I’m probably a little naive given that I work in computing, but after the number of years that Argos have managed to run a nice and simple online reservation/order system I’d have thought it was a simple thing to copy.

It’s not.

Having reserved a bike for my eldest at Halfords one Sunday morning last month, we all went down to collect it with the idea of building it together. The actual reservation was pretty straightforward, and I was quite impressed with the SMS reservation code they texted me within 2 minutes – the bike was in stock and available that day and the next and all I had to do was turn up and pay.

It wasn’t a good sign when the member of staff I showed the SMS to (it was a long number, so thought it’d help him being able to read it) looked very confused and after a long pause wrote down 3 or 4 digits on the back of his hand, ignored the terminal next to him and went off into the back of the shop.

10 minutes later he came back to ask when I’d reserved it, and then tried to tell me it took 3 days to assemble the bike. Eventually he got over his shock that I felt able to build it all by myself, agreed that I didn’t need to wait three days for a flat-pack box and vanished again.

He came back 5 minutes later saying that there was nothing in stock, and I must have seen the display model on the web site.

WTF ? It’s a stock photo, unless they move all their bikes into a perfectly white room with no obvious lighting each time they build one… I cut my losses at this point and left, although perhaps I should have been a typical outraged parent and demanded to see The Manager but I don’t subscribe to the idea that poor service can be cured by shouting loudly at someone else, and more importantly I didn’t want them to have my money: if they can’t even count bikes then what, exactly, is the reservation service for ?

An email to their customer services resulted in a reply a week later – in which, quite incredibly, they acknowledge that their system simply doesn’t work. Of course, they don’t come out and say it’s broken – PR people have been on a course, dontchaknow, and it’s all my fault for trying to shop there (their odd formatting left in):

Dear Mr Spray

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding our Reserve and Collect service.
Halfords prides itself on offering a range of high quality products and
services and any concerns expressed by customers are treated very


Our Reserve and Collect system is set up to use live data which allows us
to advise our customers of our stock levels right down to the last item.
Our colleagues in store aim to remove the item from sale as soon as the

notification comes through, however there will be the odd occasion where
someone will be purchasing the item at the time of reservation or indeed
the item turns out to be damaged / have a fault. As the accuracy of each

individual stock file is the stores responsibility, we have advised our
store colleagues to contact customers at the earliest possible point if
they believe there could be an issue, and to do anything they can to
rectify the

problem. This may include a suitable alternative or locating another item
from a local store. These guidelines are ‘as a minimum’ in line with other
retailers offering similar schemes.

Please accept our apologies if you feel this hasn’t happened in this case
and be assured that we will make your e-mail available to the Area Manager
for his information.

Kind Regards
<Name Redacted>

Halfords Customer Services

If they can’t manage to subcontract a simple race-free reservation system properly then they obviously don’t need my custom.

Oh wait, maybe they do