the coffee folks. As a nation we accept and worse still expect poor service because sadly it has become the norm. I have recently started to leave restaurants if the service is bad when we are seated. I do feel embarrassed when I do it, sitting there with menu in hand and then suddebly getting up and leaving but I don’t think I should sit there and put up with it anymore when I can go and spend my money elsewhere. I also do it in stores if I am being ignored. (I did give in the other day in BT’s though as I badly needed a new foundation). I have recently experienced some of the worst customer service in Smyth’s toystore though. I will be buying my nieces and nephews Christmas presents elsewhere from now on if I can help it.

  • Aphrodite says:

    You know who has brilliant customer service – Coast. Their changing rooms are really nice and the staff are great at getting you different sizes/ scouring the shop for something else you might like

    But then again they are much more expensive than the shops Mary was highlighting.

  • Aphrodite says:

    Oh and just thinking – Dunnes seem to have the worst queues
    As do Boots

  • tcup says:

    can she come over to BT’s actually and train those MAC girls on how to give good service. They seem to be ok during the week but wkends forget it, i know they are busy in there and there space is small but like c’mon a simple hello can i help you.

  • BerG says:

    I’ve said it before, but i’ll say it again, Mary Portas is my hero. Absolutely love her straight talking approach. There is a touch of the Irish Mammy about her the way she takes command and whips everyone into shape. A lot of it is common sense. Really enjoying the programs, have a great laugh when its on. The aside comments to camera are hilarious. The end results on the revamped shops have been amazing.
    I have been taking her advice and placing my wallet back into my bag and walking when i get unacceptable customer service. Have also let people know that their service has not been up to scratch.
    Wish she could do a program over here on the markup we have to endure on beauty products. Would love to know how she would go about tackling it. Im sure, as always, it would be awsome.

  • BerG says:

    tcup: I know, its so belittling, i was left standing there the other day ignored for about 5mins. I had time on my side for once so stuck it out. One girl was working on some documentation, and another was pottering behing the till, she looked at me and looked away. Then the girl writing looked at her companion and i could see she was annoyed with her for not acknowledging me. Then she took pity on me and was very pleasant. I was just enquiring when the Wonder Woman collection could be expected to hit BT’s.
    After or around May apparently in case anyone is wondering.

  • Sarah says:

    I haven’t seen it but I absolutely hate pushy salespeople – esp mobile phone people. I used to work in a phone shop, and we did get commission, but I never pushed a rubbish phone on people. Lots would come in looking for one phone and I wasn’t going to just sell it to them without telling them that there’s a better alternative that was probably cheaper. I never had a customer come back with problems, and I also set up and registered the vast majority of them, and I think it made an impression on people that I was honest with them! I don’t see the point in ripping people off. Also I have guilt complex so I can’t do it.

  • ShuGal says:

    Agree about F21- always friendly & helpful, when asking for different sizes/styles I have never gotten the usual “It’s just what’s out on the rails”.
    I was once in the middle of a file & polish, girl doing nails got a call on her mobile,she siad it was her friend calling from Oz & answered it & left to continue her converssation- 5/10 mins later I’m still sitting there with one hand done with the girl outside so I left- when is that ever acceptable?

  • Eilis says:


    That’s probably because she had one of her own, BerG!

    I do love her and saw the first of this series about the budget fashion place. I didn’t see the sofa one but I’d never shop in one of those places anyway and watched the first part of the phone one but they’re not my sort of place either so switched over to something else.

    I don’t know how anybody bears Primark. I only go in occasionally when the daughters are home. H&M stores are just as bad in my experience.

  • Eilis says:

    Sorry, I was trying to quote from BerG’s post but it didn’t come out. Must work differently here!

  • Eilis says:

    And now I realise it makes no sense – I was commenting on how much like a Irish mammy Mary Portas was and I was just pointing out that she had an Irish mammy of her own!

    I’ll get me coat…..

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