Why Habitat sucks

UPDATE: Habitat’s manager, Matt, just came to Metrodeco in person to apologise and to explain that he’d been having a bad day. He also offered us a permanent trade discount of 20% in recognition that we are regular customers. Matt and Habitat deserve full credit for listening and for being big enough to admit they got it wrong. Matt was very nice and went to great personal lengths to put things right and we respect him for being a really decent human being, not ‘rude’ and ‘inconsiderate’ as we said below.

Looks like Habitat is fostering a culture of listening and people like Matt are at the forefront of this. Well done and sincere thanks to both.



I’ve just spoken to the rudest, most inconsiderate human being in Brighton’s retail sector.

Anyone who knows Metrodeco will know that we are usually only praise-worthy of other businesses – so this blog might give you an idea of how annoyed we are.

Anyway, having visited Habitat, I arrived home to find that the shop assistant had forgotten to put four cups into the bag he had been filling for me as he wrapped my purchases.

We’d been chatting pleasantly and there was a lot of wrapping to be done so he was probably distracted. Easy mistake to make and I certainly wasn’t going to hold it against him.  Besides, all I’d have to do was call the store and ask for the items to be sent to my home.

Or so I thought.

When I rang a young woman answered (not the rude, inconsiderate person I mentioned above) and confirmed my items were there at the shop. But, to my surprise, when I asked whether they could be delivered, given that it was the cashier’s mistake and that I couldn’t get back to the store easily, she quoted company policies about ‘left items’. Though trying to be pleasant, she was actually very irritating. When I told her what happened, she questioned my version of events, saying “we don’t know that, do we?”. We? Who was ‘we’? I knew exactly what had happened.

She then told me Habitat couldn’t deliver because staff weren’t insured after they left the shop and that it would be an extra expense to the store. What?!? Was I actually hearing this right? I asked to speak to the store manager and the situation deteriorated rapidly.

The patronising, self important, couldn’t-care-less bureaucrat spoke to me as if I was some kind of idiot wasting his precious time.

To make matters worse I didn’t even get a ‘sorry’. Not even a conditional apology, like “we’re sorry if you’re right about what happened”.

This time I was told I had been done ‘a favour’ because Habitat had not re-sold my property or thrown it in the bin. I was told he had to be “objective” about the matter, meaning he would not admit it may have been Habitat’s mistake.

Exasperated by his tone, I asked him if he was  reading from an autocue or an ‘idiot board’.

His reply came straight from the Basil Fawlty School of Customer Services. “Habitat can’t afford autocues. But if you want a board, I can get one from the office.”

Ha, bloody ha.

Just to be clear, most of the staff at this branch in Brighton are charm personified. Over the months I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds stocking my tea shop, Metrodeco, with pretty crockery and never had any problems with sales staff.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the patronising idiocy of the store’s management. I was willing to overlook the first incident, even though I was upset, but enough is enough.

I seriously doubt a company with this style of customer services does something as customer service-orientated as monitor what people are saying about it on the internet.

But if you are reading, Habitat, understand this:

1. I’ll think twice before visiting your store again.

2. If a customer leaves the shop without their shopping, whether it is their fault or not, don’t start quoting paragraph 12, sub-section 4a of the Officious Twerp’s Handbook at them – just be nice.

3. And don’t, whatever you do, no matter how woefully poor your customer service policies are, be patronising, make fun of their frustration and immediately go on the attack. That’s just rude.

Helen Wilkinson, co-owner, Metrodeco.


22 responses to “Why Habitat sucks

  1. Good God, they do think they’re wonderful, don’t they?

    I hope you took the names of the morons you spoke to and send a formal complaint to head office.

  2. I don’t know of any chain stores that would deliver items that had been left behind. They could have been more polite about it, but of course their answer was that they could hold onto them until you can come and get them, that’s just normal isn’t it?

    • Hi Simon, and thanks for reading. Yes, you’re right – most stores wouldn’t send on left items. But we felt that because the assistant had agreed to wrap and pack our goods as part of the service (a service which gives Habitat the good reputation it trades on) and had forgotten to pack some of the goods when he handed the bag over, Habitat has to take some of the blame. It was their mistake and it was a massive inconvenience to us.

      However, it wasn’t their refusal to do this that irked me. What really annoyed me was the rudeness and the thinly-veilled suggestion that I was lying. It’s unnecessary. It would also have been decent to express regret for the inconvenience caused, even if they couldn’t help out. We run a shop and we would never be so rude to a paying customer when they were distressed, even if we thought they were in the wrong.

  3. I can relate to your anger, I had a customer service issue with Marks & Spencers online service a few months back. They wouldn’t back down because the huge error had been made by a partner firm (washing machine) even through I thought I was dealing with M & S direct. The moronic responses of the staff and lack of action reached an all time low. I am still furious months later and they have lost my future business. Often the larger, well known retailers don’t seem to care or train their staff properly. Decided to stick to local, independent shops now where possible as service levels tend to be much better, particularly in Brighton.

    • Hi Carol and thanks for stopping by. It’s great that you are able to speak so positively about small independent businesses in our city – and I, for one, agree. This is a free country and, luckily, when we are treated poorly we can vote with our feet, which hurts companies, like M&S and Habitat far more than an angry phone call.


  4. Hi Helen,
    I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in big retail. I have and (with the odd exception) the default position is to be defensive (which often takes the form/impression of being offensive) in the face of complaints. As an employee it can be very frustrating to work in this kind of environment. The good ones quit and the more cynical ones stick around, put up with/embrace the crap handed down from head office, and get promoted. Hence the manager can often be the most difficult to deal with.
    A good manager wouldn’t have sent you the cups (fraught with potential problems) but should have said ‘Come and get them and we’ll give you a voucher’.
    Take solace in the fact that it’s probably for the best that big businesses are often rubbish at customer service. This is where smaller businesses can excel and succeed.

    • Hi Iain

      Thank you so much for your comment – it was really informative. To be honest, I would have been totally shocked if Habitat had even hinted they would be willing to send out the items, although more than pleased. But a little apology and a good will gesture could have resulted in a very different blog being posted.

      It’s sad to hear that employees are potentially trained to deal with customers this way and explains a lot. Though it doesn’t stop the frustration of being at the end of such behaviour.

      The funny thing is if my staff spoke to customers that way they wouldn’t be working for me for long, but that makes our tearoom a lot nicer place to be as I am sure can be said for other small businesses. Here’s to the independents!


  5. Hi Helen, I love your tea-room and the service you provide there is excellent. I can totally understand your frustrations with this matter, but I think you really have to consider that the tone of your rant and the fact that you admit to asking him if he was reading from an autocue or an ‘idiot board’ is pretty patronising itself . Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but its clear that you’ve ‘inferred’ a lot from what you were told. Policy’s what we expect manager’s to be employed to uphold, isn’t it?

    • Glad you like our tearoom Darwin and I do take your point, my words could have been better chosen and I was irate so will admit I was not at my most charming. But the person in question has a tone and a spiel that could drive a nun to show her knickers in frustration. I know policies are there for a reason but they do not need to come with attitude. I don’t believe in the ‘customer is always right’ approach but I do believe a manager should always be polite. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and making a valid point.


  6. I know exactly who you mean. Only happy when you are spending money beyond that forget it.
    Such a shame as the rest of the staff are really great and friendly which makes it even more strange that he takes that attitude. Is he not inspired by the lovely, relaxed customer response of his staff! And towards a local business who will be connected to other businesses and customers. A really stupid mistake.
    Plus I am just finishing off one of your cakes I bought at the food fair and its amazing!!! So stuff there crockery your cakes are outstanding.

  7. Funnily enough, I think I know who you mean too. I bet he’s a nightmare to work with.

    It will be interesting to see if Habitat improves now that IKEA have sold it. They never really did anything with their ownership of what was once a really interesting and important retail brand. The shops look the same as they have for years, and a lot of the stock is safe and stale (though I too like their crockery and use it in my cafe too). Habitat needs a kick up the rear end for sure.

  8. Back in 1997, I worked for Burtons in Milton Keynes. A lady bought a suit for a wedding and was soon going to be travelling to said wedding. Unfortunately, when she got home, she discovered that the cashier had somehow left the security tag on the trousers. She phoned the store and asked for help. The manager asked me to drive round to her house with a spare security tag removal magnet. Took me about half an hour out of the shop, but we were left with a happy customer.

  9. Despite the ever increasing pressure on independents it’s nice to read the feedback here about customer service being key.

    We are most fortunate to have so many (650ish) independent shops here in Brighton & Hove. However the march of the clone high streets can only be halted if people make use of their local shops.

    My little store sells Sussex hand made cards from Five Dollar Shake for 50 or 60 pence less than a local chain store. I also know the founders and local rep, plus the money stays in the local economy.

    Thanks for the post Helen

  10. Kudos to Matt for setting things straight. Only a nightmare on a bad day then. Apologies Matt.

    I went from working in a flagship Waterstones to managing a very small independent bookshop. It was like stepping out of a airless room onto a Scottish lochside. Best move I ever made, and after a few years that little shop outsold that huge Waterstones on a per sq foot basis. Small can be beautiful.

  11. Alternatively, you could give Shabitat a go? They’re on the Lewes Road, not the easiest place in Brighton to find but definitely the cheapest place to get old furniture and general household clutter. Got the table I’m sitting at now for a fiver! Hurrah for this.

  12. Pingback: Social Media White Noise » Blog Archive » #47: Traveling podcasters

  13. Since you’ve added the update, including a well done and sincer thanks to Matt, might it not be a nice gesture to remove the “Why Habitat Sucks” headline from the piece?

    • Hi Judi,

      I see where you’re coming from but we think it’s an important part of the record of the whole story (from the start), which ends well for Habitat. This is because it shows the true sentiment of the blog when it was originally written. To change the title would be to erase that part of the history, (if that word is not over-inflating a blog that was only read by a few hundred people!). We could, of course, have written an entirely new post with a glowingly praise-worthy headline – but the original blog would still have remained and would have been searchable. At least this way people will not only get one half of what happened.

      Thanks for your contribution.


  14. Looking at some of the people who are made managers in Habitat, it seems to be company policy to promote the ruder, unpleasant people to these positions. The store I worked in needed a good clear out, and I don’t mean of dodgy furniture. Judging by a change of email address, maybe head office got their act together.
    The customer experience described above could be called ‘having an off moment.’ What customers don’t see are the ‘off moments’ every day by some managers towards the staff below them.

  15. Just a brief note to let Habitat and their customers know that the “Customer Service” they provide is a disgrace. I will never purchase or specify anything from your website again. Any company that lies and treats its customers with such utter contempt desreves to be nothing but a commercial failure.

  16. Habitat pay their staff near to minimum wage….i know as i used to work there. It is actually a nightmare to work there. There is no training given what so ever and the management structure is utterly incompetent. There are a few individuals that are good, but they soon leave. So don’t expect anything good of Habitat as a company. They do not have the customer’s interests at heart or their employees, which is why they are going to go bust…..sometime in 2011….wait and see.

  17. I’m having a dispute with Habitat at the moment, so I’m unwilling to give details, but basically they have been incompetent and unhelpful throughout. It took FIVE MONTHS to get a response from customer services. For a company of Habitat’s size, that’s disgraceful.

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