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French shop owners - what price decent online service?

Samantha David argues that if small shop owners made just a tiny fraction of the online customer service effort of a certain global internet market place, they would  have happier clients - and make much more money

26 November 2020
By Samantha David

I love the slow way of life in France; sleepy shops, plumbers on endless holiday, mechanics in training or on strike, and shops closed for daily two-hour lunch breaks. 

It's wonderful. Work isn't the priority. It's all about quality of life.

Daydreaming isn't probably not very profitable, but that's their business. Who am I to complain if businesses aren't interested in making a profit?

It can be frustrating, though. During lockdown a friend emailed her local independent bookshop with a list of children's books about witches which she wanted to buy for her six-year-old daughter. We're talking Gobbolino, here. Nothing sinister.

A customer with a list of books and a fat credit card requesting to click-and-collect... you'd have thought the bookshop would have been thrilled, wouldn't you? But no, back came an email refusing to sell the requested books on the grounds that witches are not proper reading matter for a six year old.

I have just collected a ring from the jeweller's because, after six weeks, they still haven't done an estimate, let alone the repair. "Ah well, we've got a lot of work," said the girl. Good for you, but I just don't want to wait any longer. But that's France.

The thing is, not everyone takes the same approach. There are others who forego lunches, holidays, training days, strikes, and time off to make a few more euros. 

They build incredible websites, they work 24 hours, they will give the best customer service in the world. They take orders, reserve items, remind you that you enquired about something, suggest other products you might want to buy.

They keep wedding lists, wish lists, and lists of everything you've ever bought just in case you want to re-order.

Evidently, these workaholic fiends make a lot of money, but complaining that people who work harder and offer better deals have stolen your business seems weak to me - and in today's globalised world, pretty futile, too.

Either shops need to shape up, build decent websites, sharpen their customer service and get with the programme, or accept that they live fantastic leisurely lives, and who cares about profits or what Amazon's Jeff Bezos is up to?

Ah... yes, Jeff Bezos. He exploits his workers, mistreats and underpays them. You're shocked? Employers have always done that - which is why we have employment laws.

If Jeff and gang have found a way round them, it's up to Macron to pass new laws to protect French workers. I would say that's urgently required. How come Amazon's treatment of their workers is legal in France?

But dreaming that Amazon should somehow be dismantled so that French shopkeepers will lose nothing by continuing their much-loved traditions of stroppy service, long lunches, intermittent opening hours, and creaky or non-existent websites... well, that's just a daydream.

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