Today the Guardian’s headline was “Decline of the high street gathers pace as thousands of stores close” and today I found out why.

I went in to Colchester to buy glass cleaning liquid from a High Street store, having seen it advertised on their website: “Sorry, that’s only available online; we don’t stock it in the store.”

Then I went to a large clothing retailer to buy trousers: they didn’t have the style I wanted in my size.

I went to the order desk: “Sorry, we can’t order it.”

"Why not?"

"Because it's not in stock.”

"I know it’s not in stock: if it was in stock, it would be on the rack and I could buy it. Since it isn’t in stock, I want to order it."

“But you can’t order it, since it isn’t in stock.”

After more discussion, eventually I prised out the information that if a delivery in that size didn’t happen in the next two weeks, it was unlikely they’d get it.

"OK, then put an order in so if it is received, you’ll let me know."

“But I can’t do that, because it’s not in stock and the system won’t let me place an order unless it is in stock. But you can keep looking online yourself to see if stock comes in.”

At this point the will to live was fast disappearing and I gave up.

Both stores have lost not just a sale but a customer: surely that should be important?

So it’s not surprising that high street stores are disappearing.

Memo to any stores that actually want to retain customers: Don’t tell customers to go online unless you want them to go online in the future and not visit the store again.

Instead, apologise it’s not in stock and offer to get it in within a few days, for collection.

Don’t ever say “the system won’t let me”. That is a miserable cop-out for: “I can’t be bothered."

If the system won’t do something out of the ordinary, such as placing an order, pass on to your supervisor that the system needs to be changed and do it manually, e.g by writing the details on a piece of paper and checking yourself every day, rather than telling the customer to go away and keep checking themselves.

Alan Wilson
President Road, Colchester