Driving to work this morning, I was struck with a blinding revelation. I need a pair of sunglasses. It was, almost literally, a blinding flash of insight, as the sun was shining directly into my eyes, travelling at 100kph, in peak hour traffic. It's kinda ironic that in summer, I could live without them, but now winter's here, and the sun is lower in the morning, they've become necessary. Actually, it's becoming dangerous not to have them.
So, come lunchtime, I took a walk into the city, my mission clear in my mind. Find a decent pair of sunglasses, not too expensive, but no cheap rubbish. Why I insist on spending a reasonable amount on sunglasses is beyond me - I've lost at least three pairs before, and what with Australian Standards relating to the things, even the cheapest ones must meet a minimum safety and lens quality level. Call me a slave to fashion.
As I get closer, I remember why I hate sunglass shopping so much. Spending money's one of the reasons I've been sunglassless for so long, but the other big reason is that you must endure the whole sunglass buying experience. And of all the shopping experiences, this is just about my most hated. I have trouble choosing sunglasses at the best of times - finding a pair that look half decent, and don't cost the earth, has never been easy. I don't know - maybe I don't have a head that suits most sunglasses, or perhaps I'm just extremely picky. Probably a bit of both. However the thing that I truly hate, is the ordeal of just getting your hands on a pair to try on.
Firstly, you get to look at them, folded up, on the other side of a locked glass wall. If you want to try a pair on, you have to ask someone to open the glass. Immediately, it feels like you owe the people in the store something, by making them do something to allow you to get your dirty mitts on a pair of the things.
Then, you're most likely not allowed to try them on in peace and quiet. The assistant will be standing, watching you, making sure you put them back where you found them. If you're at all self conscious about people watching you when you shop - like I am - then this is torture. I can't look at something like sunglasses, and pick the ones that will look good. I can pick the ones that will look really bad, or just the styles that I don't like, but so many times I pick up a pair that I think may look good, then wonder just what I was thinking once I see myself in the mirror. And all the time, I'm being watched...
The other thing, is the prices. I believe that people who are trained to work in these shops undergo extensive training in price tag camouflage. It's just about impossible to see a price from the other side of the glass - the only way to tell, is picking them up, and examining the tag.
So, I'm remembering all of this as I walk into the shops, and the sense of dread is growing. So I decided to take my own little stand on the matter. Before I buy a pair of sunglasses this time around, the store must break from the mould, and not make the whole experience so irritating and painful. With this in mind, my quest begins.
The first store, is the Sunglass Hut. It's one of these kiosk style shops, the stock under glass in a bench type arrangement. I wander up to the bench, and the attendant is there in a flash. I tell him I just want to have a look - of course, it's practically impossible for him to leave me alone while I just have a casual look. I quickly glance at them, and then the major drawback of this place becomes apparent - not a single price tag is visible. Every single pair of sunglasses has been carefully arranged, so that the tags face the bottom of the bench. The only possible way you can tell, is to ask to try them on. And in this arrangement, the attendant has to pick out every single pair that you want to try on. I keep walking.
The second store is Grace Bros., a kinda middle of the road department store. After a bit of a search, I find their sunglasses. Anything half decent is behind glass yet again, but at least having a door opened will allow me to try on a few different pairs. So I find someone who works there, and get her to open the glass for me. She does this happily....and then just stands there. Like a statue behind me, hands behind her back, and she watches me. Every. Single. Second. It's unnerving - I wonder if she even blinks. Again, I say thanks, and continue on my way.
My visit to The Sportsmans Warehouse is brief. I find their small sunglass selection - they have Nike, Nike and Nike. While I don't have any major problems with their gear, I like a bit of variety, and choice. And I'm not a big fan of their sunglasses - it seems like they have one idea regarding how sunglasses look, and then slightly modify that idea a dozen or so times. So I'm out of there pretty quickly.
The last place I had time to visit today was OPSM, an optometrists shop. Again, the sunglasses are behind glass, but they're on those rotating stands, that you can control from outside the glass. I like this - it doesn't really matter what direction the tag's facing, you can rotate it to get a look. The attendant comes on over, and asks me if I want a look. I've been here with a friend before, and I know the way they operate. If I want a look, he'll unlock the cabinet, then leave me alone, to browse as I desire. He'll be at the counter, making sure everything's put back again, but he won't be breathing down my neck. This is a wonderful thing, but for one little detail. Their range sucks! They've got not much of anything really. It's not worth even getting the cabinet opened.
This is all the time I have to look today, it's time to return to work. However the quest will continue - I am determined to find a place where I can buy a pair of sunglasses with dignity, and comfort, and I will not make a purchase anywhere that doesn't fit. Damn it, I won't make a difference, but I can at the least know that my money's going to one of the good guys. Hopefully it'll be soon though....because damn that morning sun's bright...
I realise that theft is a real problem for shops selling things like sunglasses, watches etc..small, easily put in a pocket, valuable. So I understand that keeping an eye on people's an economic reality, that won't change any time soon. However, I think you can keep your stock safe, and still give the customers space to decide on their own. At least, I hope somewhere still believes this.