The torrid tale of Borders, the marketeers and the thoroughly misleading Virgin Wines

10 December 2009

What the devil are Borders up to? It's no secret they've tumbled into administration and that their stores are selling off stock ahead of their inevitable closure. In fact, Borders have today emailed all customers who subscribed to their updates to tell them the latest news:

As a registered customer of Borders, you were probably very disappointed to hear the business has gone into administration and may be closing down. We wanted to let you know that although you can't buy online anymore, there are some great offers available in your nearest store with up to 50% off many items. If you're not sure where your nearest store is just click here to find out and visit the store as soon as possible to pick up some fantastic bargains!

Except it wasn't Borders doing the emailing, it was clearly sent from the email address of a company called Customer Club. In fact the opening paragraph was merely a ruse, repeating the news you already knew in order to invite you to join... Customer Club:

We'd also like to invite you to join Customer Club so you'll know immediately if our circumstances change or more products become available. In the meantime, clearance items and special offers will be sent to you through the Club and you'll also be one of the first to hear about any other savings and exceptional deals that you, as a customer of Borders, will have access to. So that we can offer you an efficient service tailored to your likes and requirements, we'd like you to complete a very short survey.

...This email was brought to you by Customer Club Limited in association with Borders.

Whenever I sign up for a newsletter, I'm a bit of a stickler for refusing the third party marketing spam - I've received emails from Borders for over two years and never once received any item from a third party as a result. So what's happened here? Have Borders have just handed their mailing list over to a third party marketing company?

Whether they've passed my private data to another company or not, it's hardly as if this Customer Club is looking to trick me into joining some ridiculous monthly payment scheme on the back of Borders' demise, is it? Oh:

To thank you for completing the survey and as a gesture of goodwill from Borders to recognise your support we'd like to offer you a £40 Virgin Wines voucher. Just click here to complete the survey and receive your £40 Virgin Wines voucher.

You're redirected to the remains of the Borders website to fill in your survey (registration is a better word for it, obviously), and once you've handed over more personal information to Customer Club and had to deselect nearly four dozen tick boxes, you receive your voucher:

Bitterwallet - Virgin Wines voucher

This is the same Virgin Wines promotion the Advertising Standards Agenecy banned over a year ago, because nowhere on the voucher does it state that in order to redeem it you'll have to open an account and make monthly payments. When the ASA upheld complaints against Virgin Wines last November, they stated:

The subscription-basis should have been made clear on the voucher itself… any significant conditions, likely to influence consumers’ understanding of promotions, should be clarified on their marketing material.”

A year on, and Virgin Wines are still misleading consumers. That's before we point out the ambiguous typeface concerning the minimum order value. Check it again - it looks like Virgin Wines have deliberately cut and paste the "79" from a different font so that the "7" looks like the "1" in the font used for the rest of the voucher - the result is that the minimum order value reads £19.99 but is actually £79.99:

Bitterwallet - Virgin Wines

So not only do we have the collapse of a major retailer, the email addresses of their once-loyal customers have been passed onto a marketing company who are bribing them into joining an unrelated mailshot through the promise of a misleading promotion that was banned a year ago.

Borders - we're disappointed. Customer Club - no thanks. And Virgin Wines - you'd better check your fonts and please expect a call from the ASA.

TOPICS:   Advertising

19 comments

  • Gunn
    These vouchers are everywhere, I just got one from Amazon today for a company called laithwaites, coincidence or not their wine also cost £79.99 but the voucher knocks of £40 bringing it to £39.99, who with me thinks the actual cost of this wine is £39.99 :)
  • Pizza_D_Action
    A good article BW, thanks :)
  • Pedant
    "who with me thinks the actual cost of this wine is £39.99" more like £9.99
  • Joff
    Pedant, it's not the cost of the wine but more the value (vs perceived value) that's more suspect. So much wine in supermarkets is overpriced, which makes it much easier for them to run half price promotions...
  • Nobby
    Yeah, I got the same email. And deleted it. Borders do not get it. Even with 50% off (and many of their book are only 20% off), their prices are still higher than on amazon. However, it seems to keep punters happy. Our local Borders was packed at the weekend, with loads of people thinking they have got a good deal.
  • Nobby
    I opened a Virgin Wines account when they first started. They had a very good deal then. You had to make monthly payments to a fund, from which you could buy more overpriced wine, but I cancelled the direct debit as soon as it was set up. They kept telling me the DD was not set up, and could not take payment. I replied to every email saying I know, cancel the account. After 5 or 6 missed payments, they agreed to cancel it.
  • Mark M.
    Like Nobby, I used Virgin Wines when they first started. The wines were excellent, but after a while went downhill. SHame really
  • The B.
    I haven't used Laithwaites for a while but their wine is far superior to the urine Virgin sell or at least it used to be. As for Borders, well, it's not as though they've got anything to lose, the ASA can hardly fine a company in receivership can they?
  • Callum
    These wine clubs don't actually have minimum subscription periods. You can sign up with the voucher then cancel straight away without penalty. Plus, if you forget to cancel and they start taking payments, you can get anything in you wine account put back into your bank account.
  • Sim
    Actually -- standing up for virgin wines a bit, I've been nothing but happy with the service I've received off them over the last 2 years and have drunk some very nice stuff
  • Adam
    On a different subject... I ordered a book from borders about 2 wks before they announced they were going into administration. Not heard a peep out of them at all. No email to tell me whats going on, nothing to let me know the book I ordered will/won't turn up. The book was in stock when I ordered it too!! I know I'll never see my money again but its just a whole heap of shit.
  • Steve
    Right, lets start with The Real Bob. Why don't you just drink your own urine instead of pissing all over a company you obviously know nothing about! Paul Smith - Please...the font they have written the £79.99 in says 7 not 1. If you look at the rest of the numbers in the text, they are all the same font. Why would a Virgin branded company actually try to dupe customers. "deliberately cut and paste the “79″ from a different font so that the “7″ looks like the “1″ in the font used for the rest of the voucher" - Are you frickin kidding me! Perhaps I should just write an article on your over priced clothing and fashion range, pouring scorn on it! (To the real Paul Smith - I actually like your products.) Why don't you write about what a shame it is these poor people are losing their jobs at Borders just before Xmas, or the sorry state of of our debt ridden country rather than an attack on Virgin Wines who actually sell some lovely wines, at great prices with award winning customer service! I know this because I'm a customer.
  • Jane S.
    Hi all. This is an interesting article to read. I also used a VW £40 voucher to join them and I have to say in the last 2 years they have been amazing! This voucher get's me more savings going forward. I have a diploma in Wine and can say that there wines really are a great representation. Their customer services and wine advisor team are one of the best around. I can see what you mean about the 7 and 1, but I can see it's a 7, and it clearly tells you on their site when you redeem that it is £79.99. I can't comment on Borders but I can comment on how truely excellent Virgin Wines are. SHame to see this tiny thing bring bad press!
  • James L.
    Here here Jane! I've been with Virgin Wines for 6 years. The only word I can use to describe them is outstanding! Obviously there has been confusion but my bet is that it isn't due to Virgin.
  • Sally
    Hey Real Bob - get your facts straight and grow up. Virgin Wines are VERY GOOD. They are under the same umbrella as Laithwaites. I reckon I have had well over 500 bottles from them over the years, and none of them have ever tasted the way you reckon. Maybe it's all the rubbish coming out of your mouth that's tainting your palate!
  • The B.
    Sorry, Virgin wines aren't very good, I've ordered from them and most of it was shite, just accept the fact that other people have different tastes to your own and spend more than £3 on a bottle of wine that doesn't taste like anti-freeze.
  • Paul S.
    Steve - I'd suggest checking in for an eye-test because the "79" in the "£79.99" clearly isn't from the same typeface. Find me an Arial Narrow-style font which features an upright "7" as in the voucher and I'll revise my opinion. Actually, I'll go one better and run another article tomorrow proving that Virgin Wines doctored the voucher to confuse people. "Why would a Virgin branded company actually try to dupe customers?" You're talking about the same Virgin branded company that is running a promotion that was banned by the ASA a year ago. It was banned for effectively trying to dupe customers. And for everyone else feeling the need to stick up for Virgin Wines; the article doesn't attack the product or the service offered in any way, shape or form. It does, however, call them out for their shady promotional tactics, as well as those of the marketing company attempting to cash in on the demise of Borders.
  • Virgin B.
    [...] customers; we don’t know the answer, only that they’ve tried it in the past – as we pointed out in the previous article, a near-identical promotion was banned by the Advertising Standards Agency a year [...]
  • Virgin B.
    [...] so it was always going to be a tough nut to crack. Virgin Wines? Well, avid readers will know we’re not their biggest fans (although they do read Bitterwallet, which is [...]

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