What’s Your Horrorstör?

Some retail outings fill the shopper with sheer dread. “Horrorstör*” takes that notion one step further, by setting a “traditional haunted house story” in a fictional big box furniture retailer called Orsk. The store is eerily close in style to a certain well-known Scandinavian retailer, and the book looks and feels like one of their catalogs. It’s only when you leaf through it that you see the seemingly familiar product illustrations and descriptions turn from innocent to evil. At the start there’s an image of a friendly-sounding sofa called “Brooka”. By the end, the reader encounters a depiction of an instrument of torture named “Jodlöpp”. And to reveal any more would spoil the fun.

But reading “Horrorstör” got me thinking about the nightmare retail experiences I have had over the years. Most retail I love – but there’s the odd visit that I just loathe. Perhaps one of the reasons that “Horrorstör” resonated with me is that the Swedish retailer that the book parodies is one of the few stores to send shivers down my spine.

Once in the front door of that particular store, the shopper is locked into a racetrack from which there is no escape. Shortcuts lead to dead-endings like an old-fashioned maze. And at the conclusion of the journey, often the item you lusted after is not in stock. It’s enough to make you scream. And the only comfort is cheap meatballs.

For my wife, a trip to a certain warehouse club retailer is also to be anticipated with apprehension. Unless you know the layout of the store, it’s impenetrable – designed to be an endless treasure hunt, rather than be navigated quickly with ease. They want you to enter for a $10 bottle of laundry liquid and emerge with a $600 cart filled with “stuff”. Like the fabled meal of Chinese food, you feel satisfied for an instant and empty soon after. And that’s not even to mention the gridlock at the checkout.

Another one on her never-to-visit-again list is the American youth apparel retailer with the bare-chested male store greeters. You know the one. The store is so dark you can barely see the product; the fragrance in the air is thick enough to make you choke, and just try to get into one of the change-rooms.

Online retail can be just as much of a horror. Most shoppers have experienced the thrill of putting an item in their digital shopping cart, only to find an error message pop up just after you have put in all your credit card details.

Out-of-stocks. Non-existent service. Rude retail associates. Shoddy product. Stores that are “not for me”. Shops that don’t make me feel welcome and even intimidated. I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

And the thing is in retail today that you don’t have to take it. We are in an era with virtually infinite choice, and one where customers are in control. So you can choose not to go in the first instance if a store is not your style. Or choose not to go back if the experience is that bad.

So for both retailers and shoppers, the days of the truly hideous Horrorstör are numbered. But there is a certain kind of retail therapy in talking about the store visits that you really, really hate. So, I’m interested…what’s your Horrorstör?

*”Horrorstör” is a novel by Grady Hendrix, available online and in bookstores.