Actually, here’s something I don't love at all, that intrusive way shops always ask for personal details when you are only buying an apple, a lightbulb or whatever. I never saw consumer champion-ing as my role in life but after a hairy encounter with a Penzance coiffeur, I decided enough was enough! This was published in the Daily Telegraph in August and provoked letters in the paper as well as an enormous number of emails, all saying they agreed with me!
Why does retail want my details?
It was on a sunny Friday morning in Majestic Wine Warehouse that my problems began. I’d popped in to replenish our stocks of Cotes de Provence rose. When I handed over my debit card at the till, the assistant asked for all my details – address, phone number, email, mobile phone - to put on computer. When I asked why, as I didn’t need credit or to have the stuff delivered, he said it was so I could receive information about Majestic events, plus a copy of the magazine.
Luckily, my social life is full enough not to require recourse to things run by wine retailers and I buy more magazines than I ever get through, even if the Majestic one has Catherine Zeta Jones on the cover. So I politely turned him down. His evident amazement was less surprising than the implication that my act was unprecedented in the history of the store.
But why? Why should retail outlets casually expect us to divulge personal information; even more amazingly, why do we go along with it? We have, as a nation, fought for personal freedom and the rule of law in two world wars, we have fiercely resisted the onset of ID cards, we see our homes as our castles and we fanatically shred every last supermarket receipt.
And yet in the shops we’re expected to hand over our e mails, addresses and phone numbers like sheep. It even happens in John Lewis! Yes! That national treasure of a store, byword for all that is best and British and decent! But the other day I couldn’t even buy an ironing board there without relinquishing name, rank and serial number. “It’s a customer requirement,” said the assistant. But as I was taking the board with me, why? Is there something innately suspicious about people who iron?
What’s fine in the doctor’s surgery or passport application office is not fine in the high street if you’re not asking for credit or not arranging delivery. Yet, for refuseniks like myself, shopping is becoming a Stalinist nightmare. And while I doubt any genuinely nefarious use of details thus garnered, I may have spotted a link between giving info willy nilly and those tidal waves of junk mail and Nigerian banks in one’s inbox. Why should we hand over our privacy for others to profit?
It all came to a head, as it were, in a hair salon in Cornwall last week. Having a rare hour by myself (husband and children having gone off to see Toy Story 3), I decided to get my hoary locks trimmed. Scene as follows:
Me (entering salon) Could you trim my hair please?
Spiky-haired middle-youth on reception desk: Yeah, sure, no problem. I’ll just take a few details down on the computer (fingers poised over keyboard) Name, address?
Me: Do you mind if I don't? I just want a haircut.
Him (clearly stunned): But we always take people's details. We need them to keep in touch with our customers.
Me: I'd rather not. All I want is a haircut.
By now the whole salon was staring at me and it was tempting to turn on my flipflopped heel. However, I felt my position was reasonable and I wanted my hair cut. Whereupon the following conversation took place:
Haircutter (called Don, snip-snipping with his scissors): Look, about that computer thing, we only take personal details to keep in touch with our customers, okay? Build up a relationship. Keep them informed.
Me: Yes. But I just didn't want to, that was all.
Don (still agitated): We're not going to do anything with it. This information you don’t want to give us. Nothing funny or anything.
(I don't reply)
Don: So, you on holiday?
Me (relieved he has changed subject): Yes
Don (sarcastically): Incognito, eh?
Me: Look, Don, I think you should just get over me not wanting to give you all my details. It isn't necessary.
Don (aggressively): OK, OK, I am over it, OK. I am. Over it. Look, I'll just cut in complete silence, shall I? Happy with that?
As Don’s sharp scissors were millimetres from my neck, I actually wasn’t that happy. I didn’t want to be the first martyr to the cause of the right of the individual to shop without full disclosure. The cut was finished in sulky silence. I paid (in cash) and left.
I will go on with my campaign against this invasive lunacy, however. And I invite you all to join me. Just say no. Shopping is a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. It should not provoke an identity crisis.