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Business Analysis & Features

Kevin Rawlinson: Comet staff are perfectly polite. The reason the company is in administration is that there are just very few customers to actually serve


The quality of its staff’s customer service has been maligned in the past – some even lay some of the blame for the company's current predicament on the issue. A visit to one of London’s Comet stores today appeared to point to a more fundamental problem, though: The staff were perfectly polite, there were just very few customers to actually serve.

Customers at around midday today could almost have had a staff member each and some staff looked thoroughly bored. They were also tragically under-informed. One said he had been told nothing about plans to close down the stores, the very real possibility of which was confirmed to the media today.

There were no outward signs of the strife the ailing firm is going through at the south east London store today. It sits in a retail park off Old Kent Road. It is soulless and formulaic, but then which retail park is not?

The Comet branch shares its modest brick building with a Halfords and is sandwiched between a B&Q and a McDonald’s; retail park staples, all.

Inside, the shelves were still fully stacked with electronic equipment today, offering no hint of an impending closure. But there was an almost eerie atmosphere as the handful of customers milled around among the HD televisions and camera equipment.

Customers rattled around inside the store, by no means cavernous. Upstairs, where the kitchen appliances were stocked, there was one person. Downstairs was faring slightly better, with a few customers browsing, a couple more in conversation with staff, three of whose colleagues were stood behind a counter staring into space, apparently with no-one to serve.

Posing as a shopper, within a few moments The Independent was approached by a member of staff who asked if he could help. Told ‘no thanks’, he took the hint without resorting to the annoying shop assistant habit of hovering just a little too long.

By the time another staff member approached later, some help was indeed required – and welcomed. A rubbish joke was tendered, a dutiful laugh returned as change by the staff member. Standard shopping etiquette.

Later, the same man was heard to tell a colleague that he thought there was no point worrying about the axe management has said is hovering over them because there was nothing they could do about it. A fellow worker was similarly ill-informed of a situation which threatens his livelihood, saying that he had no idea what was going on, before turning his attention back to camera lenses.

He will be hoping that when his managers do get round to telling him what is going on, the news will be good. But, on today's evidence, the outlook is not.