Serious doubts exist over Westfield’s plans to redevelop in the town centre. Yet while the council does its best to close down legitimate high street businesses, or mismanages one of the country’s oldest traditional street markets and drives away stall-holders, MT WALLETTE, our retailing correspondent, has found one outlet allowed to trade on North End whose practices give off a very suspicious whiff
Have you been on the High Street recently?
In March, a charismatic man with portable speaker and microphone was standing outside one of North End’s unmarked stores, what was previously The Money Shop, situated between Vodafone and Pizza Hut. He had roused a crowd and excitedly tossed bottles of perfume into the hands of passing shoppers eager for a bargain.
“That’s free! That’s on me!” he’d say upon each catch.
Those who were intrigued by the practised spiel wandered over. Before they knew it, some shoppers had been ushered into the store and instructed to close the doors behind them…
Inside, the street barker delivered more lines about the wonderful offers that he would have up for sale in his new perfume store, which was opening “… this Sunday, because what’s on Sunday? That’s right, Mother’s Day!”
He wasn’t going to add to his costs, and the price of his products, by doing anything so daft as to pay for advertisements in a newspaper. “Let’s face it, no one reads the newspapers any more do they?” he said, as he encouraged his rapt audience to do his work for him and spread the word about his new shop.
Four months later, and the Fine Perfumery bags have reappeared on the High Street, clutched in the hands of a small group of people, most of them convinced that they’ve just landed a genuine bargain.
According to one unsuspecting shopper who also spotted the bags, “This stung me a bit, because I still have this same bag at home that I spent 40 quid on,” they say, remembering their encounter with this same shop from earlier in the year.
“It’s full of completely unknown perfume brands despite being lead to believe during his charade that he was putting well-known, upper market brands in there.”
We watched his performances, over and over again. On one occasion, we even ventured inside. “So when exactly are you opening?”
“We’re hoping to open this Friday, in time for the weekend. It’s hot today, isn’t it?
“What’s that your drinking? Oh, from Five Guys is it? I’ve yet to go there… Anyway, you have a great day.”
It’s a neat little setup, and quite impressive, until you strip back the layers.
A short, balding fat man manages the stock, making up new bags of the bottles of perfume of questionable provenance. Some might call it “knock-off”, imitation brands. Maybe it’s more accurate to say its just cheap crap, from some kind of wholesaler, or just another layer of the operation, designed to lend more credence to the ploy.
The tall, blue-eyed bloke with much more, (albeit greying) hair, commands the microphone, gathers the crowd and sucks them inside.
Then there’s a third member of the team who was harder to spot. A young man, overweight and deathly pale, was hanging out a few doors down from the action. He was definitely in the crowd of bargain hunters an hour before, when we first began to scout out the place.
He received a text on his phone, quickly put it away and went to mill about right in front of the store. Lo and behold, when the “free” perfume bottles started flying, the bait to lure shoppers in, it was this man who was catching many of them. He dextrously slipped the caught bottles into a satchel slung over his shoulder. He’d always enter the store with the crowd and leave again with his satchel looking much emptier. This minimises the operation’s losses, without sacrificing on all the apparent excitement involved when the “free” perfume goes flying.
It’s all an elaborate show, of offering something for nothing, when the exact opposite is, in fact, the case, as people are being parted with their hard-earned for goods which are not always what they purport to be.
It’s the sort of thing that would often be played out in markets, or on the street corners of the West End’s plushest shopping areas, such as Oxford Street, in the bad old days, before there was much in the way of consumer protection and properly enforced trading standards.
And a time when there were still enough police to patrol the streets frequently enough that the barkers and peddlers would need to have a couple of watch-outs posted, so that they might scoop up their wares into a suitcase and disappear into the crowd at the first sight of officialdom.
Perhaps, after almost a decade of austerity and cut-backs on police and council staff, it is the kind of charade which is able to thrive once again, from an empty shop on North End, without any real fear of the authorities moving in to check for such niceties as licences, receipts and whether the products’ labels match their content.
The perfume operation on North End has all been reported to Action Fraud, the police and to Croydon Council, and all to no avail.
Our geezer with the microphone has been repeating his act, over and over again, claiming that the “grand opening” will be this weekend, and meanwhile passing off bag-loads of product which is rarely what it is claimed to be. There can be no returns, of course, because the shop never really opens. And anyway, who has a valid receipt for their purchase?
Now further along the High Street, closer to West Croydon Station, but still firmly within what is supposed to be the “Croydon Business Improvement District”, there’s a different store offering apparently significant discounts on pricy brands such as Dyson and the “new” Nintendo Game Cube. Yes, they actually put a poster up in the window for a console that was first on the (legitimate) market 18 years ago.
It’s all very Del Boy, with his telescopic Christmas trees and Peckham spring water and other not-quite-right products and stuff that fell off the back of a lorry.
And after seven years of waiting for Westfield to “happen”, it is all a sign of how Croydon’s once attractive High Street shopping area is being transformed into Hooky Street.
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