Why has WHSmith in St George’s decided to infuriate its customers?

WHSmith in St George's Street

Most people go shopping because of necessity. For others it’s pleasure.

Either way we should surely be able to go about our business without being disturbed.

But most people these days accept that a trip to a busy city centre like Canterbury’s involves at least one run-in with someone lurking on the street ready to pounce on passers-by.

Last month, it was the turn of energy company First Utility whose representatives reached out into the street like the tentacles of an octopus from a tent-like structure set up in St George’s Street.

Before that, salesmen hawking a mobile phone service occupied the area.

If you’ve got you’ve got your wits about you, you can always veer away – can’t you?

Well, perhaps not. Anyone arriving to pick up a copy of Caravan Monthly or some sub-celebrity’s ghost-written autobiography at Canterbury’s WHSmith run the risk of finding themselves accosted by the dreaded chuggers inside the store who waste no time at all getting into our with impertinent shouts or questions.

A chugger tries to persuade his target to sign up

Chuggers, for the uninitiated, is a portmanteau of the words “charity” and “mugger”. With coloured bibs, they have become a significant public nuisance in their efforts to cajole shoppers to sign up for direct debits to whichever organisation they happen to be representing that day.

Many are struggling actors whose techniques and brash self-assurance don’t lend themselves to be well disposed towards chuggers. And in their commission-hungry desperation to get you to stop and sign up, they behave pretty stupidly.

“Hey, man, you Mr Confident, come have a chat with me!”

“Yo bro, stylin’ it today. Have you heard what’s going on in Africa?”

And woe betide those who spurn the chuggers’ advances: “Don’t you care about sick children/people starving in the Third World/mistreated animals?”

“Well, yes, I do,” is most people’s response, “but I don’t care for the way you are trying to extract money from me.”

The main problem with chugging is that it blurs the lines between charity and commerce since it encourages unpleasant commission-driven antics on the part of the chuggers. As a result of exposés in the national media, citizens have become aware of just how much money winds up in the bank accounts of chugging companies rather than to the charity’s causes.

WHSmith would be wise to understand that people doing a simple bit of shopping do not want to be verbally assailed as soon as they enter its store.