Retail guru Mary Portas, the undisputed Queen of the British aisles, moves to Channel 4 this month to present a brand new series, Mary Portas: Secret Shopper.
Here, she explains what she's hoping to achieve with her new series, why customers are being sold short in Britain today, and what we can do about it.
Which companies in general do you think have got it right?
There's hope, when you look at companies such as Apple. They weren't retailers, and came on to the high street and delivered one of the best retail experiences there is today.
They put things such as the Genius Bar in, they gave free advice to people, they trained people, all the guys were geeks who knew their products, and it's successful. And every one that they've opened has been managed that way.
And I think Pret a Manger is one of the best out there. The energy when you go in there is great. Gap do it really well - the sales team have an upbeat freshness and energy about them.
And John Lewis staff are extraordinarily good. They know their stuff, they're pleasant and they'll go out of their way for you.
Do you think even when we're getting cheap prices we should still expect good customer service?
Of course, why wouldn't you? The profit margins are much greater than on luxury goods. You should absolutely expect decent customer service wherever you're shopping.
How do you persuade shopkeepers to invest in their staff and in good customer service? What's in it for them?
I genuinely believe that consumers will see that you've put that extra effort in, and will come back.
I also think that we're culturally shifting towards that - we're questioning where we spend. We've got a much more considered consumer, and, because of the financial crisis, they're looking at what true value is today.
I'm speaking to retailers and saying to them, 'Let's start to be part of this new shift.' And some of the big, global brands are starting to do that.
So how do you go about ensuring that customer service improves?
I think it's a cultural change from two sides. I think it's about the top of the business genuinely, genuinely thinking about their consumer. And I think it's a cultural change from the shopper going, 'Do I really need this? Have I really been looked after? Has this been honest and trustworthy?'
I was filming in a fast fashion shop, and the state of the place was unbelievable. There were clothes on the floor, there were queues of 40 or more people - it was gobsmacking. I wouldn't do that. I think standards have got steadily worse and worse.
Why is that?
If you look at the history of retailing, in the 50s it was all independent retailers. You went to your butcher, your baker, your local fashion shop, and you had small businesses that really needed to serve.
By the 70s, chains started emerging, and the minute you get into chains, trying to keep that service culture is very difficult. You had to grow, and open up other shops across the country, which meant you had to use very cheap labour.
Also, in other countries, there's a certain amount of pride in the job - you go in and you work hard and climb the ladder in retail. Here, a shop assistant just sees themselves as a shop assistant.
What sort of changes did you implement in the course of the series?
Well, to give you one example, I changed the whole fitting-room experience. Shoppers want to be acknowledged, smiled at, they want to be served quickly and efficiently, but the biggest complaint shoppers have is the fitting rooms. The queues, the rooms, the smell. And the staff are bored. They just stand there saying 'only four garments... only four garments.'
I worked in a fitting room for a day during the filming, and I almost lost the will to live. The customers hate it, the staff hate it, how can it be all right? So I looked at creating a new type of fitting room. What would inspire and motivate both the staff and the consumer?
Have you always been a complainer?
Yes, I suppose I have. Ever since I trained at Harrods. Wealthy people have no problem complaining if something isn't up to scratch, and I learned from them.
I think, sometimes, less well-off people don't think they have the right to complain, or they don't have the self-confidence to do so, so they just end up accepting mediocrity or poor service.
You've been tackling problems in retail for years now on telly. Do you ever despair about the task - that things will never improve?
I look at the restaurant industry, which has been on our TVs for 15 years now. I've only been at this four years. I look at what's happened in the restaurant industry and I think there's been a huge shift, from the Bernie Inns to actually understanding what good food is about.
That's all changed through awareness. It'll probably be a few more years yet. But when it's done brilliantly, retail is one of the most exciting, fun things to do. A day at the shops can be wonderful when it's done right.
So I refuse to let the fat cats out there make serious amounts of money and not hear the voice of the consumer.
You've moved from the BBC to Channel 4. What was behind the move?
I loved the BBC, absolutely, but at Channel 4 I felt that commercially I was able to flex myself a bit more, and make a bigger change in a louder way. They're a little bit more racy. It just feels like the right sort of environment to me.
Mystery customer evaluations can Mystery shop your company and let you know just how good, bad or indifferent the sales and service skills are.