The Battle of the Brussels Sprouts

BAH, HUMBUG! For the first time ever I haven’t braved the heaving crowds of frantic last-minute shoppers to do my Christmas shopping – I’ve done the lot online. Impressed?

Jealous? Think I’m a smart arse? Do I care?

As you read this column, I’ll be sitting under my ivory and gold decorated tree, wrapping all my Christmas pressies, sipping mulled wine (well, I suppose that depends on how early you catch your business a.m.) and singing along – badly, it has to be said – with Bing Crosby and Cliff Richard. I’ll be listening out not for the sound of jingling sleigh bells overhead, but the diesel engine that heralds the arrival of my Christmas groceries.  Glory be to Tesco.com, that’s all I can say. (Although I would urge Sainsbury’s to get a shifty on, they’re losing a faithful following with their inability to deliver an online service anywhere beyond the M25.)

A nice young chap will carry all my perfectly packed shopping into the kitchen, wish me a merry Christmas, I’ll unpack and put it all away, and I will have escaped the annual recurring nightmare that is supermarket Christmas shopping.

The Battle of the Brussels Sprouts, I call it. I swore I would never again visit a supermarket just before Christmas (or New Year for that matter) after a disturbing incident last year when I was witness to a shocking display of temper, aggression and theft in the packed aisles, somewhere between the fresh veg and the tinned artichokes.

Picture this. Festive music piped throughout the supermarket, not entirely soothing on the nerves after a 22 minute grand prix race around the car park to find a space followed by a sprint to the door to avoid getting drenched in the usual seasonal downpour. Hunt the trolley was next and I found myself cursing the shoppers who were manoeuvring two trolleys “just in case”.  Eventually, wobbly trolley in hand, I wove my way to the vegetable section, where I picked up two of the last three bags of Brussels sprouts, much to the very vocal despair of a fellow shopper. “ Do you really need two bags?”  she screeched at point blank range.

Instead of quizzing me, she should have been dropping the last bag into her trolley, because as she turned away in disgust at my affirmative response, she was just in time to see someone else snatch the sprouts from under her nose.

What followed would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t been so sad. The two women argued, jostled, snatched and shoved in their attempt to keep hold of the sprouts. Surprisingly the bag didn’t burst and the second shopper was victorious. But not for long. No sooner had she turned her back to fill a bag with clementines than shopper number one dipped her trolley and made off with the sprouts.

That was it for me. Christmas shopping would never be the same again and so this year I started early, and I shopped online.

I hit dozens of sites, window-shopping on the Internet, stored up plenty web addresses I would actually return to buy from, and got stuck right in.

Gadgetshop.com is seriously cool and seriously easy to use. Marksandspencer.co.uk, next.co.uk, even lakeland.co.uk were good and day after day our farm was deluged with delivery vans and trucks offloading boxes and bags of goodies – all in time for Christmas.

At this point I would like to offer a word of warning. Never trust toysrus.co.uk. Ever. I had thought that after last year’s much-publicised fiasco they would have made the effort to get it right this time. I thought wrong. The site was reasonably good, but selection was limited with lots of stuff was out of stock. I placed an order, a not insubstantial one, and waited for the toys to arrive. I waited, waited and waited some more before finally receiving an email to say that none of the toys I had ordered was in stock.  Praise be to gadgetshop.com who saved my life and prevented the tears of half a dozen disappointed children next Monday.

There is a lot of criticism about online shopping but it ain’t going away. With online spending predicted to grow phenomenally over the next 12 months there is a huge opportunity for companies who can get it right: not just a cool site, but an easy to navigate site and reliable order fulfilment.

So no queues, no cross tempers, no bare shelves and no queuing for six hours to get your hands on a PlayStation 2. It’s no wonder I’m full of festive spirit already.

Merry Christmas. Have a good one!

So, that was 10 years ago today, but it might as well be today. I’m waiting for my Sainsbury’s delivery, due in ten minutes if the weather doesn’t hold it up, and I’m still waiting for @tartan_kitten’s two main Christmas presents to be delivered – both ordered online at the end of November. Poor kid will receive an empty box with just a message inside saying “if the Royal Mail had got its finger out, your shiny new set of chef’s knives would be in here”.

What a difference 10 years makes? Or does it?