Mintel’s Fruit and Vegetables UK 2014 report (very exciting) found 48% of shoppers who bought fruit and veg, would be totally into buying disfigured root vegetables that resemble genitalia and moody looking fruit, if they looked edible enough.
56% of the researched believe that retailers should do a bit more to reduce the amount of food they waste, with 28% voicing concerns about the amount of fruit and veg that ends up scrapped.
Kiti Soininen, head of UK food, drink & foodservice Research at Mintel, said: “It is clear that consumers are open to ‘ugly’ produce, but where oddly shaped fruit and veg sits with mainstream offerings, it is at risk of going unchosen, even if subconsciously.”
“The fact half of consumers would buy good quality oddly shaped fruit and veg, and the recent focus on food waste and the grocers’ role in curbing it showed there was scope to actively use the non-standard quality of produce as a selling point”
“Prices come across as a real consideration for many and by positioning ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables as a tasty, low-cost option should help the grocers to reach this group.”
So, don’t turn that carrot away because it doesn’t conform to conditioned pre-conceptions of what beauty is, right? Yeah.
You heard about the 1p cock-up at Amazon? Well, some people got themselves a bargain before Amazon corrected the glitch.
Well, turns out some companies aren’t happy about this and have sent messages to customers, saying they want the rest of the money.
One avid BW reader told us that they were sent an email by a company called PremiumBrands4Less. The order has been fulfilled by Amazon and dispatched.
The email reads: “Dear Customer, firstly, I’d like to apologise for the disruption this email may cause. We experienced a problem with Amazon UK yesterday at about 18:00GMT and worked to fix the original issue by 20:00GMT.”
“We continued to work over the following few hours in conjunction with Amazon to revert any incorrect prices to their original prices, caused via the Amazon system. We have received communication that Amazon will not penalise sellers for this error, but have requested we contact buyers and ask them to create a return request to return the stock back to amazon.”
“We are continuing to work to identify how this problem occurred and to put measures in place to ensure that it does not happen again. We’ve been in business for over 4 years and we’ve always taken pride in the levels of service we provide, so everyone here is devastated and disappointed we experienced this problem. Unfortunately, our inventory lost over 10000 units within a space of 2 hours, which couldn’t be prevented. This will result in PremiumBrands4Less entering liquidation as a result of this pricing error by amazon.”
“We understand that you think you may have grabbed a great bargain, but we have instructed amazon to revert the prices to our usual prices and recharge your card with the correct amount owed. We would like to offer customers a grace period of 7 days to create a return request and return any stock incorrect priced and dispatched. If this action isn’t carried out, we will seek to recover sums owed”
“1. By recharging your credit/debit card
2. If funds are not available, passing to a debt collection agency
3. Informing experian and getting your address added to the mail order black list”
“We would like to urge customers to be honourable and honest during this Christmas period and not take advantage of a small business, who cannot afford to give away its £100,000 inventory for under £100. This will create a number of job losses in the run up to Christmas, due to the behaviour of a select number of customer.”
“I again reiterate, the products were not Amazon Inc, products, but were PremiumBrands4Less owned products dispatched on our behalf by Amazon Inc.
What do you make of that then? Would you laugh at them and think ‘hard cheese! I’ve done nothing wrong and you can whistle!’ or would you be guilt-tripped into helping out a small business?
**UPDATE** When queried, Amazon responded. Have a look in the comments.
Mercifully, it is much nicer and more useful than that, as it is a supermarket that sells items at a fraction of the price for people who are struggling financially. The Community Shop is a cooperative that want to help those stuck in food poverty and will sell goods that are deemed surplus food, donated from the big supermarkets.
Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, the Cooperative, Ocado and Marks and Spencer are all on-board.
Each of these social shops will operate through a membership scheme, so try and make sure it is solely available to those who are skint. It won’t stop some people trying to pull a fast one. For the latter, we advised swift retribution, concerning the seat of someone’s pants and a foot.
At the shops, there’ll also be advice on how to make wholesome, cheap food and help in how to find work. The first official store has opened in London’s Lambeth and a national roll-out is planned after a successful pilot in Goldthorpe in Yorkshire.
John Marren, chairman of Company ShopGroup, who run the scheme, said: “Members can shop for good food at great prices, which eases pressure on their family budgets, and they will also access tailored, professional development programmes, to kick-start positive change in their own lives.”
So with ‘news’ that only a quarter of us trust our energy supplier, just how bad are the energy suppliers at looking after customer? And are the smaller, friendlier firms actually any better than the big bad Big Six?
One way that commitment to existing customers (over scrabbling for new ones) can be measured is the resources spent on customer care over sales- using the time taken to answer a customer service call over a sales call. Helpfully, the good eggs over at Which!!! have already done this for us and have compiled a table of the best and worst offenders in the length of time to answer a customer service call stakes.
Taking half an hour to answer call, the scrapings at the bottom of the barrel belong to Big 6 Scottish Power, who blamed a new IT system and a need for more staff for their shocking performance, which didn’t stop them answering a sales call in just 49 seconds, which earns them a second top prize for the worst customer service:sales call ratio. However, the second longest customer service call waiting time was found at the door of friendly smaller company First Utility at a little under 19 minutes, who recently came out as having finalised their faster switching service earlier than required- perhaps they should have employed those resources on looking after the people who had already switched first.
The shortest call times were found at Ebico, which has managed to answer calls in less than 30 seconds on average in all four of Which!!!’s investigations so far, proving it can be done. It was also one of only five companies who prioritise existing customers over new ones, evidenced by a shorter call waiting time for customer service. The other four were Good Energy, Utility Warehouse, Sainsbury’s Energy and Spark.
But Which!!!’s investigation does not show that the Big 6 are necessarily the worst for customer service- nPower in particular has vastly improved its call answering times, down from a shocking 19 minutes in earlier years. But nor are the smaller ones necessarily any better.
OVO energy prides itself on offering 3% interest on credit balances to customers who pay by advance direct debit. The idea being that even if you do overpay, you’re getting compensated for the fact that they have your money instead of you. And 3% isn’t a bad rate. However it seems that OVO are less keen on actually giving you your money back, particularly at a time when you might need it, like before Christmas. Despite the fact that their own terms and conditions say that refunds requested will normally be paid within seven days, anyone requesting a refund is currently being told they might have to wait for fourteen working days (so 18 actual days) for their own money. Amazing in a time of two hour transfers. We did ask OVO for an official response but they declined to comment.
But it is worth pointing out that OVO, and a number of other energy firms don’t only allow customer service contact by telephone- customers can often get an immediate response by webchat, and OVO complaints (for example) are handled within one day even on a Saturday.
So, who is your energy provider and would you rate them as good or bad for customer service? And is the standard of customer service the main reason for investigating a switch?
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”.
Overcrowding is a problem on Britain’s trains, with people rammed-on for journeys where your face is pressed into someone’s armpit and the sound of a hundred Beats headphones leaking noise that sounds like mice duelling inside a biscuit tin.
Well, double-decker trains might be the answer.
Network Rail is weighing up the double stuffed trains for a number of peak services. They’re also looking at building ‘flyovers’, so trains can bypass the busiest stations. One of the most likely solutions that is being looked at is narrower seats, so more people can be crammed into carriages.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “It’s right that as part of our plans to increase capacity we fully examine the costs and benefits of double-decker trains, alongside traditional engineering enhancements such as flyovers.”
These proposals have been set out in a number of reports from Network Rail who are looking at ways to fix the problem of increasing passenger numbers.
It is clear they don’t want to invest in more carriages on existing trains, but they’ll need to do something as passenger figures are soaring. We all know they’re going to go for the cheapest option, so expect less leg room in the coming years.
The tax helpline has been criticised in a new report by the watchdog of consumers, saying that there had been little improvement in the service since they met up in July with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which served them a scathing review of their lengthy waiting times and shoddiness in answering phone calls, which were costing customers £136 million a year.
The service will be in heavy demand in the next two months, as thousands will be completing their self-assessment tax returns before January 31st.
HMRC’s chief executive Lin Homer, reckons that they had been improving the service in recent months.
However, Which!!!’s report details that 29% of calls made by their members, were cut off by an automated answering system carping on about the lines being busy.
Where there were 71 instances of callers not being cut off, they were then put on hold for an average of 18 minutes, with one caller being held hostage for 41 minutes. PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: “Customers of Government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply.”
The error, which occured between 7pm and 8pm on Friday, could cost retailers – who use the tool RepricerExpress – thousands of pounds.
So what happened? Well, this software balls-up has seen hundreds of items sold for just 1p. The tool, which promises to “auto-optimise” prices on behalf of retailers, allowing them to “sell more and keep listings competitive 24/7 without constant attention”.
While those who spotted the glitch, ramraided the site for tat they didn’t necessarily need and wanged on about it on Twitter, the retailers being hit are mainly small companies, and family-run set-ups.
Well what did Brendan Doherty, the RepricerExpress CEO, have to say about the matter?: “I am truly sorry for the distress this has caused our customers. We have received communication that Amazon will not penalise sellers for this error. We are continuing to work to identify how this problem occurred and to put measures in place to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Amazon said the majority of orders were cancelled immediately and confirmed it would be working with sellers who had seen orders processed.
A spokesman for Amazon said: “We are aware that a number of Marketplace sellers listed incorrect prices for a short period of time as a result of the third party software they use to price their items on Amazon.co.uk.”
“We responded quickly and were able to cancel the vast majority of orders placed on these affected items immediately and no costs or fees will be incurred by sellers for these cancelled orders. We are now reviewing the small number of orders that were processed and will be reaching out to any affected sellers directly.”
On the back of Nationwide’s existing-customer-only top mortgage deal yesterday, now calls are out for the FCA to investigate motor insurers save their best rates for new customers to the detriment of loyal drivers.
Speaking to the Insurance Times, Ian Hughes, Chief Executive of Consumer Intelligence, questioned the practice of offering discounted premiums to new customers but not to existing clients. “Is it a fair outcome that a customer that has been with you for six years could, for instance, get a premium that is half what they are currently paying if they were a new customer?” he asked, plaintively.
Mr Hughes is firmly on the side of the fence that says it is not fair, calling on the FCA to examine new business discounts as part of its focus on ensuring fair outcomes for customers. And he’s got a point, particularly as changing insurer every year is more difficult for certain groups of consumers.
But he doesn’t take the soft option and blame the comparison sites, as after all, that’s the way many people seek out the lowest renewal premium. Hughes lays the blame squarely at the door of the insurers themselves:
“A lot of people try to put the blame at the door of price comparison sites, but they are not to blame for this problem. This problem is created by introductory discounts – by giving your best prices to your least loyal customers.”
However, despite calling for FCA intervention, what Hughes is really hoping for is that the insurance industry will see the error of its ways and change policy before being forced to act by the regulator.
He said: “It is always my hope that the industry can be grown up enough that it can recognise and fix its own failings. When a regulator has to step in, nine times out of 10 that creates issues and challenges all of its own.”
But are the insurers really going to change? Surely it only needs one pioneering insurer to set the ball rolling in the looking-after-existing-customer stakes? Unfortunately not. “The problem is that if any one company starts to try and address the problem then, unfortunately, they will lose a lot of business,” warns Hughes. “No one company can fix this by themselves. It needs to be corrected as an industry and that is a big challenge.”
So is a self-correcting insurance market just pie in the sky? Looks like we will have to wait for regulatory interference before we can all stop chasing new deals every year. Besides- if your insurer told you they were changing strategy and were offering you, their existing customer, their best prices, would you believe them anyway?
The UK spends around £2,000 online per head each year on average – it’s 50% more than the nearest rival Australia manages, and is down to broadband and our inability to get off our arses.
A higher use of debit and credit cards has also been cited as quite a key thing, according to a new report from Ofcom.
As a bonus, Ofcom also discovered two-fifths of advertising spending was now happening online – way more than in any other country.
Ofcom said the popularity of online commerce was boosted by widespread superfast broadband access in the UK, which is ahead of France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Nearly eight in 10 UK homes have access to broadband services that provide connection speeds of at least 30 megabytes per second.
Said Ed Richards. Ofcom’s chief executive: “The internet has never been more important to the lives of people in this country, and the demand for better connections keeps rising,”
“We are making significant progress in this area. However, we all acknowledge that there is more to do, and this will be the challenge for the coming years.”
Well. Where to start here with the bombshells? A council being corrupt is up there with the exclusive of bears defecating in woods. Take your pick.
In 2013/14, councils in England made a combined profit of £667 million from their on- and off-street parking operations. This was 12% more than the 2012/13 figure of £594 million, with 44% of the 2013/14 total being generated by councils in London, the RAC Foundation survey said.
How unusual that very, very few councils are actually losing money on parking, as only 16% of the 353 parking authorities in England had negative results. Well, that’s just not good enough.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “These official figures show how town halls are committing daylight robbery by ripping off drivers with exorbitant parking charges and unfair parking fines.”
“The recent growth in fines is coming from the industrial use of CCTV spy cars allowed under laws introduced by the last government. This is why we have introduced a law before Parliament to stop these snoopers, as part of package of measures to rein in the town hall parking bullies and protect local shops.”
A politician there, tough on corruption and bullying and everything.
According to RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister: “Parking profits seem to be a one-way street for councils, having risen annually for the last five years.”
“Yet over the same period spending on local roads has fallen about a fifth in real terms. We understand the pressures councils are under with their overall income still falling and the level of services they have to provide in such areas as social care rising rapidly.”
“One sign that the escalation in parking profits might be coming to an end is that much of this year’s increase comes not from growing income from penalties and charges but cuts in the cost of parking operations.”
“This suggests local authorities are making efficiency savings and should bring some good news to both drivers and council tax-payers. The bottom line is that parking policy and charges must be about managing traffic, not raising revenue.”
Shall we gander at those councils with the biggest surplus in 2013/14 before capital charges?
LOCAL AUTHORITY SURPLUS
1. Westminster £51.03 million
2. Kensington & Chelsea £33.51 million
3. Camden £24.87 million
4. Hammersmith & Fulham £22.96 million
5. Wandsworth £19.69 million
6. Brighton & Hove £18.09 million
7. Nottingham City £12.06 million
8. Islington £10.38 million
9. Tower Hamlets £8.32 million
10. Brent £8.31 million
After British Gas got slapped silly with a fine, Ofgem are at it again, doling out financial penalties to other energy firms. Three of them have agreed to cough-up for a total of £4.6m for failing to meet energy efficiency targets. They’ve probably got that in loose change down the back of their considerable couches.
Scottish Power, SSE and generator GDF Suez/IPM are all going to be paying up after they missed environmental targets which they’d been issued with by the government.
Like the British Gas fine, the money from these will go to charities that will help vulnerable customers.
Basically, what’s happened is that these companies have missed the targets where they were required to lower carbon emissions by making their customers’ homes more energy efficient with things like cavity wall insulation and the like.
Ofgem said SSE would pay £1.75m for missing their targets, while Scottish Power will be paying £2.4m and GDF Suez/IPM is forking out £450,000.
Over the past few weeks Ofgem have issued fines that total almost £55m to six companies and £49.7m of that money will go to charities while the remaining £5m is a fine to be paid by Drax.
And yes, you can fully expect this to be recouped by the energy firms when they put everyone’s bills up next year.
Everyone knows that new customers get the best deals. Even leaving aside the prospect of cashback, shopping around will generally get you a better deal than just staying put. Unless you are a Nationwide customer looking for a new mortgage that is.
Nationwide have always been big on flashing their building society credentials, that is, they have no avaricious shareholders always demanding more profits. But now they are putting their money where their mouth is with their loyalty rate mortgages that are only for existing customers.
The loyalty rate initiative compares Nationwide rates each week with high street rivals and aims to match or beat the market for their existing customers who are coming to the end of their deals.
Nationwide is now offering a five-year fix at a record low of 2.44% with a £999 fee. Existing customers can also switch from a two to a five-year fix providing they have enough equity. This rate, the lowest currently available, is in response to HSBC’s announcement of a 2.48% rate last week, which also carries a £999 fee. The last time we saw a fix this low was August 2013 with Yorkshire Bank.
However, even if you are eligible for this bottom-beating rate, you might actually be better going for a slightly higher one.
On the lowest 2.44% 25-year £150,000 mortgage would cost around £668 a month and £41,103 over five years, after adding the £999 fee. If you went for the fee-free version, a five-year fix at 2.64% on the same balance and term, it would cost around £683 a month but would be slightly cheaper overall at £41,012 over five years.
Either way, it’s an interesting prospect to think that the tide is turning and that businesses are more concerned with looking after their current customers, rather than chasing after new ones.
Ofcom had investigated both companies and found that they were both responsible for making calls that would involve them hanging-up or generally pestering people.
The companies have automated calling systems and would dial numbers willy nilly.
Abandoned calls occur when automated calling systems, used by organisations to maximise the time agents spend talking to consumers, dial too many numbers and there are not enough call centre agents to handle them.
However Ofcom’s policy on persistent misuse sets a limit on the number of abandoned calls organisations can make, and now insist on them leaving a message or at least some form of instruction in how to opt out of these irritants.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director said: “We know that silent and abandoned calls can cause consumers annoyance, nuisance and distress. These latest fines help demonstrate to organisations that there are consequences for operating outside of the law.”
This is part of Ofcom’s new policy of tackling nuisance calls since it started tackling these badmen back in May 2014, which the government have admitted to hitting ‘plague levels’. Ofcom estimates that MYIML, a lead generation company, made 30,296 abandoned calls between 16 December 2013 and 3 February 2014. That’s, like, stalking.
So far, Ofcom has fined 15 companies, including home insurance and repairs company HomeServe, which was fined a record £750,000 in 2012.