Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Primark Oxford Street: Actual Hell on Earth

When I heard about the mayhem of the grand opening of this branch, I found it slightly disturbing, but wasn't entirely surprised. Every Primark store is busy - the bigger the branch, the fuller the heaving throng of shoppers desperate for a bargain. It's been open for over three years now, and I only just recently managed to summon enough nerve to wander in.

I've been on an internship with Echo Brand Design, whose offices are on Oxford Street just over a block away from Primark-zilla. It's summer, so there are a lot of tourists and holiday-makers, which only adds to the chaos and disorganisation. It's odd, because there are staff everywhere - but they just can't keep up with the trails of destruction left by customers with little regard for the once neatly folded stacks of £4 t-shirts, or the effort that goes into keeping them that way.

It's almost as if the immense workforce are trapped, repeating their never-ending chores as if they were one of the damned in Hades' underworld - sentenced to fold and re-fold forever, but it will never be finished. I can't imagine how late they have to stay after closing time to have everything perfect for opening the next day - only to see it all trashed again within 30 seconds of opening the doors!

So my first experience of the Oxford St. branch will probably be my last. If I ever dare to venture in again, it would have to be an early visit, before peak times. Sounds stupid, but it really is like rush hour in there. But the point is, I HATE OXFORD STREET PRIMARK! I can usually only stand a Primark store for a short amount of time as it is. I wont bother with the queues for the changing room, as I find it easier to return it if it's no good. The shouty, chavvy tweenagers attempting to totter around on the only high heels they could afford are revolting. But this particular branch is LITERALLY HELL ON EARTH. Apologies for the excessive caps lock internet shouting, but I really feel the need to stress this exact point.

The store itself is heeeuuuge. But as I mentioned previously, more square ft. = more crazed shoppers. So the feeling that hit me the instant I walked in was claustrophobia. I have to explain one thing - it's not Primark I hate (although their manafacturing methods are rather questionable) it's the customers. Or rather, what they turn into when surrounded by mass bargains.

I have to say, and I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but the tourists are the bigger culprits when we're discussing a lack of behavioural decency. Sure, the local branches have their fair share of idiots, but times that by 100 and you'll get an idea of the mentality of the 'customers' in the Oxford St. branch. The insanity is magnified.

The moment you step through those doors, you can wave goodbye to logic and sense. A primal instinct washes over you, a need to gather as many bargains as you can to stay alive - the more you have in your basket, the higher your rank in the food chain. In all seriousness, there is a definite difference in attitude with shoppers. Us Brits are notorious for being polite, not as polite as the Japanese perhaps but less rude than other cultures. So why does this not apply in Primark?

I was absolutely disgusted, and angered at the way customers were behaving. It's like they were completely blinkered, looking only at cheap goods and not the people around them. I'm a very conscientious shopper - I've worked in retail for years, so I know how to duck and weave through crowds and I also grew eyes in the back of my head. I know to be aware of people, watch where they're going and I'm very polite - maybe too polite now I think about it. So I had to be a bit less polite and completely on my guard in Primark.

People will attempt to walk through you, vacant expression on their face, caught up in a low-low-prices trance. With no concern for others, they will barge straight into you, no apology, no eye contact. Fair enough, you expect some treatment like this, especially in a tourist hub like Oxford Street. But when every single person except you is doing it, you start to feel like the only one in a zombie outbreak who hasn't been bitten yet. I'm usually a very polite person, don't mind waiting in queues, very nice to staff (I know what it's like to be on the receiving end) but I was really beginning to feel my blood boil. I found myself shouting on the inside, "get out of the f*****g way, you dozy idiot!", "watch where you're going for f**k's sakes!" and "move, d******d!". Yes, very sweary. Shameful thoughts - but this is what it does to you, I couldn't help it!

Even recalling the atmosphere now is making me feel irritable. I can't tell you how many people were awarded an imaginary bitch-slap/shoving from inside my head. It's mindless consumerism at its worst - or should I say, most effective.

Here are a few of the appalling things I witnessed:

  • Families of tourists with several huge baskets (big enough to fit a person in) tossing away the articles inside, whilst counting a running total in their native tongues. This was done in the middle of the floor of course, or the bottom of an escalator.
  • Women fighting over a garment - I myself had a near miss with a hanger in the eye. They have no qualms about barging in front of you - and I mean literally elbowing you out of the way to occupy the space you were just standing in, as you rummage through a rack for your size.
  • A couple having a blazing row - she was crying. I saw them on both floors - obviously shopping in Primark was a priority on this occasion.
  • A girl (pushing past me of course) grabbing handfuls of (at least twenty) pairs of their £1 nerd glasses. I'm thinking eBay/market stall? Quite clever actually, but still rude.
  • As I was queuing, a pair of women barged through the line to ask some people ahead of us if they would take their items to the till if they gave them the money for it. Luckily the person they asked had sense and said no. Queue like the rest of us plebs, obviously no-one's getting special treatment in a place like this!
I also felt it necessary to keep a good grip on my handbag as well, places like that must be a good pick-pocketing opportunity - it just didn't feel safe among the herds of primitive beasts. It won't take long for you to feel annoyed, but for the purposes of experimentation I decided to look around and really get the full experience. I'd gone in looking for something in particular, which I didn't find, but I did find a ballet cardigan, in beige, that I'd been wanting to add to my wardrobe. I went upstairs, immediately regretted it, but felt that I'd have to go through the whole thing because I really wanted the cardi. But when faced with the prospect of the huge queue, full of people with armfuls of you-could-fit-a-person-in-them-baskets, your courage and will is instantly diminished. But I soldiered on.

I'd had a quick look around the accessories, because I love sparkly things (obviously) and found a pretty ring with two large flowers that covers the fingers either side (knuckle duster style rings very popular at the moment) so I picked that up.


As I then had two items, I felt I could actually justify braving a wait in the queue a little bit more. It snaked around the partitions and then around the floor. To the credit of the staff, they were very efficient and obviously adept at dealing with a high volume of customers with an average item count of 50-something. With every till at this paypoint manned, I waited in line for 14 minutes. Along the way I passed the stand with all the nerd glasses and picked a pair up for Tom, who'd been wanting some (and barge-y girl came along too). I was dealt with quickly - I think the staff must love it when someone comes along with only a couple of bits, instead of folding a mountain of garments as if they were in a prison laundry.

I'd paid for my items, they were bagged and I had my receipt. I could now make my bid for freedom! Yeah, right. It took me a further five minutes to just get out of the damn building!! And all the while muttering curse words under my breath at the vacuous, idle tits in my way. An extra few seconds and I think I may have had an assault charge on my hands. I really think they should have a system where they let 100 people in at first, then apply a one-in, one-out policy.

My advice: avoid. Unless this sort of environment sounds like a relaxing vacation to you. In which case please don't go shopping when I do.

(I've given myself a headache at the memory alone now...)

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