It should have been a simple task.
All we needed was a toilet seat, a new roller blind for the kitchen, and a couple of LED light bulbs.
Simple items, right? That's what we thought when we jumped into the car and set off for Homebase in Newmarket, but as it turned out we were obviously expecting a bit too much.
Having settled on exactly which bog seat we wanted (white, soft-close, non-rusting hinges), we found there were none left on the shelf. Bugger.
How about the blind? Well, unless you were prepared to pay fifty quid for some Laura Ashley thing (I wasn't), your choice was limited to a handful of items with a ridiculous pattern in a colour scheme that wouldn't go with itself, let alone anything else. So no joy there either.
So what about the bulbs? The shelves were loaded with a massive range of light bulbs. What I wanted was a couple of 75W equivalent bayonet cap LED lamps, and that's exactly where there was a big empty space on the shelf.
Three simple items, one enormous DIY store, zero success.
We returned home empty-handed, pissed off at having wasted time and petrol, and vowing never to set foot in Homebase again.
It's not the first time this situation has occurred, and it seems to be getting more common to go out to get something only to find nobody has it on the shelf.
I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to buy something only to be told there's none in stock.
"We can get one in for you tomorrow" they say. Yes, but I'm here now.
Or they say "You could order one from our website". Are you trying to do yourself out of a job?
It's true though. It has become so easy to get what you need via the web.
Take Amazon for example. Regardless of how the staff are treated and their allegedly questionable attitude to tax, it has become such a massively successful business because it's a one-stop shop for almost anything you might need.
I'm fed up with wandering around shops becoming increasingly frustrated because HMV is the only music shop around and they don't stock anything by Ashbury Heights or Blutengel because they're not mainstream bands. This raises another question - where have all the record shops gone?
When I tried to get a new stereo for the car I made the mistake of wandering into Halfords because it's the standard Aladdin's cave for Barry Boys who want to weigh down their under-powered Vauxhall Corsas with 100kg of 'Hotwheels' style body kit and a subwoofer that makes the wipers dance on the windscreen. Predictably everything in there was festooned with distracting blue LEDs so bright it would make night driving a genuine hazard, and the demo unit had been turned up to eleven by the spotty youths who work in there so I was unable to even think straight.
I walked out, went home and ordered a nice Alpine head unit from Car Audio Direct instead, which arrived at the door two days later with no fuss or drama, and it doesn't burn your retinas when you turn it on.
The internet is now the default destination for almost all purchases because you can actually get what you want delivered to your door, and all it takes is a few clicks. This way shopping is less tiring than walking to the fridge to get a beer. No wonder we're becoming a nation of lard-arses.
The High Street stores bleat about how they can't compete with the internet and that's why so many small businesses are failing. This is true, but in a way these shops are their own worst enemy. If they don't sell what people want to buy and they don't have stock on the shelf, they won't make sales.
The average city centre is now a wasteland of coffee houses, charity shops, and mobile phone retailers. Big companies have moved to out-of-town retail parks because people won't visit unless they can park their car, and city councils have made it impossible or financially prohibitive to park in town centres, leaving you at risk of incurring the wrath of the local parking Nazis.
As a result we see more and more shops in previously vibrant towns with windows boarded up or painted over, with faded signs above as a memorial to yet another failed business.