A couple of days ago I bought some kitchen stuff from the John Lewis web site. The next day I received an email saying, ‘Your order has now been cancelled. You do not need to take any further action.’ I was puzzled; I wanted the goods. There was a number to call.
John Lewis card was the first ever store card I applied for a few months after I moved to the UK. I remember it well. It was after my second interview at the BBC Monitoring Service in Caversham when I was offered the job and had signed the contract. The salary seemed astronomical to me, so on that same afternoon I skipped and hopped into Heelas in the centre of Reading and opened an account with them.
John Lewis has other significant memories for me too; it was the favourite store of a dear friend who tragically died of cervical cancer. She was only 35 when she finally succumbed after three years of suffering. She left three small boys behind. We’d got to know each other through the Navy and often lived in different parts of the country. But whenever we met up, a trip to the nearest John Lewis was always on the agenda. The men would look after the children and we’d spend a day talking and shopping. She was such an avid John Lewis customer, her husband joked that she kept a small private warehouse for them at home, because there were always bags of stuff ready to go back to the store.
The reason I’m telling you all this is that when I phoned the number it turned out to be John Lewis Financial Services. They told me the reason my order was cancelled was because my account had been closed. ‘You owe us money,’ a tired-sounding woman told me.
I gasped, ‘What?’
The woman at the other end sighed loudly. I got the feeling she’d heard it all before. I tried to explain that I had no idea I owed them money and thought I’d paid the account in full each month. She looked at her records. The statements hadn’t reached me since January.
‘January! And you didn’t try to contact me?’
‘The letters were returned from your address so we don’t resend them after a while.’
But after she checked, the address they had was correct. What’s more, they had my email and my telephone number.
I repeated, ‘You didn’t try to contact me?’
I admit that not paying the account for items that I’d bought for the new flat was my fault. However, I pay things on statement, so if I don’t get one I forget. I tried to say all this to the woman but she wasn’t interested. In the end I paid the amount owing and asked if I now could use my card again.
‘No, your account is closed.’
‘You have to wait a few months and then reapply for a new card.’
It may sound silly, but I’m really upset about this. First of all the woman’s attitude; it was obvious she thought I was lying all through the conversation. I worked out that I’ve had a John Lewis account for 27 years. I’d never before had a problem with the account, something the Financial Services must have on record.
But I don’t want to reapply for a card – I really don’t even want to buy anything from John Lewis ever again. Yet, I feel a real connection to the store – not only because of all the time I’ve been their customer, but also because of my dear friend. I know I’m being too emotional about this, but I thought I had a relationship with John Lewis. I felt I was that woman in the red dress in their advert, having the store as part of every stage of my life. Now I feel I’ve received a ‘decree absolute’. It’s as if they’ve told me they never loved me in the first place.