zzzw Ofcom survey suggests EE   good, and BT   badIn some peculiar news, EE have been said to do quite well customer satisfaction-wise, according to Ofcom.

While not top, EE still scooped 69% satisfaction rate with customers with their services, whereas BT at the other end of the spectrum BT has been declared the worst.

This rum state of affairs is seemingly at odds with all what we know.

Ofcom’s – them again – latest customer satisfaction levels study, assessed customer satisfaction across the board for Pay TV, landline, Mobile, and Broadband – both fixed and mobile.

O2 were the victors of the survey, with a 78% positive reaction.

Ofcom said: “Overall customer service satisfaction scores for 3/Three, EE, O2, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone are all in line with the 2014 sector average and none of these providers’ overall scores significantly increased from 2013 (where comparable)”

Over on the landlines, Sky topped the survey with a 79% customer satisfaction rate, shading BT’s 40% complaint rate. Ofcom popped up at the fence again, shifted its bosoms and said: “BT’s overall satisfaction score (60%) was significantly lower than average. They also performed below average on specific customer service measures including speed and ease of getting through to the right person, time taken to handle issues and offering compensation or a goodwill payment”.

Are Tesco going toward 100% self-service tills?

November 26th, 2014 16 Comments By Mof Gimmers

tesco Are Tesco going toward 100% self service tills?Across the country, Tesco have been trialling new, slimmer self-service tills. Not because they look nicer, but rather, they can get more bodies in who will serve themselves and bundle them out the door again. In one Manchester store, there is no traditional till served by a member of staff. One London Tesco branch is also entirely self-serving too.

Instead, the staff are now hanging around the self service tills as floating assistants, too flustered to converse with customers, and effectively retraining everyone who walks through the door to be an unpaid worker.

Tesco won’t mind though because they think that they can pass off self-service tills as something that will reduce queuing time for consumers.

However, there’s a number of problems with self-service tills – by getting the customer to do some of the work, that means they don’t need to pay as many members of staff, but are Tesco passing on the money they’re saving to customers? Not a chance.

Another problem is that research has shown that the queues have been replaced by a lengthier waiting time while customers have technical problems with the self-service tills, argue with the staff about not wanting to use the machines and the whole ‘bagging area’ irritation. A survey by the Telegraph showed that the shops offering a choice between staffed and automated tills, it is usually quicker to choose the traditional method. In addition, if a store has one remaining manned cash register, then the queues get increasingly large there, as customers avoid the automated ones.

Anecdotally, one city-centre store BW has seen has gone from a friendly (no, honestly, pleasantly friendly), bustling supermarket to half-dead overnight. That’s not because the 100% self-service checkouts have streamlined service, but rather, the nearby shops that offer both self-service and trad. arr. staffed tills are now much busier than before because customers have the choice of talking to, or ignoring other humans.

Of course, self-service tills offer a humiliating prospect for older customers, who aren’t all tech-savvy and, pat on the back for this one supermarkets, by removing a chatty member of staff from their lives, may have lost an old dear the only person they got to talk to in a day. Naturally, there’s a whole host of tech-knowledgeable pensioners out there, but even they must miss a brief ‘hello’ when shopping, rather than moving through a shop silently.

In some Tesco stores, you could feasibly spend £200 on your shopping without actually speaking to another human or receiving any acknowledgement or gratitude from the company’s proprietors or management. Empty as a ‘thank you’ can be, it is still nice to get one if you’re handing over your money to a company.

In self-service heavy outlets, you walk in, shop, put your own stuff into the system without the savings being passed on, walk out and the only thanks you get is a sign, swaying in the rafters that says “Thanks For Shopping At Tesco”. It should go without saying that there’s some people who actively prefer self-service tills, but it is lousy to see supermarkets edging toward a lack of choice for the customer.

Obviously, self-service isn’t always bad – when was the last time someone served your petrol, or the last time someone eschewed a cash machine because they wanted to get their money from a bank clerk? There’s a good number of people who have enjoyed the five-fingered discount that self-service allows too.

There’s just something bleak about Tesco, a company that has lost huge sums of money and losing ground to Aldi and Lidl, choosing to squeeze pennies out of customers so flagrantly. With customers seemingly voting with their feet and shopping elsewhere, it is a problem that Tesco need to look at.

broadband slow 319970 Stop fibbing about your broadband speeds say WhichWhich!!! have called on regulators to have a word with how broadband services are advertised.

At the moment, providers are allowed to use a ‘headline speed’ to advertise their services, but in reality only around 10% of their customers will actually get that. According to findings by Which!!!, a quarter of people would have selected another deal had they been better informed about what the actual speeds were.

To cover their backs, however, providers say various factors can affect the speed individual customers get.

According to Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which!!!, it’s not on: “Internet connection is now an essential part of modern life so it beggars belief that providers can sell people short by advertising speeds that only 10% of customers could receive,”

“We want advertising watchdogs to pull the plug on confusing adverts and ensure broadband providers show the speeds the majority of customers will actually get.”

Which!!! called on the advertising watchdogs, the Committee of Advertising Practice (Cap) and the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice (Bcap), to review current guidelines, and now has started a campaign. Uncatchily entitled ‘Give us broadband speed guarantees‘, Which!!! are asking the public to sign up and to put pressure on those that lie.

Damn right.

Tesco Woolwich is right ugly say experts

September 5th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

tesco woolwich 300x300 Tesco Woolwich is right ugly say expertsPride for Woolwich now, as their Tesco has just been crowned the winner of an award!

Except this one is for Building Design’s Carbuncle Cup, which is handed out to architecture that is “unforgivably bad and deserve(s) to be named and shamed“.


The development at Woolwich Central is managed and owned by Spenhill, who in turn are owned by Tesco, and it offers a Tesco Extra across the first eight floors teamed with 189 apartments of one, two and three bedroom variations, above that.

It must be said, the judges delivered some champion shade, when describing the building: “Camouflage comes in the way of some truly diabolical cladding and a massing strategy that seems to have been directly inspired by the 1948 Berlin blockade; we can only hope that residential leases come with free airlift.”

One of the panel, Prince Charles’s architectural adviser, Hank Dittmar aced that with “too much for the site, for the area and for the eye”.

An unnamed spokesman for the architects, was having none of it, saying “the aim was to create a cohesive piece of strong architecture that unlocked this vast space and established a desirable place to live”.

But then he would.

Nail polish to prevent rape

September 2nd, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

undercovercolors 300x156 Nail polish to prevent rapeA new nail polish is being developed that will deter rapists. We’ve had the anti-rape mobile app, as well as a brilliant vagina dentata thing, but now we’ve got something a little more easy to have about your person.

That’s the idea behind Undercover Colors, a nail polish that will change colour is there’s any date rape drugs been slipped into your shandy.

While the product has yet to go on sale, the company have stressed that have been working to ensure that any kind of drug can be discovered, rather than put the nail polish out there and fail.

When fully tested, they plan to crowd-source a money making campaign.

The company’s site says: “While date rape drugs are often used to facilitate sexual assault, very little science exists for their detection. Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.”

“Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught. In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators.”

“We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”

This could potentially be amazing, more news as and when.

IPC magazines start using beacons

August 27th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

nme 231x300 IPC magazines start using beaconsThe first UK-wide beacon campaign is launched by IPC Media.

The company behind such publications as NME, Chat and TV Times, will be running a money-off offer for customers that have downloaded OneStop or Appflare Redeem apps.

The promotion will be available in all of Tesco-owned OneStop’s 740 stores for a month from 1st September.

To be able to receive the promotion, consumers will have to enable Bluetooth and turn on notifications while in the store to receive a discount code they can redeem it at the till.

Katharine Challinor, retail sales director at IPC Media, says the innovative campaign will allow its customers to receive relevant and timely promotions.

It will target customers based on their interests to serve them discounts for magazines they are most likely to have an interest in, and start spamming them accordingly.

So, no doubt you can share in the harrowing despair of the 14,000 people left who buy NME as a magazine.

This is the latest in beacon trialling following the likes of Eat and House of Fraser, where a beacon in mannequins or on shelves sends out orders for you to kill alerts you to offers.

If shop staff don’t mither you enough, now bits of technology will. Fabulous.

fat white family 300x200 Music industry eventually suggests a global release dayThe music industry is thinking of adopting a global street date for releases.

With albums being released on a Friday in Australia, there’s a tendency among pirates to upload their releases, and soon they’re shared around the world before the UK release date on Monday, followed by the US on a Tuesday.

It looks likely to happen, if the likes of the major labels are concerned, although how this is supposed to work when some acts stagger their album release due to the territory they’re releasing in, hasn’t been fully worked out yet.

Admittedly this sort of thing would apply more to the Coldplay and Ed Sheeran end of the market, rather than, say, for example – and mainly because we wanted to use a picture of them – Fat White Family, whose debut album from last year finally gets released next month in the US.

As far as the industry is concerned, digital suppliers are fine with a global Friday release date, some physical retailers actually think that they sell more CDs when stuff is released at the start of the week, obviously tied to the ‘new release Monday’ aspect that has been the UK music industry preference for decades, as that was dictated by the compiling of the charts.

Although, due to the fluidity of the music industry, and sales of downloads towering above the physical copy, the whole idea seems already quite quaint.

Not so much a case of ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’, more like ‘getting around to  doing something about that door, seeing as the horse ran off and got turned into No Frills lasagne some years ago.’

Earn free cash with your breasts

November 12th, 2013 6 Comments By Thewlis

bf 300x225 Earn free cash with your breastsWe’re always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to make money here at Bitterwallet, so this latest Government-funded initiative really caught our eye. And not (just) because it’s related to female body parts. The problem is that it’s well, a bit niche, as you need to be a breastfeeding mother in order to get the cash for, well, doing what comes naturally. Yes, breastfeeding is what breasts are actually for.

In a new pilot scheme, breastfeeding mothers in deprived areas of Sheffield and Chesterfield will get paid £200 in shopping vouchers for breastfeeding their child in a scheme co-funded by the government and medical research organisations. The aim is to improve the breastfeeding rates in these areas, where the average rate of breastfeeding is just 25% at 6-8 weeks, compared with a national average of 55%. If the scheme is successful, a national scheme could be rolled out next year.

Operation of breastfeeding will be confirmed by midwives and health visitors, and the full £200 will only be paid after six months of breastfeeding, although those stopping after 6-8 weeks should pocket up to £120.

Dr Clare Relton, of Sheffield University who are leading the project said she hoped the financial incentives would create a culture where breastfeeding was seen as the norm.

“It is a way of acknowledging both the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society,” she added.

But Janet Fyle, of the Royal College of Midwives, was less impressed:

“The motive for breastfeeding cannot be rooted by offering financial reward. It has to be something that a mother wants to do in the interest of the health and well-being of her child.”

Breastfeeding should appeal to those on lower incomes as there is no need to pay for formula milks, bottles and sterilising equipment, not withstanding the oft-quoted health benefits for the baby. But, as the statistics themselves show, financial considerations are unlikely to form a large part of any decision-making process in deciding whether or not to breastfeed. However, rewarding those who do will presumably contribute to a generally more positive view of doing it.

Besides, breastfeeding for money is not actually new- wet nurses were very popular in Victorian times and are still seen as a symbol of status in some areas of China. Still, the scheme is likely to be unpopular with those who don’t, or can’t breastfeed, and with those wondering why people should get paid to feed their own children…

Is getting stuff for free worth the aggro?

September 21st, 2013 13 Comments By Thewlis

free 300x225 Is getting stuff for free worth the aggro?Most people think of Facebook as merely a social/anti-social network full of Friends you never see. But for some people, Facebook is also a shopping site- more recently Facebook has become awash with local selling sites, as people realised they could avoid the crippling costs of both eBay/Paypal and Royal Mail, by selling their crap to someone who lived down the road.

However, as the economic squeeze has tightened, and persisted, there are a growing number of ‘free’ ‘thrift’ and ‘recycle’ pages springing up around the country. Again, these are mostly locally based, and the idea behind them is that, just because you don’t want something, someone else might be able to put it to good use, either as is, or they might upcycle (paint) it.

Sounds good in theory. Why not save serviceable items from landfill and help out a neighbour on the way?

Unfortunately, it seems is less simple in practice. Taking just a small sample of sites available, they are full of rules, arguments and (if admins are to be believed) threats of physical violence, all in pursuit of someone’s old toaster. The main issues can be split into the following categories:

First commenter. Some sites stipulate that the first person to comment should get the item. However, this invariably means that some slug somewhere with no job and nothing better to do than troll Facebook free sites ends up getting everything. All day.

Greed. See above. Some sites have bans on people getting  more than a certain number of items per day. These are (we can only hope) only children who never learned to share.

Sob stories. The only alternative to the First Commenter to determine who gets the free item seems to be Worst Lifestory method. Here, would-be owners of whatever item compete to tell the most heart-wrenching stories in order to earn the favour of the person donating. Clearly it doesn’t matter if said stories are actually true.

Car booters. Free sites are full of disgruntled donators who have found their clock/shoes/tv stand for sale at a local car boot. It is irrelevant that they were going to chuck the item, and have given it away (ie relinquished any rights of ownership) over the item. If anyone’s making a profit on the item, they should be. Particularly if the enterprising car booter is also an inventive sob-story writer.

Wanted ads. Yes, I’d like a new 42” HD TV too, but I don’t expect someone to give me one for nothing. The requests on these sites can be increasingly bizarre, from equipment to start a plumbing business, a new coat, to a rug to cover the stain on the floor before the midwife comes. Still, if you don’t ask…

Many of these sites get hundreds of posts a day, allowing you to trawl through photos of other people’s crap to your heart’s content- just so long as you are also prepared to put up with the swearing, insults, threats, shocking spelling and whingeing that goes along with it*.

So do you use these sites? Are they worth the effort or is it just another excuse for people to moan at each other and do the charity shop out of a few bob?

* come to think of it, sounds a bit like our comments section

According to a You Gov consumer research report, commissioned by First Assist Insurance Services (who, coincidentally, provide private healthcover), many of us are expecting NHS services to decline, with half of us thinking about paying for additional cover. 48% of people surveyed polled expect the service provided by the NHS to deteriorate in the next year, and 59 per cent expecting waiting times to increase.

Maintenance of Government spending levels was also a concern, with 48% anticipating a fall in NHS funding. Many people think some services should be cut to allow greater funding for more universal health concerns, with tattoo removal, cosmetic surgery and weight loss surgery being top of the list.firstassist not available nhs 500x334 Half of us would pay to cover NHS shortfalls?

As a result, 41% of respondents said they would (definitely or possibly) consider private healthcare products. Nine per cent have already purchased cover, which could mean that half of the UK will end up paying to supplement the insufficient NHS provision.

firstassist buy private health 500x227 Half of us would pay to cover NHS shortfalls?

But is this a good thing? If people can afford to pay, should they, or should the NHS be truly universal and free?  Are there just too many people not paying enough in taxes?

mbn shark wideweb  470x3210 300x204 Water companies are taking the used toilet waterThe thing about privatisation is that it’s a really good idea-on paper. Business become efficient; costs are minimised and customer service maximised so everyone wins. Unfortunately, the problem with privatisation is that it involves capitalism, where someone is always out to make a buck. And that someone is never the consumer.

Now, it seems, even industry regulators are annoyed with the free market, and the associated right of private companies to do as they want (and they generally want to make as much profit as possible), with both the current and former heads of Ofwat openly criticising the naughty behaviour of some water companies.

Both Jonson Cox, chair of Ofwat and former chief Sir Ian Byatt are particularly narked over the large dividends water companies have paid out to their shareholders, many of whom are now private equity firm investors. Instead of paying out profits to shareholders (as a public/private company normally does), they think any excess over a ‘reasonable amount’ of dividend should in fact be returned to customers in the form of a bill rebate. Kind of how it used to work before privatisation.

Supporting a report by thinktank CentreForum, Sir Byatt advocated “some form of dividend control” where “payments of dividends above those assumed by the regulator when setting price limits, would be accompanied by reductions in the tariffs paid by customers”. Mr Cox told the Telegraph last month that some water companies’ profit levels and tax-reducing corporate structures were “morally questionable”.

To further annoy the regulator, many water companies are described as borrowing ‘excessively’, while paying out large dividends. This makes perfect sense for a profit-making company, as loan interest is tax deductible, but dividend payments are not. The final bugbear is Thames Water’s attempt to secure public (taxpayer) funding for its multi-billion pound “super sewer” project, despite earning huge profits (and paying no tax. Allegedly) in recent years.

The problem, of course, is that water companies are selling a commodity we all need, but much like the energy companies, have become a victim of their own success. The whole point of privatisation was to make companies more efficient and thereby profitable, but now that they are doing (very) well, this is no good either. Ofwat already caps the prices that can be charged for water, and this includes an element of profit. Surely if water companies can make large profits on top of that they either deserve those profits owing to impressive cost savings and excellent business management, or Ofwat is setting the prices wrongly.  And any number of private companies get handouts from the Government to support their own, profit-making businesses; Amazon and Honda and Jaguar to name but a few. And while energy bills are sky-rocketing, are water bills at an average of £32 a month for all the fresh running water you could want really so extortionate?

Answers on a postcard.

gal attendant united jpg 232x300 Apologists are United for passenger thrown off planeMatthew is 26 years old, writes a popular blog about the airline industry and is a frequent flyer – so frequent, in fact, that he’s due to hit a million airmiles accumulated with United Airlines.

The guts of the story is this: Matthew was flying from Newark to Istanbul in business class. He wanted to write a review of the new cabins and took a single photo , while seated, of the headrest in front. A flight attendant warned him it was against company policy to take photos of the aircraft (it’s arguable whether it is or not), and went on to chastise another passenger for doing similar. As a frequent flyer, Matthew felt the need to apologise, so he said to the attendant:

“I want you to understand why I was taking pictures. I hope you didn’t think I was a terrorist. Here is my business card [offering her one]. I write about United Airlines on an almost-daily basis and the folks at United in Chicago are even aware of my blog.”

This exchange led to Matthew being led away by an airline representative and, eventually, a conversation with the captain:

Captain: Sir, you are not flying on this flight.

Me: Can you tell me why?

Captain: My FA tells me she told you to stop taking pictures and you continued to take pictures.

Me: That’s a lie, captain. She told me stop taking pictures and I stopped. I did try to explain to her why I was taking pictures—I am a travel writer [I offered him one of my business cards and he too refused to accept it].

Captain: Look, I don’t care. You are not flying on this flight. You can make this easy or make this difficult. We’ll call the police if we have to.

Me: Why are you threatening me? Your FA is lying—I did not disobey any crewmember instruction.

Captain: Look, we’re already late. I’d advise you to get off this plane now. Make it easy on yourself. Don’t make us bring the police in. Goodbye.

That’s the short version; the full details are available on Matthew’s blog. The bottom line is that Matthew is angry at the flight attendant because she lied to the captain by claiming he ignored her and continued taking photos:

 I did nothing wrong and the FA who lied about me should be held to account by United. Surely, a liar is more of a security threat than a passenger who wants to take a picture of his seat.

I have nothing to hide other than my humiliation for being thrown off a flight on the pretense of a mistruth.

Several passengers on the same flight have commented on the blog and verified key aspects of Matthew’s story, but there’s plenty of support for his version of events, but what’s more interesting is the reaction from others reading the story. Not those who think Matthew is an idiot for using the word “terrorist’ (after all, one terrorist attack 11 years ago should mean we should never try and deny being one), but those who are adamant that Matthew was an idiot for taking the time to apologise in the first place:

Learn how to swallow your pride and keep your mouth shut.

Suck it up princess in future when in business class just kick back, smile be happy and enjoy the flight.

There is a reason for the airlines rules. It is to protect the public and I would like to be safe as a single mother of two girls. I suggest passengers get on the flight, behave and have respect for other passengers as well as the flight crew.

Reading your version of events, United is mostly to blame. you share some of the blame though. She told you to stop taking pictures, and right or wrong, you should have just stopped and let the matter go.

Hate to say it, but you should have stopped taking the pictures (like you did), apologize, and not mention the subject again.

The best thing to do at this point is STFU, work it out with UAL, and hope that they don’t flag you onto the no-fly list.

Thanks to the internet we’ve become world-class complainers; everyone has a voice, including those who have nothing to say and no right to say it. Social media is worse, full of customers telling half-truths and outright lies in a bid to extract compensation from companies. In amongst all the bluster, however, are genuine grievances, concerns and complaints. The bottom line is that ‘passengers’ are ultimately ‘customers’ too – so how did we get to the point where so many feel they’re not allowed to speak onboard a plane, let alone complain?

What say you, avid reader? Apologist nonsense or passenger lunacy?

Tax Credits changes- a low blow?

February 15th, 2012 13 Comments By Thewlis
blood from stone Tax Credits changes  a low blow?

picture from strategystew.com

Now that all that ridiculous furore about certain bankers’ measly £1million bonus has all died down, politicians can get back to more serious financial matters. Like explaining to an estimated 212,000 ( or 82,000 if you are currently in Government) households why their tax credit income is going to fall by a quarter or more in two months’ time.

The changes, coming in from 6 April this year, are not new, but the extent of the application of the changes means that it is not just the middle classes with child benefit facing a drop in income. The region with the most affected households likely to be London (46,205), followed by the North West (26,845), West Midlands (22,675) and Yorkshire and the Humber (20,225).

From April, couples with at least one child need to jointly work 24 hours a week, with one working at least 16 hours a week, to continue to receive the ‘working’ element of the tax credits. Previously the minimum working requirement was 16 hours. The full working element is worth up to £3,870 per year.

The example shown on the Direct.gov website of a married couple with one child, where one parent works 16 hours a week earning £13,000 shows a drop in tax credits of £19 a week , down from £81 to £62 a week. This equates to a drop of 23.5% in tax  credits. And assumes the worker is capable of earning nearly £17 an hour.

Treasury Minister Chloe Smith’s excuse, as given to BBC News, was that that the policy was part of “what we have to do as a country to get out of the enormous deficit mess left by Labour,” adding that it was not unfair because it “levels two parent households with what lone parents have to do.”

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves said “This is a deeply unfair change from a government that is increasingly out of touch with parents feeling the squeeze and struggling to juggle work and family life.”

Now. At  this point, if you work long hours and still have little disposable income, you may be struggling to find sympathy for those affected, even for the 470,000 children who have no say in the matter. However, whatever your personal feelings, if we look at the changes purely on a practical level, it isn’t hard to see why Labour are rubbing their hands at the mess the Government has created for themselves.

Firstly, while it may be easy to demand people conjure up an extra 8 hours work per week, if you are unskilled and facing/experiencing long-term unemployment, actually getting extra work is likely to prove more difficult. Even those with a job are often facing cuts to their hours, rather than being offered overtime.

Secondly, this change only applies to parents with at least one child. While those with children of school age could probably find the time (if not perhaps the work) to work 8 or 16 hours a week, what about those with pre-schoolers? Even assuming the free nursery places are available, at 15 hours per week, term time only, it is difficult even in a booming recession to find an 8 hour per week plus job that fits these criteria.

Thirdly, what exactly is the Government trying to achieve with these changes? Presumably they want people on benefits to work harder for their free money, but if an employer only has 48 hours work per week, increasing the minimum requirement to 24 hours would effectively put one person out of a job- surely the ideal would be three people working 16 hours a week rather than two at 24 hours each, if we want to encourage as many people as possible into work?

And assuming people find it too difficult to achieve the increased minimum, what are they going to do instead? Live apart? The new requirement only applies to couples, so by booting a parent out, a single parent could regain that money. Stop working altogether? Employment Support Allowance and Income Support could leave them better off.

While the motives behind the changes may be laudable, ish, the reality for thousands of families is going to be much more difficult. The Government defend the changes by pointing out that the child element of child tax credit will increase in April by inflation of 5.2% and that fuel duty and council tax (bearing in mind how those people on benefits drive gaz guzzler cars and pay council tax on their council house) have been frozen.

That’s OK then.

The death of online price comparison

December 23rd, 2011 40 Comments By Paul Nikkel

ciao1 300x118 The death of online price comparisonThe news of Microsoft selling off Ciao to the mid-size French company LeGuide.com has us scratching our heads here at Bitterwallet HQ and wondering if we are seeing the end of online price comparison. The golden days seem to be behind us as the old big names slump in traffic and value. Ciao was bought by Microsoft for a half-billion dollars only a few years ago but has been bought in cash by a company with EBT of €8.6m and a market cap of only €51m. Kelkoo was bought by Yahoo back in 2004 for €450m and sold a scant 4 years later for a rumoured fraction of the price. Pricegrabber jumped on the mid-2000 sales club by selling to Experian for a half-billion and has slipped down the traffic rankings since then.

It seems the heady valuations of 6 years ago haven’t panned out as the sector has declined in popularity even though online shopping has grown massively. Indeed it seems illogical that price comparison portals with their early head start haven’t become the defacto starting point for online shopping. While other ecommerce sites such as codes, group shopping, cashback, and deals have exploded, the comparison sites have taken a distant back seat.

There are two probable reasons for this decline: (1) comparison sites were built on the idea of a rational consumer, someone who was carefully planning and executing on their purchases, (2) the model and traffic of price comparison in the first decade was built around traffic arbitrage and search rather than genuine consumers.

Let’s take apart reason two first. The initial boom of price comparison was built on the back of organic search as comparison sites churned out millions of pages optimised to rank on the long tail of model number and product search. If you think back to 2004 you probably remember doing a model number search and seeing nothing but page after page of comparison sites ranking for these keywords. Google slapped down these rankings on an individual basis with site penalties in the subsequent years but their recent focus culminating in Panda has made this a central part of Google’s ranking algorithm. In a nutshell Google doesn’t want pages rankings which are simply link collections to other sites – they want unique content or some value add. Second, the early comparison models were built around CPC (cost-per-click) payments from retailers to the comparison sites. A little bit of simple math (buy incoming clicks for less than outgoing clicks) meant they were able to funnel through large amounts of traffic from cheap sources and simply arbitrage the pricing. This practice has declined as cheap traffic sources have declined and retailers improved their source value attribution tracking and moved away from CPC towards performance models. Lastly, the entrance of Google into the comparison market with Froogle (now Google Shopping/Product Search) and mainly the promotion of these Google Shopping results to the top of the results page has meant that organic traffic for comparison has pretty much dried up.

The second reason is not as simple but I think strikes to the core of why comparison was valued so highly at its peak. When shopping tools are built we often consider the end user to be a rational and ideal future self – the kind of future self that will eat healthy, budget carefully, bike to work and never get *that* drunk again. In reality our present self is very different and driven more by soft social and psychological factors rather than logical reasoning. In the sector of online shopping the price comparison site is more of a tool for the rational future self which is not the mode most people are in when they make a purchase. On paper it looks like the price comparison site would be a necessary piece of the online shopping boom – after all wouldn’t every single purchase be checked on a price comparison before going through checkout?

In the end it seems that convenience and reputation are still as powerful online as offline. Consumers continue to keep Amazon as the largest online shop because they trust the service, enjoy the convenience and more or less believe that it’s probably a reasonable price they are paying. Sites like Groupon have shown that consumers will happily purchase without comparison based on the narrative of the sale (50% off!!) and the time pressure (today only!).

A third reason for the decline in price comparison may be that the online market has become increasingly large and less transparent. With the boom in private sale sites where prices are hidden behind a registration wall, special discounting services like Amazon Prime, and, again, sites like Groupon where prices are short-term and limited, it has become difficult to compare true prices. Simply put, the price is harder to compare than in early online shopping days where the number of merchants was limited and prices were easier to compare like-for-like.

A last bit to throw in is that as online shopping has become the norm and more brands have become trusted consumers may be less likely to visit price comparison as a trust reference and product discovery mechanism.

After all that waffling on – what say you the Bitterwallet consumer? Have you found your price comparison use habits shifting? Do you remember using comparison sites more in the past?

There’s few things I like musing about more than what comes next for high street retail. Anyone reading Bitterwallet or active on HUKD probably agrees with me that the high street electronics chains are a terminal case without much reason to look into resuscitation options – the recent Best Buy and Comet collapses back that up – so we don’t have much to talk about there. Let’s move straight to what the future of the high street may look like for electronic retail presuming that big box dies.

The biggest problem for any bricks and mortar retailer is that there isn’t an information gap for consumers anymore. You could look at the past decades of high street retail as being an arbitrage of information – the chains knew where to buy goods cheap and the consumer couldn’t easily compare the prices and sources for goods. The retailer was able to profit off the consumer not easily knowing whether their pricing was good or poor. On top of the pricing information gap you also had an information gap where the average consumer did not have a reliable source (we’re talking large scale adoption of internet) of information on what product was suitable for needs, reviews, and other unbiased advice. So the consumer was really reliant on the high street retailer for product/sector advice as well as honesty in pricing competitively.

Now that information gap is gone and the average consumer is becoming more and more product savvy (they don’t need the retailer’s help in evaluating a product) and price savvy. This is becoming even more pronounced now that mobile has come of age and we’re able to product *and* price check in store.

High street retail has pretty much become a free product showroom for Amazon to sell products. We are already at the point where a consumer can walk into a store, check out the physical product, compare online and buy immediately from an online retailer for delivery today (admittedly only in the major centres aka London). The b&m retailer is supporting that purchase without making a pence from it and Amazon (plus the consumer) is laughing all the way to the eBank.

Oddly, combined with this shift to buying online using the barcode of the physical product we also seem to like buying online to pick up offline… which is the reverse of the above trend. Argos have been issuing profit warnings but it does seem to be the case that many are buying from Argos online to pick up in store – thereby getting the pricing advantages of online with the immediacy of product pickup.

Even when things fall apart in the current high street/big box model there does seem to be value in a physical presence for consumers, whether it’s for immediate purchasing gratification or to evaluate physical products. And yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to support a physical presence and remain competitive on price. So what could the new models of electronic retailing look like?