Mary Portas’ previous television programmes have been good for retail, but her new Channel 4 series does the industry a disservice

I’ve been a big fan of Mary Portas and in particular her campaign to help struggling independent retailers move into the 21st century through her BBC series Mary Queen of Shops. She’s done a great job over the past few years of raising the profile of the art of shopkeeping and at the same time encouraging the wider public to understand the challenges small retailers face, and to support their local shops.

But I caught up with the first programme of her new series for Channel 4 through the wonders of Sky Plus at the weekend and I have to say I didn’t like it. I thought it was a snide and sensationalist attack on the industry which has served her well, which at the same time took cheap shots at some admittedly rather poor shop assistants.

Revelations in the programme included the astonishing news that Primark has long queues, and that someone who works at H&M doesn’t know what an aviator jacket is. Well I never. It also took staff at the Pilot store in Braintree Freeport - I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t realised Pilot still existed - and exposed their customer service failings. I’m sure the makers of the programme would have liked a higher profile retailer than Pilot to have taken part, but who would have given the ridicule that the company’s staff were exposed to?

The programme ended with the ridiculous charade of Portas leading a load of people with sandwich boards and t shirts emblazoned with slogans about service into value fashion stores and offering customers ‘advice’, while staff and security guards looked on bemused and Portas responded sarcastically when they asked what she was doing.

There’s no doubt that the service in value fashion stores isn’t like what you get in John Lewis, but the crucial point Portas ignored is that no-one goes to Primark or H&M for the service. They go for on-trend clothes at rock bottom prices. If they think the experience is rubbish, they’ll shop elsewhere, a fact I’m sure the management of these retailers are acutely aware of, but the stores and staff do the job for the people who shop there and those businesses wouldn’t be so successful if they didn’t.

I couldn’t help but think of the irony that Mary Portas travels the country speaking at events and working on behalf of Skillsmart to raise the profile of retailing as a career. But how will people thinking of entering this brilliant business react to ordinary store staff being humiliated by the industry’s best-known ambassador on prime-time television?