Captain Vigilante

CASHBACK. Men never ever check their till receipts. But how many women run beady-eyes down their big shop receipts before leaving the superstore?

Our neighbour does so religiously. Recently she found that an Optrex bogof had been missed on the till. The receipt showed she had paid for two of the same instead of getting one free.

Off she went to customer services where the error was recognised and she was immediately and courteously handed the compensatory cash – pound;3.91 in fact.

Another shopper – also very unhappy – was at the desk at the same time with a similar query about her till receipt.

Asked why it had happened, customer services said there were so many bogofs and offers in the store that the till computers did not have the capacity to cope with them all.

That’s alright then.

REPEAT. Blow us all down, if the same thing didn’t happen to our neighbour on the following week. This time the product was own label yogurt on offer at 4 for pound;2 instead of 68p each.

The receipt showed that our hawk-eyed neighbour had paid the princely sum of 68p x 4, or pound;2.72 instead of pound;2.

The hurried walk to customer services was again undertaken in some dudgeon. She was handed the 72p that she had overpaid and was told again it was a computer fault.

Computer inadequacies and human error are not exclusive to giant retailers and it is not Vigilante’s purpose to gloat about this.

But if it happened to one customer on two successive visits to a superstore, a shopper who checks her receipts, how many consumers just screw up that piece of paper, throw it in the bin and go on their merry way? The store has attracted the sale with the offer but has retained the full price in the till – a nice little earner.

LETTERS. It takes a superhuman effort to persuade independent retailers to write a letter – to an MP, or planner or even to a supplier.

Tesco knows that letter writing is on its way out, so it types up any letter it needs its shoppers to ‘write’ and runs it through the copier.

One letter the giant sorely needed was from those activist Tesco shopping enthusiasts who support an extension to a store in Oakwood, in Leeds. For these folk, their lives will be hugely diminished if this extension is not built. So Tesco representatives handed out in the store hundreds of pre-prepared letters supporting the extension, asking these sorely deprived customers just to sign and send them off to the local council.

Everything went swimmingly until somebody (as Sod’s Law would have it) forged the signature of a local resident who was very surprised by a letter from Tesco thanking him for his support. The council is looking into the matter.

Tesco says it is appalled that anyone could forge a letter in this way. So why not simply ask Tesco fans to write in on their own notepaper? Answers on a postcard (stamped) please…

BUDGETS. Consumers are increasing their visits to stores of all kinds and buying fewer items as a means of managing their food budgets.

The essential Nielsen Homescan (Total FMCG) demonstrates just how dramatic this change in shopping habits is becoming.

Less than 10 items are tapped into the till on no fewer than 29% of all visits to stores and growing fast. You can confirm this by the queues at the self-scan auto-pay tills used by in-and-out-quick shoppers often assisted by harassed store helpers.

Self-scan is one sure driver of customers back to local shops, is it not?

Why queue to be confronted by a vocal digital robot issuing Dalek instructions as you morph into a faceless, anonymous donor of profit to a dominating giant corporation?

Should you not receive free and gratis a nice framed print of your photograph captured as you pay?

Give me eye contact, a smile, a good morning and a ‘thank you’ produced by real human vocal chords any day.

Vigilante still believes it’s a good idea to promote local shops by asking their customers to vote for the multiple with the longest queues and get it published in the local paper.

SMILE. And talking of a smile, when an independent with a great shop was asked how he dealt with the competition from a nearby price-aggressive Tesco Express, his answer was wondrous.

“I welcome my customers with my big smile,” he smilingly replied. His lady customers, particularly, were seen to appreciate this cost-free and genuine point of difference.

Every independent should be practicing in front of the mirror every day if they lack this sure-fire marketing technique.

Regrettably, the smile swingometer does not get beyond half-past in too many local shops.

VALUE. They say the multiples are the new Poundlands. That was before the 99p store arrived. And with Iceland – a very local store in many places – promoting its pound;1 offers with giant window bills, there’s little wonder that some independent retailers want to go down this route.

One West Country store is offering a ‘meal for four for under a fiver’ by means of an ingenious selection of products. Another retailer has a permanent wine offer at ‘two for a fiver’. These promotions are succeeding.

But as Lidl may be discovering, once you board the downward price spiral it’s not easy to get off.

This group is now at the ‘lower than half price’ stage according to its excellent mailer. The next offer has to be ‘Not half price, but one third of normal full price…’ to maintain customer interest.

A symbol group guru said in the 1980s that small shops should give ‘an impression of value’ with two or three price cuts to be very aggressively ‘plastered on the windows’.

NURDINS. That was what they were affectionately called by people who did not work there but were regular customers and, in many cases, suppliers to the original inventors of the cash and carry concept – even if Batleys created the model that we know now.

Have you noticed how, in cash and carry conversations, former employees still speak so very fondly of Nurdin Peacock (giving it the full title) and their chairman Michael Peacock?

A lady who began her career with the company, which was acquired by Booker in 1996, and is now with another wholesaler, could not restrain her warm memories of her N P days and the knack of the chairman who knew many of the workforce by their first names.

It was just wonderful, she said, with a nostalgic yearning in her eyes.

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