Of all last week's doings, it was, to we shopaholics, those of Mr Robert Caton which rather caught the eye. He is the Hampshire man who drove his Rolls-Royce into the window of an Andover Tesco, reportedly in retaliation for the non-delivery of a mattress. According to his wife, a Tesco Direct van had brought the bed, but not its upholstery. And so, after Mr Caton visited his local store and failed to get satisfaction, he took matters, the law, and steering wheel into his own hands.
Who – on being delivered faulty, wrong, or missing goods – has not toyed with the idea of driving down to the store, crashing a vehicle through its window, demolishing at least two checkouts, and scattering both staff and displays of confectionery? But Mr Caton did not merely toy; he acted. There were witnesses, minor injuries, large shards of evidence, and his dabs were all over the Roller untidily parked by the end of aisle 11. Hampshire Constabulary put two and two together, and he has now been charged with criminal damage, recklessly endangering life, dangerous driving, and failing to provide a specimen. He has been remanded in custody by Basingstoke Magistrates' Court.
His story raises a disturbing prospect: what if Mr Caton is the first of a new breed of Fundamentalist Consumer? Are we heading for a world where no shopkeeper is safe from their fanatical insurgency? Where milkmen are held hostage and forced to make videos renouncing the dairy just because they delivered skimmed when semi was specifically ordered? Where women will go on hunger strike after Superdrug declines to redeem a "10p off voucher" on the new 3-for-2 eyeliner offer? Where shoe shops are firebombed for selling customers the wrong kind of suede cream, and managers of Greggs lynched if a Belgian bun lacks the cherry on top?
It is, if your living is earned behind the till, a palpable anxiety that somewhere out there, elements of what you thought of as a mere rabble of "punters" are now planning revenge for all those years of being fobbed off with sales goods specially bought in, misleading advertisements, and guarantees that prove anything but quibble-free. Have they formed an amorphous cell-like group that will soon be claiming responsibility for attacks on the retail community?
It is, in reality, only a remote possibility. In all likelihood, we consumers will continue to be as gullible as before. We will go on forming large queues outside M&S, lured there by the prospect of buying a pair of faux leopardskin knickers for 1p, only to discover, two hours later, that all that is left at that price are cans of Lilt.
But, as point-of-sale marketing folk know, the important thing is not what is true, but what is believed to be true. And so, there are benefits for us till-fodder if retailers think that a People's Front for the Liberation of Goods At Popular Prices is operating; and that, until all stores subscribe to the PFLGPP's creed that The Customer Is Always Right, they will continue their insurgency. After all, some of their members are very clumsy, and those plate-glass windows look very delicate. Accidents can happen. Know what they mean?
Now, about this suit you sold me....