Why are we being harassed by online stores?

old-fashioned shopkeeper

Shopkeepers used to be blokes wearing long khaki aprons with a pencil stuck behind the ear - Credit: Getty Images

Monthly musings of the naughtily nice kind

I’m being harassed. Badgered. Pestered. Almost – in a harmless way – stalked. It’s the shopkeepers. Shopkeepers used to be blokes wearing long khaki aprons with a pencil stuck behind the ear, standing outside their shop door while the hansom cabs rolled by. Or a little old lady like Mrs Tiggywinkle wearing a flowery pinny and peering over her glasses and adding up what you owed her on the back of a brown paper bag. 

Shopkeepers nowadays are – well, who knows who they are? Try and buy anything at all online these days and if you look closely at the small print you find you’re buying from a company called something like Primrose Gorgeousness in Gongzuang City. Perhaps even a person called Primrose Gorgeousness. 

When you bought a pound of apples from Mrs Tiggywinkle, she didn’t come round to your house the next day, hammer on the door and enquire, ‘What did you think of those apples?’ But buy a pair of bamboo socks from Primrose Gorgeousness and she has somehow captured your soul.

The emails pour in. ‘Did the socks arrive safely? Was the courier handsome enough? Did he hand the parcel to you politely or hurl it into a ditch? Was the packaging satisfactory, easy to penetrate without scissors or a chainsaw? Did you recycle the packaging material we had gone to such lengths to make sustainable? What did you think of our marvellous socks? Were they too small, too big, too bright, too scratchy? Or were they (as we hope) the best socks ever, transporting you to realms of unimaginable pleasure, causing onlookers to faint with envy?’

Oh, give it a rest, Primrose. But no, once she has your email address, Primrose is never going to let you go. Ignore her initial enquiries and you’ll be on the receiving end of blizzards of boasting. ‘We at Primrose Gorgeousness have a new eco-friendly immersive experience for you: bamboo knickers! Because we’re passionate about creating state-of-the-art sustainable underwear that’ll transform your life and possibly save the world from disaster.’

If you’re tempted to inform them that you don’t want any pants right now, you’ll only provoke further salvoes of info. Soon Primrose will inform you that you’re a customer in a million, one of her favourites, in fact, you’ve been awarded a gold badge of favouritism which will result in exclusive mind-blowing offers! Which end today! Order two bamboo vests in lucky colour red! Order them by 6pm and they’ll throw in an extra bamboo nose-picker!

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People of my age, which sometimes feels a bit like five hundred, are sometimes accused of living in the past. But can you blame us, when in the past we used to stroll down to the local shop and buy a small white paper bag of sherbet lemons for tuppence ha’penny and then stroll home and be ignored? Incidentally, those sherbet lemons were the cocaine of the 1950’s: suck ’em hard enough and they’d explode, releasing white powder that would thrill your tongue.

It’s marketing, you see. The internet regularly informs me that it’s only sending me ads which they think I might be interested in, based on their spying on my previous activity. ‘Sue’s interested in gardening! Let’s send her an ad for a lavatory shaped like a buttercup!’ The only solution is to close your laptop (firmly, with an authoritative snap), switch off your phone, and go and live off grid in the Outer Hebrides. And then, if you’re really lucky, Ben Fogle will come and make a programme about you and how you’re knitting socks from seaweed. Bliss. 

Follow Sue on Twitter: @sue_limb