Saturday, September 05, 2015

Dear Boots

A very good friend of mine is in the 20th week of her first pregnancy.  On meeting for lunch over the weekend her face, when we met, looked a little bit frowny.  And not the usual frown that she reserves specifically for the moment when she sees me.  It looked like a little painful frown.  Her problem was that her back was beginning to ache, her body was changing and it was really letting her know about it.  One of her friends had suggested that a maternity belt was what she needed, and that the relief she’d feel would be tantamount to being massaged by an angel.

I suggested that, as we were in Liverpool City Centre, we looked for a maternity belt there.   Over 6% of women of child bearing age become pregnant each year, that’s almost one million UK women at any one time – surely the only problems to be encountered looking for a maternity belt in the central shopping area of the 4th largest City in the UK, would either be drowning under the sheer weight of choice, or fighting other pregnant women, Black Friday style, for the last one.

So sure were we that we would find a maternity belt in Liverpool that we never even considered the possibility that we wouldn’t.  “We’ll be able to get one from Boots” we both said in unison.  And then carried on with our lunch without a second thought.

In the first Boots store we visited, on Church Street, we could buy as many ‘Soap & Glory’ products as our hearts desired, with different types of sun-faded pink displays reducing the width of every aisle.  But we couldn’t get a maternity belt.  Unfortunately, Soap & Glory don’t do maternity belts, if they did then Boots would definitely stock them.  “You could order one online” the assistant cheerily advised us when we enquired.  Which isn’t much use for someone needing something right now – when it was really wanted. That’s the problem with online; you can see things on the shiny screen, but you can’t touch them until the postman says so.  But, never fear, Liverpool has two Boots stores, only 0.2 miles apart.  It’s a bigger one too, we’re bound to get one there.

The raison d’etre of Liverpool’s bigger Boots store in Clayton Square, if you’ve never been, is to stock absolutely the same items that the smaller Church Street Boots store does, in a bigger building, with nicer lighting.  Which is precisely what you need if you’re the type of person who forgets that they’ve just been in a Boots, or if you just cant go a 5 minute walk without a Soap & Glory fix.

This store does also have however, a sea of branded make up counters that stock more items to decorate your body with than there are miles to the moon, which you have to navigate your way through to get to the all of the things that you’re sure that you’ve just seen in a store 0.2 miles away. I would guess, if you asked every person who visited both Liverpool City Centre Boots stores in one shopping trip, the main reason why would be because they were in the second one looking for something not stocked in the first one.

What this store also does have is lots of toys, games and clothes for those children who exist on the outside of a womb, but very little to ease the child bearing pain of a Mother whose child hasn’t made that journey yet.  Including a maternity belt.  If Bootea did a maternity belt then Boots would definitely range it in the space that they reserve for fads that make women feel insecure about their bodies.  But unfortunately Bootea hasn’t extended their range into things that work yet.

“Have you tried looking online?” the assistant cheerily asked us, with a sympathetic glance at my pained friend.  I wondered whether this was a generic question now.

I’d just like to make it clear that Boots isn’t the sole member of the Liverpool maternity discrimination hall of shame – after leaving Boots, we got a bit panicky, if Boots don’t do one then who will? We marched, at decreasingly slower pace, around Liverpool to pretty much any shop that looked like it might sell a maternity belt, but there isn’t a single shop in Liverpool City Centre that does. Mamas and Papas, Next, John Lewis, River Island, Top Shop, etc.  We already knew the chances were slim, these others are but mere imposters compared to Boots’ expertise in looking after women in the demographic range of 18-45.  Here come the girls and all that.  We expected those other fly by night barrow boys to not have anything, we didn’t expect it of Boots.  You can get them online though.

It was then I remembered the existence of a third Boots store in the Liverpool area – at Speke Retail Park.  Of course, this place would have one.  A retail park: those shopping oases that pop up 5 miles away from a town or city that has exactly the same roster of stores, but with the added bonus of a Frankie & Benny’s.  With car parking in close proximity and not much walking possible - even if you wanted to - a Boots on a retail park is just the place where we’d find a maternity belt, isn’t it?.  By this time my friend had baled out, her back pain too much for her to consider anymore movement.  “Go on without me” she shouted forlornly as I carried on the expedition alone.

The main difference between the retail park Boots store and the two Boots stores 6 miles away to the West, other than the convenient car parking, is that this store has lots more space devoted to the lotions and potions that Boots are now selling to easily influenced girls who they are helping to pressurise into wanting to look like the latest celebrity, neatly dovetailing into the shelves of the other quackery that they’re increasingly happy to peddle, with absolutely no responsibility for doing so.  But, still no maternity belt. 

“Have you tried looking…”  ONLINE? Yes I know how this story goes!

If there was such a thing as a homeopathic maternity belt then Boots would definitely range one, it would be in the space that they reserve for treatments that have absolutely no proven scientific benefit whatsoever. But as homeopathy hasn’t extended its reach into things that actually work yet, I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

Even as a mere man I find it astonishing that a pregnant woman right in the crosshairs of the Boots demographic target market, who needs some help in smoothing the peaks and troughs of her changing body throughout pregnancy, can visit 3 separate large Boots stores in a major UK City only to be told in each of them that the product she is looking for is only available online. If someone from TOWIE or Geordie Shore endorsed a maternity belt then Boots would be breaking their neck to put it in a store.  If Boots didn’t range a maternity belt at all then it would be more understandable, but to only range it online whilst being able to buy the same snake oil in every Boots store within spitting distance of each other is downright ridiculous.

I look forward to hearing your justification of this shameful situation, but without using the word ‘customers’, because it’s impossible. If there is enough space for a whole bay of knee straps, then there is definitely enough space for a maternity belt.

Boots ‘Lets feel good’ strapline should clearly come with an asterix after that denotes *excludes pregnant women, as there is clearly only profit to be had from cradle to grave service.  Boots are extremely happy to take over once the child is in view, but you’re on your own if your child hasn’t been born yet. Almost like a reverse cuckoo.  I’m presuming that your parenting club only exists to give the perception that you care, rather than the reality that you don’t.

There is a happy ending to this story though, you’ll be pleased to know, although as it involves a pregnant woman I’m guessing you couldn’t care less.   A maternity belt did arrive, 4 back aching days later, having been ordered online.  A nice lady at John Lewis had been through the same experience, couldn’t speak highly enough of maternity belts, and showed us a website that she got hers from.  It wasn’t Boots.  And you know what, apparently angels do give the best massages, and unlike a lot of things that Boots stock, they work immediately.