Back to school cheaper than ever (& how to make the most of it)

As if children aren’t expensive enough we have to buy school uniforms and all that other stuff! However, I am a fan of school uniforms for a variety of reasons, but it wasn’t too many years ago that it would nearly break the bank to send kids back to school. Prices of many items come down in the last few years. One assumes that it is because of more competition. With more supermarkets, more outlets and more online opportunities, stores are having to be more competitive with inevitable reduction in prices. Good. But could it also be that with their mass purchasing power that they are getting stock cheaper than others and even using as a loss leader. I fear most of us parents don’t care!

Are these items good value for money though? I think so. I have bought school uniforms from supermarkets for the last 5 years and they all last as long as each other. Although you do have to be careful that you are comparing like with like though. For example, one pair of school trousers may be cheaper than another but does the more expensive pair have reinforced knees? I have found from experience that one pair of trousers will be cheaper than the inevitable two….!

What do the supermarkets say?
A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said “We have longstanding relationships with our school uniform suppliers. This allows us to offer choice, quality and value at scale during the busy back to school period and beyond.”

 

 

A spokesperson for Morrisons said “We offer a 200 day no-quibble guarantee on our children’s clothing. We’re so confident with the entire range that if a customer is not happy with ANY Nutmeg children’s item, for any reason, they can return it up to 200 days after they bought it with proof of purchase.” That is well over your statutory consumer rights too!

 

Shoes
There’s an interesting one. Clarks and Start-rite appear to have the monopoly on parental guilt when it comes to shoes. They certainly don’t last as long as any other supermarket shoe, we aren’t paying for durability! But they do provide us with a width fitting and it is easier to get the half size fitting. However there is little evidence on whether they are better or not for growing feet, who knows? Anything from £30 – £50 for Clarks’ school shoes instead of a supermarket shoe for a quarter of the price? Difficult one and a personal choice but we can at least compromises and buy the less worn P.E. footwear from supermarkets.

A spokesperson for Clarks said “Our price points are based on the high quality, premium materials and manufacturing processes that are used in the creation of our footwear. All of our footwear is also subject to a large number of tests designed to ensure comfort, safety and durability.” I’d like to see the results of the durability tests!!

Rest of the kit
When it comes to kit, such as pencil cases and backpacks etc. are they really that different from others. We are only paying for the picture not the quality on there aren’t we? Who is going to know where we bought it and does it matter where most parents are trying to save money on school essentials?

Some tips for back to school shopping:
1) Check the quality of the item before you buy. Give the uniform a pull and a stretch see if any stitching will come undone when worn once!
2) Buy early, try one item and give it a wash before buying others to check how they will last from regular washing.
3) Shop around, use comparison websites for absolutely anything!
4) Buy at the end of term too. Some supermarkets have discounts then and at certain times of the year. And buy ahead as you know those kids will grow! I pointed out to Tesco CEOs when I interviewed them last year that kids don’t grow to term times and we need uniform around the year but I don’t know if anyone is listening!
5) Remember that it doesn’t matter how cheap the items are, you are still covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. You are entitled to goods that are of satisfactory quality and that last a reasonable length of time. If they don’t meet this, then take them back with your proof of purchase and gain a refund or replacement (or repair!)

Supermarkets: The good, the bad and the ugly

Supermarkets, love them or hate them, most of us use them. Most of us have opinions about them all too. I surveyed the public and found these top five hates of supermarkets:

  1. Queueing
  2. Rude staff particularly those talking to colleagues when they should be paying attention to the customer
  3. Companies not accepting responsibility – ‘we are sorry, how can we put this right’ not lame excuses or blaming customer
  4. Staff who don’t know what they sell or how things work
  5. Change dumped into your hands with screwed up notes and receipt to follow

There are no surprises here. People just want good service and all these issues relate to the ethos of the company and how well the staff are trained. Interestingly, all the issues that people rate the highest are related to service, not quality, products or prices.

So do prices and quality of food feature when we look at specific supermarkets? Here’s what the public thought, in summary:

Supermarket The best thing The worst thing
Asda Prices Customer service including the desk not being open when the store is
Waitrose Quality of food and range that you can’t get in other supermarkets Overpriced items that you can buy much more cheaper in other supermarkets
Sainsbury’s Quality of food Cost and the Nectar scheme
Morrisons Quality of food Overpriced and shelves often empty of offers
Tesco Clubcard Variable quality on food products
Aldi Value for money Disorganisation in clogging up aisles and not enough staff on checkouts
Lidl Good fruit and veg Having to watch “best before” dates as products may often be past these


Supermarket responses

Supermarkets were given the opportunity to respond to these findings. Here are the supermarket responses:

An Asda spokesperson said: “Our customers are at the heart of everything we do and listening to their feedback is what drives us on to do better every day. We’re grateful for this feedback and will continue to work hard to deliver even better prices, quality and service for our customers.”

A Waitrose spokesperson said: “We work to offer consistently good value, which we firmly believe is a balance between provenance, quality and price.”

Sainsbury’s did not provide any comment

Morrisons did not provide any comment

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Clubcard is a great way for us to say thank you to our customers for choosing to shop with us, and we know it’s something they really value. It remains one of the biggest reasons why people switch to shop at Tesco.”

An Aldi spokesperson said: “Our customers regularly tell us that they shop with Aldi for everyday low prices and an enjoyable shopping experience. Our efficient business model means our checkouts are 40% quicker than other supermarkets, which reduces queues and requires fewer staff, saving our customers both time and money.”

A Lidl spokesperson said: “We are proud to have unique measures in place to help reduce food waste in the home. This includes choosing not to print a ‘best before date’ on many of our fruit and vegetable items, instead opting to print a code showing the date that the product was packaged. By not having a ‘best before date’ on certain products, it allows the individual customer to assess the fruit or vegetable product by sight and feel, judging for themselves if it is to their liking.”

In Summary
For 6 out of 7 supermarkets price and quality was the best thing about individual supermarkets. For 4 out of 7 supermarkets, price and/or variable quality of products was an issue and for 3 out of 7 it was the quality of service.

Rewards are clearly becoming more important to customers. Tesco leads the way in this area with its Clubcard, offering the most points per pound and variety of how to spend them. In comparison Sainsbury’s reduced their points value on Nectar in April last year, with fewer choices to spend them on. This clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed by customers, given that is cited as the best thing about Tesco and the worst about Sainsbury’s.

Consumers are flocking to the discounters, which do not offer the same range as other supermarkets, so people will not completely stop using larger ones and discounters may need to look at more expansion of their product ranges. Supermarkets need to offer something over and above price. Price wars will have to end eventually and for supermarkets at the cheaper end of the market service is clearly an issue.

Marcus Williamson – editor of the website CEOemail.com which provides contact details for CEOs – says “The number of people seeking contact details for the CEOs of supermarkets is still alarmingly high. This suggests problems with customer services which could be resolved by better training and by empowering staff to make a difference.”

It’s clear that prices and quality form an important part of why people shop at a certain store but  it doesn’t stop them complaining about service nor does it stop people shopping around once prices settle down across the sector. The rise of collect and delivery services will need to also rise to the challenge of providing good customer service.

Shopping habits are changing and service will have to improve dramatically if supermarkets are to retain existing customers and gain new customers.

 

And if you have an issue with a supermarket or any other store and want redress, see Top 20 Tips on How to Complain and GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! 

Latest Asda figures show weaknesses in sales and customer services

Poor results demonstrate yet again that supermarkets must provide better service or risk losing more business

 Asda’s latest quarterly figures are out, showing a 5.8% fall in sales at established stores in the 13 weeks to the 1st January. Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets, by comparison, all showed better than expected financial figures for Christmas trading, and discounters Lidl and Aldi taking on a substantial share of the sales (nearly one million more customers than last year). What is next for the supermarkets?

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow – consumer blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! – says that as customers shopping habits are changing. As we become more savvy about discounts, service, consumer rights and comparison websites, supermarkets will have to up their game. “Customers don’t have trust in supermarkets and this needs to be worked on”, she advises.

Pricing – Consumers want consistent pricing. It even led to the Which? super complaint. The consumer’s voice is getting stronger and supermarkets will have to start listening. If one supermarket shows a lead, then they will win over many a customer so widespread is the complaint.

2)   Something more? – Supermarkets need to offer something over and above price. Price wars will have to end eventually. Rewards etc., will become more important as will service. Tesco leads the way in the clubcard points offering the most per pound and variety of how to spend them. In comparison Sainsbury’s reduced their points value in April last year with fewer choices to spend them on.

3)  Price matching – most customers don’t know how it all works, who matches what and what the rules are. Did you know that you had to have 10 branded items in the Tesco brand match scheme before it comes it comes into play?  Fair play to Tesco for taking it off at the till but its rules are not completely transparent. Consumers want to know that they are getting value for money and price matching is only one way of showing this.

4)    Listening – Supermarket CEOs will have to listen to customers more. For example, Mike Coupe at Sainsbury’s shows signs of following Clarke’s leadership and downfall at Tesco. Last year when Sainsbury’s announced the decrease in nectar points per pound it said it would be making better and bigger offers, with more included in their double-up voucher scheme at Christmas. In reality the double up points scheme was limited to £20 per department with confusion around Christmas gifts and food. £20 limit on toys for a family of 4 isn’t very helpful either! It happened again in 2015. In contrast in 2014 Tesco simplified the doubling-up process so customers could spend across departments with no limit.

5)    Discounters – Consumers are flocking to the discounters, which do not offer the same range as other supermarkets, so people will not completely stop using larger ones and discounters may need to look at more expansion of stock.

6)    Savings – People are looking to save time as well as money and supermarkets will need to look at ways to make it easier and quicker for shoppers to use their stores. Tesco recently changed their minimum spend for click and collect from £20 – £40 but Sainsbury’s has, so far, kept at £20 and Asda’s is free. It remains to be seen if the discounters will provide click and collect and deliveries which would bring more competition to the table and whether Asda will bring its collections in line with others.

7)  Waste – Consumers are becoming more aware of waste and how supermarkets treat suppliers. The BBC documentary War on Waste showed a farmer destroying crops it said Morrisons would not accept plus cancelled orders etc. Dewdney’s research of the issue[1] found that actually some supermarkets are doing really well in reducing waste. She also uncovered the other side of the story from Morrisons regarding a number of issues which was not shown. Supermarkets need to do more in informing consumers of what they are doing or customers will come to their own conclusions.

8)    Advertising – Supermarkets should review their advertising campaigns. Sainsbury’s did well this year but Tesco’s campaign has brought much criticism, from sexism, to unrealistic and disbelief in characters. [2] Advertising on this scale doesn’t bring in the extra revenue to pay for it, so supermarkets need to win customers round in more engaging and innovative ways.

9)    Customer Service – Supermarkets will have to improve customer service. Marcus Williamson – editor of the website ceoemail.com – says that searches for the email addresses of supermarket CEOs are very high. Figures for the last quarter were:

Store         Percentage              Market share            Expected ranking              

Asda                    50.48%                           16.7%                  Tesco

Sainsbury           21.75%                            16.2%                  Asda

Tesco                  16.75%                             28.2%                 Sainsbury’s

Morrisons           5.75%                              10.7%                 Morrisons

ALDI                    2.74%                              5.6%                  Aldi

LIDL                     2.53%                             4.3%                  Lidl

Williamson cautions that Asda clearly needs to work on customer service and complaints policies and procedures.

Contact for media enquiries
Email:             helen@thecomplainingcow.co.uk
Website:         //www.thecomplainingcow.co.uk
Book:              How to Complain: the Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! (ISBN: 978-0993070402)

CEO email website:  CEOemail.com

References
[1] Research available on request
[2] Tesco takes flak in the battle of the Christmas adverts http://ow.ly/YuqRk

 

 

 

The loves and hates of the self service checkout

Back in April, Morrisons announced that it was to reintroduce 1,000 staffed Express Checkouts for quick personal service. So what does the anti social cow think of the self service tills and the move to offer more staffed tills?

Is it the right move by Morrisons, not so long ago the big push was for more self-service tills?
I think it probably is. Most people who talk to me about supermarkets hate self service tills.  They feel for people who would have a job if it wasn’t for the self service till and many of us loathe them because they don’t always work and you have to call someone over because it doesn’t accept a coupon or doesn’t recognise an apple or asks if you are over 18 when you are 83, which annoys us as well as slows down the experience defeating the object.  Then you have our children trying to scan things twice and there are those of us who would say that actually it should be “10 items or fewer” not “less” of course! I think it is about having the choice and a balance of types of checkouts though. In theory I should love the self service checkouts, in reality they annoy me because they go wrong and then I have to ask someone for help which annoys me more than being served by someone wha talks to me!

Are the big four supermarkets returning to focus on service now rather than price? Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both promoted the fact that they have put more people on the shop floor.
I think they have to don’t they? The latest Which? campaign on supermarkets pricing confusions shows that they are all as bad as each other in pricing. This means that if a consumer is not using the discounters then there has to be something over and above choosing a supermarket on price. I think, as I have said many time before, the supermarkets simply need to listen to customers more. As I discussed here I don’t think Sainsburys are doing that very well at the moment. Tesco is certainly better at listening under Dave Lewis than his predecessor but he couldn’t have been more ignorant in my opinion! But they still have a looooong way to go if they really want to turn around Tesco fortunes.

Will more checkouts or self services speed up shopping?
Depends wholly on how many other tills are open and how busy they are! So long as they react to how many shoppers are on the floor at one time and don’t stay stuck on this is how many tills we have open at this time. They need to be proactive and ensure that there are enough tills open at all times. There was once was a time when a supermarket had the “more than one person in front – we will open another lane.” Putting that in place might be more effective

When I was on Radio 5 discussing self service there were two presenters. One liked the self service because he didn’t have to speak to anyone but like me hated the things that went wrong. I said the supermarkets need to bring in lines specifically for chatty people and another for us anti social people. He loved the idea suggesting Gaffa tape for the assistants. At the risk of assistants taking offence this did amuse me.

What are your thoughts on the self service checkout and do you use them?

 

Are you supermarket loyal?

 

Supermarkets falling profits

There has been much discussion by retail analysts as to the reasons for profits of the supermarkets falling. Is it because the supermarkets have diversified too much and have forgotten what made them successful? Which companies have the best sited stores? It is probably a combination of many things. The public using more convenience stores and dropping the weekly shop and the irony of the likes of Tesco and Sainsburys developing these smaller stores in the first place?  The price wars between the big four and Lidl/Aldi. Are people doing a weekly shop for non-perishables and buying what they want to eat that evening on the way home from work?  Who understands the price matching thing anyway? Is it a Tesco finest pie versus a Sainsbury’s taste the difference pie? Is it Sainsbury’s taste the difference tomato versus Asda’s tomato? Then you have the all the confusing prices that annoy everyone. Which? has a petition you can sign regarding that one!

Loyalty cards
From 11th April Sainsbury’s reduce their loyalty points on their Nectar card. Sainsbury’s nectar turns sour. This move from Sainsburys may save them money in the short term but in the long term customers are less loyal than they ever were and we often know that companies frequently reward new customers and not existing customers and this is a very good example of that. All the loyalty cards have their confusions don’t they? X for purchases in stores, y on the credit card, z in other stores and they should be simplified!

At Christmas Sainsbury’s provided a “double up points” scheme that was limited to £20 per department and many staff didn’t even know what was in and what was out of the offer. (I know this because I experienced it and I vaguely remember sending them my opinions on their Christmas offer. £20 limit on toys for a family of 4 isn’t very helpful either. This sort of thing annoys customers greatly and for Sainsbury’s to increase their profits they need to be mindful of making thing more complicated for customers if they want to develop loyalty. In contrast, Tesco has the most developed reward scheme with the most frequent doubling up of value and range of items to spend points on. It also seems to have improved its voucher scheme having simplified the doubling up process so that you can spend across departments with no limit. They had to do something after I took Tesco to court over their clubcard fiasco perhaps?!

Morrisons has only just started a loyalty card. Late to the table with that one. I discussed their woes with Adam Parsons on wake Up To Money on Radio 5

Simple answer for all supermarkets?
Ask the customer what they want and give it to them. Develop a decent loyalty scheme that rewards customers, don’t  take away from exiting loyalty schemes, improve them. Surely that is obvious? Perhaps not to some CEOs. Customers have been saying for years just reduce the prices, stop all the annoying vouchers that customers have to fill their purses/wallets with, stop all the bogoffs and offers just reduce the prices, permanently. Despite the fact that this is a well-known hate of customers the supermarkets still continue the practice. Supermarkets need to set up a thorough programme of consultation running various meaningful projects not just ask for feedback from just existing customers. Perhaps it about time that supermarkets took on an “Every listen helps” slogan.

Are you loyal to a supermarket? Why? What should they do to improve your loyalty or get it in the first place? Is it just price or do they need to do more? What do you think of the price matching, deals, etc etc?!