I had a small moment of personal liberation on Saturday. I was in a branch of Evans, and the bloke behind the counter asked, “Can I take your postcode, please?” They always ask this question whenever you buy something there, but like a goldfish who turns around and sees the same view he has witnessed two seconds before, I am always surprised by this weirdly personal inquiry. It’s a cheap portable lock. Why do you want to know where I live before you let me buy it, fer Chrissakes?
Invariably I blurt out the answer because, stupidly, I’m caught off-guard by the question. But not this time. “Actually,” I said, “can we not do any of that stuff?”
And that was that. I bought the lock without having to provide a means of identifying where I live. I experienced the same sense of relief you feel when removing a pair of tight-fitting shoes. I am free! Free, I tells ya!
Sales assistants at Evans are not the only ones to engage in this odd practice. CycleSurgery has also asked me the same question. Jen gave our postcode when she bought me a rucksack from Snow and Rock. And one of my Twitter chums informs me that Brantano, a shoe shop I had never heard of, is also in the business of postcode-gathering (his admirable response: “No, just the shoes thanks.”) But Evans was the first to ask for my postcode, and ten years later, standing in their Fulham branch, I suddenly realised I had absolutely no idea why.
Evans is the Tesco of cycling: most people shop there because it’s convenient, not because it’s a great experience. The comparison isn’t quite true in my case because, as I have previously confessed, I bloody love Britain’s biggest supermarket chain. I give Tesco a huge amount of personal information by owning a Clubcard: not only do they know where I live, they also know what products I like and how often I purchase them. But in addition to speeding up my shopping by allowing me to use their Clubcard-only barcode zappers and providing free Wi-Fi to Clubcard holders (very handy for listening to 5 Live on my phone while I’m pushing my trolley around the West Cromwell Road Enormo-Store), Tesco also sends me frighteningly specific discount vouchers for the things I like. Evans doesn’t offer this personalisation. I’ve surrendered my postcode to the green-and-gold giant for a decade, and all I’ve got in return are the same brochures and emails that everyone gets. From the customer’s point of view, telling Evans where you live is a complete waste of time.
So on Wednesday I asked Evans on Twitter why its shop assistants want customers’ postcodes. They said they needed it in the event of a refund or exchange, but the conversation went dead at their end when I pointed out that retaining the receipt performs the same function. Could it be that this isn’t the main reason?
Here’s my theory. Being a customer of a chain of bike shops is a peripatetic experience: you might pop in to one on your commute and visit another some miles away when you’re on the way back from a ride. And more than a decade ago, Evans began opening more and more branches. These days Evans isn’t just the shop you visit on your way home from a club ride or during your lunch break – it’s probably your local bike shop, too. But how did they know which areas would have a population of cyclists large enough to make an Evans LBS profitable? Perhaps it was because they already knew where their customers lived. You and I provided that information when we gave them our postcodes.
I’ve got nothing against Evans having lots of branches – they provide lots of jobs in a challenging economic climate and their existence gives cycling a greater presence on the High Street. But I’ve already got a local branch, so I won’t be giving them my postcode again.