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!


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 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! 

Sainsbury’s profits wounded in supermarket price war

Customer service takes a backseat as retailers focus on price-cutting

Sainsbury’s Preliminary Results for the 52 weeks to 12 March 2016 show underlying profit and earnings per share are down this year versus last year.

Underlying Group sales were down on the previous year down from £26,122m to £25,829m. The next quarter, in particular, may show a further decline as Sainsbury’s takes some risks. CEO Mike Coupe says “The market is competitive, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. We believe we have the right strategy in place and are taking the right decisions to achieve our vision to be the most trusted retailer where people love to work and shop.”

But is Sainsbury’s making the right decisions? Tesco PLC’s Preliminary Results 2015/16 showed positive and improving like-for-like sales growth trends in all regions whereas Sainsbury’s showed a drop for the second year running so where does that leave Sainsbury’s? It achieved £225 million (2014/15: £140 million) of operational cost savings but has this backfired? Nectar points were halved in April of last year and in April this year it ended its “Brand Match” scheme, a move seen by customers as sneaky. Sainsbury’s said it was to concentrate on lowering prices but why it can’t still match prices at the same time so customers can be sure of cheaper prices remains a mystery. 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 customers want honesty, transparency and for supermarkets to listen and act and Sainsbury’s doesn’t appear to be doing this of late.

“Firstly reducing Nectar loyalty points in 2015 and abolishing Brand Match in 2016, customers may well be forgiven for thinking that Sainsbury’s is chasing profits through taking away benefits and not on its customers, who will ultimately bring in those profits. How it can say it is listening to customers when no customer I know said “please take away the benefits for being loyal” or “take away the Brand Match I will trust that your prices are low with no evidence” is beyond me.”

It would appear Coupe, may be following much maligned ex-Tesco CEO Phillip Clarke’s business model, with knee jerk reactions, not listening to customers and land grabbing (Argos/Home Retail Group acquisition). Coupe’s predecessor, Justin King, was known for listening to staff and customers and whilst Coupe may want to be putting his own stamp on Sainsbury’s it comes at a risk. Dave Lewis, the current Tesco CEO, has sold off Clarke’s expansion acquisitions and curtailed overseas plans. He has listened to customers, leading on food waste initiatives and getting rid of misleading deals. Whilst still having problems, such as the possible misleading of customers with fake farm names, Tesco appears to be going in the right direction, recently reporting figures that put them back in the black. However, Coupe may be following Clarke’s path in more than one way.


Tesco takes flak in the battle of the Christmas adverts

Christmas adverts
I loathed the John Lewis one, it was truly awful. Stuart Heritage wrote a piece in the Guardian that summed it up quite well. Have to say I do like the Aldi Mickey take though! And as you will see from the link, I’m not alone, oh how the mighty have fallen JL! It’s almost as if the makers of previous John Lewis adverts did Sainsbury’s this year because that one does bring a smile to your face. It’s familiar to anyone who grew up with Mog or has children and it is a great story. You’ve got to love the dogs in the Asda adverts, then who can even remember some of the other supermarket adverts and then there’s Tesco…

Followers of the blog know that I like picking on supermarket failings. Tesco in particular (see the history of various posts including taking them to court for the uninitiated). And well, I haven’t done one on Tesco for a while and there seemed so much to talk about with their adverts so here we go….
The reality of Tesco adverts

Earlier in the year Dave Lewis said ‘You can’t advertise your way out of problems you’ve behaved your way into’. Yup.

The Tesco adverts
What do you think? Not seen them? You can see the first two here. Well, apparently according to a survey of 700 consumer OnePulse showed that 66% agreed that the new ad was “really funny” and 76% recognised the adverts’ stars from their previous TV appearances. In The Grocer Lewis was quoted as saying that Tesco’s personality was one of the three key factors in his plan on top of improving service and revitalising the “Every Little Helps” mantra. “The thing that Tesco has always had historically is the sense of humour that its customers have understood,” said Lewis. “If you want an example of that, go back to Dudley Moore, go back to Dotty, go back to some of those campaigns.””

OK, now, I’ve met Dave, I think he’s got a good sense of humour (he happily chats to me, so that’s either a good sense of humour or he’s bonkers… or both). So, he may well have a good solid background in marketing and I have zilch, but hey when did lack of experience stop me having an opinion or as in this case asking for a load of others too?

In my newsletter, on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, I asked people for their opinions on the advert. It would appear that we can challenge the OnePulse survey figures.

Tesco’s research
I am reliably informed that Bartle Bogle Hegarty undertook lots of research in the form of focus groups. Lots of ‘em, I’m led to believe. Participants were asked what they thought of supermarket adverts, Tesco generally and they found that people had liked the Dotty adverts of the 80s so they thought they’d put a modern spin on that. The same focus groups were shown early drafts of the adverts and a series of polls were also undertaken. I know, you do wonder how, when some of us follow Tesco and the like and what they are up to and do we ever get asked? Nope. Apparently all well received. People liked them.

Tesco Statements
Well, if you look at various pieces about Tesco and their thoughts on their advertising in Marketing Week (and here and here!) and on their own site here you’ll see a lot of back patting about how much better they are getting and how fabulous their adverts are! It’s all rather premature if you ask me.

The failings of surveys and focus groups
Firstly, let’s ask some questions of the surveys and responses (although I don’t have the answers!!)
1) What questions were asked in the survey? Were they leading questions?
2) Xx agreed with yy statement were all the question closed like this putting an idea in people’s heads?
3) How many times did each person have to see the advert?
4) Were they all Tesco customers?
5) In any focus group were people led by others in the group?
6) Did the respondents feel that their responses were 100% confidential or that they may lose their place at the table where they might get rewards for their answers?
7) What percentage of respondents couldn’t care less and just filled out anything because they had to do something?
8) What percentage of people couldn’t actually be bothered to speak in a focus group or ticked any old thing in a survey for speed and/or just to get the voucher or whatever they got as a thank you for being involved.

9) What things were not suggested, but had they been everyone in the group may have agreed with?

With that in mind, I asked one open question. “You know those Tesco ads with Ben Miller? What do you think – full and honest opinions please whether you like or don’t like. Amuse not amuse? What do you think of the characters. I’ve seen the headline feedback that Tesco got and I wonder if we differ so share your thoughts please for a future blog post.” With a link to the ads for those who hadn’t seen them.

So, although I didn’t get 700 responses, more like around 100 but they were from people who willingly gave their opinions for nothing in return. What was the most important to them about the adverts?

The results?
Well! There was an overwhelming cry of “annoying”.
Tesco survey said 66% agreed that the advert was really funny.
Our survey on Facebook (the place that starts more arguments than any other) 7% said funny at first then get annoying. A further 7% said nothing positive or negative and the other 86% said “annoying” “irritating” and/or “boring”.

I asked a few times on Twitter. A few people were really rather rude about the adverts! They made me smile but I try and be professional and not swear on here so they can’t be repeated! 15% thought they were funny and the other 85% couldn’t find a good word to say about them. Actually I didn’t need to ask, just look at the Twitter feed on “Tesco advert”. Even the social media team gave up for saying they would feedback for a while. There was also a thread on Mumsnet criticising the adverts, asking why didn’t they create a real family? And various others! This one (AdTurds) even gives the words people are putting into searches about the adverts! Seems nearly everybody hates them! Then there’s the comments on one of the adverts on Youtube. Can’t find anyone who actually finds them funny.

On LinkedIn I asked the same. Well 100% didn’t like them although to be fair one person did have some positive comments:


When a few more adverts came out I asked if people thought they had got better or worse. Short answer worse. Longer answer – well someone said:

Tesco wasting money on adverts

Well, actually Chris thinks wrong! The contract is worth £110 million according to many a media report earlier in the year when Tesco moved its advertising contract to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Tesco adverts waste of money

The questions raised some really interesting answers though such as:

The message
People who don’t shop in Tesco didn’t always understand the message about Tesco Brand Guarantee. They either thought that it was just advertising the fact that there was a Tesco Brand Guarantee, they didn’t realise it was taken off at the till and one thought you had to know the prices from another store. The message doesn’t appear to be getting across to non customers. Although everyone who understood the message or who knew it already was very positive about the actual issue. (Me too!) What hasn’t come across though is that no-one picked up on the fact that Tesco has stopped price matching own brand goods, it is now only price matching branded goods.

Overwhelming consensus on this. An example of a few of the comments:


Identifying with the family
Respondents were asked what they thought of the family. No-one identified with the characters. In fact, far from it. Whilst some people liked the actors, many said that they did not identify with them. Phil in the LinkedIn comment above mentioned about the Tesco demographic and non-represented people and that has been said in different ways by many others. On Twitter people mentioned about the son being a similar age to his parents, questioning choice of actors and the way they apparently shopped. I couldn’t find any views from people that thought of them as a family and that they were well cast together.

I read somewhere that the mother is supposed to be a headmistress. Well the fact that she is meant to be a headteacher should mean that the advert needs to be showing the store at the most busy of times or very late evening because no head teacher is shopping in Tesco at the quiet day times!

Incidentally my Mum, who unlike me is a nice person, (and we all knows Mums are right) said, “Who is the dreadful actor that plays the idiot and why are they paying the others which is a waste of money which I think could be better spent on savings for customers!”

Others had some interesting views:

tesco 8


Sexism and harrassment
Some people had even more to add about the adverts. Sexist – insinuating that women do all the shopping and that’s why the mum knows about the Tesco Brand Guarantee but the dad doesn’t, implying that men are arrogant and stupid when coming to shopping. A lot of people were particularly critical of the harassment of the son and a female shopper.




tesco adverts sexist

Women on a blog site shared their thoughts:

Complaints about Tesco

1) People do not identify with the family
2) Sexist
3) Advocating harassment in the Tesco stores
4) Even if they found funny the first time, this feeling does not last
5) Patronising
6) Old fashioned, trying to capture “Bisto family” appeal but failing, as people don’t identify with the family
7) Modern spin on Dotty? Really? With the ageing population and increase of elderly people on their own one could argue that the old advert was more realistic and more appealing than the nuclear family?
8) Uncreative, with an emphasis on style over substance

9) Majority of people seem to dislike the adverts but so much so large numbers are talking about them, perhaps now quite in the wat Tesco envisaged, but I suppose they say, no such thing as bad publicity!

What do we know?
Well as followers of this blog know, I often say what do I know, I’m just a customer? And in this instance have no experience in marketing or advertising as well as no experience working in the private sector! That goes for you too of course, you are “only” customers of the supermarket. You aren’t being paid a fortune to come up with trite, old fashioned, lazy, poorly thought out adverts. But here’s the thing, we are the customers, so who better to tell Tesco how they should be advertising? Even more importantly what about the people who aren’t Tesco customers, shouldn’t they be telling Tesco how to advertise?

Oh look, more independent research shows just where Tesco comes in the popularity rankings of the Christmas adverts. Poor show Tesco!

Possibly this?

Tesco advert

So, here are my thoughts, feel free to add your comments below on what you think about them and add yours. There will be trouble if anyone nicks any of our ideas of course!

1) If Tesco has to stick with this unrealistic family which don’t go well together, show them at home with pets. The UK is a nation of animal lovers and that’s where you really get the humour and the “aw” factor that people can watch repeatedly. Think YouTube hits and TV programmes where “animals doing the funniest things”.
2) In the same vein, when at home introduce young children, although Tesco will have to get around the fact that the kids were in nursery/school when the headteacher was shopping… many of us WILL pick them up on that!
3) Points 1 and 2 give opportunity to have many a short clip on cute kids and animals, the sort of things that go viral. It’s free advertising.
4) The family need to meet people in the store who aren’t white middle class couples…?
5) Stop being sexist in so many ways.
6) Come up with original ideas about “the family”. Oh and if you are promoting gluten free products how about acknowledging other allergies such as nuts, milk and eggs?
7) If you really want to bring some humour in, remember that Tesco has a long way to go in reclaiming its top position in the supermarket rankings. How about using Yazz’s “The Only way is Up” as background music about what changes that Tesco is making. Those of us who are old enough to remember the track probably spend the most in the stores?
8) And a bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss either now, would it?

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?