Food, Shelter and Mother’s Day cards

As consumers, we can broadly divide what we spend our hard-earned cash on into two categories; essentials and indulgences.

So as most of us do in this world, let’s start with the fun one, indulgences.

An indulgence could be defined as something enjoyable, yet ideally not taken to excess – whether for health, financial or other reasons. So we’re talking donuts, tasty meals out, holidays, designer clothes and Molton Brown soap. Other things as well, of course.

Then there are the essentials – bread, milk, shelter, a glass of red on a Friday evening (??), transportation of sorts and an all-too-long list of other bits and pieces.

Within this long list, several sneaky non-essentials have infiltrated their way in in recent years. Unlike hot water and toilet roll and frying pans they bring no benefit to our survival as human beings. They’re irritating inconveniences as far as most of us busy folk are concerned.

It’s therefore a triumph of commercialism that on February 14th, countless blokes will run into their nearest supermarket. They’re not there to get milk, even if they’re out, but to get a Valentine’s card before they get home.

With 12 months’ notice they don’t even manage the 13th to give it to their other halves on Valentine’s morning. They miss the deadline, followed by the extended Moonpig one (now at 7pm for same-day despatch). With their Nectar card data, Sainsbury’s are fully-prepared for a massive spike in sales of wilting roses, over-priced chocolates and garish cards around 6pm on the 14th. (Fake news alert – but it sounds about right).

The same thing happens around March 26th (Mother’s Day – heads up – not long now!). The Mother’s Day seed is sewn by Clinton Cards basically the day after Valentine’s. Things lie low for a while, buried in the back of our minds. Yet as sure as mixed metaphor eggs are eggs, by mid-March these seeds turn to shoots of anxiety.

Mere days later, anxiety grows into urgency, growing unabated. Most of us don’t wake up in same bed as our Mums of course, which makes it even more challenging – we need to sort it the day before! On March 25th the prospect of guilt and bad-books becomes unbearable.

We also need to consider flowers of course – we’ll perhaps spend £35 online for some pleasant-ish looking purple ones which match her cushions, and view £8.99 for next day delivery as mere pennies. Like being being out with mates at 2am on a Sunday morning, the value of money moves to a whole new level.

Yes, we may be out of milk and toilet roll as we buy our card in evening darkness. These though, are irrelevant indulgences compared to a Mother’s Day card – the most essential consumer item those sneaky guilt-tripping business people have ever created.

Laura Ashley just lost out. Here’s why…


So social media aggro prevailed where personal customer service failed. It needs to be the other way around 😦 .

It’s not rocket science is it. If you hide behind hideously long T&Cs, if your surly telephone customer service is sat behind two tiers of confused automated options, and then presents a service brick wall that Trump would be proud of, you’re going to lose business!

Here’s the story: wife and I would like to buy some fabric for some curtains, store doesn’t have it in stock. We order 4 metres of it online, thinking it’s pretty much spot on. Big writing when adding to basket says If you are not completely happy with your item, return it to us for FREE. So it can always be returned. No problemo.

We receive delivery, but aren’t that keen, wife goes into shop to return as promised. Dead pan lady says because it’s under 5m it can’t be returned. Full stop.

I check online, below promise of free refund is a small link saying Exceptions apply.

Click link, a few hundred words down is a buried line which indeed states below 5m length cannot be returned unless damaged.

Call customer services, get told I’m entitled to my opinion with a tone of voice like I’m some ignorant naughty kid. They tell me that’s the refund policy, and I’m expected to read this policy before I make a purchase. I say I did (you muppets), it says in big writing when I add it to the cart. Surely they understand people don’t check to see if this is contradicted in the long T&Cs behind the link.

Ok, benefit of the doubt time. I should have read them. It said Exceptions apply and I made a mistake. It’s my fault, in spite of the fact such a vital exception should be stated at point of adding to cart.

Here’s the thing, a global, wealthy company who spend millions acquiring new customers should have the foresight to show flexibility and courtesy to a customer with money to spend. They should perhaps offer a voucher, credit note, 20% off next purchase to cover their costs. They should understand that being inflexible and lacking empathy loses customers, that Debenhams is around the corner and that in my lifetime I’ll worryingly be buying lots of chintzy lamp shades, ornaments, curtains and so on. For the sake of a few quid cost to them, at least a partial credit note, a smile and a false acknowledgement I’m always right is a no-brainer.

Gobsmackingly, it would appear not. Dead end. I actually asked this, and these guys are happy for me to blacklist them as a consumer, to tell several people about my bad experience and to go elsewhere in future.

And while I’m doing this they’re spending massive sums on some new customer acquisition. What a shocking waste of money, time and effort.

As was me buying 4m of sodding curtain fabric from a company with among the least thoughtful customer service, and evidently least commercial foresight, I’ve ever had the misfortune to walk into.

PS: I’ll update this should the situation change

Gunpowder, Treason and Profit

Being a Yorkshireman, he was always destined for great things.

His home also gave him his fiery temper, his ambition and his instinct for a good business idea. A business idea with long term growth prospects which would far outlive his initial spark of genius. One with enormous profit margins, mass-market appeal, arguably a little seasonal in its revenues but nothing some clever plotting and financing couldn’t overcome.

Although he was just one of a group of 13, it is he who earned the legacy. It’s surprising that his buddies back home in York described him as ‘pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife…’ . Sounds like a decent guy.

Presumably, he was also built like a proverbial bricker as lugging 36 barrels of gunpowder around London under the cover of dark is no small achievement. Nor is being, as they say, the last person to enter parliament with honest intentions!

It’s thanks to him, Mr Guido Fawkes as he was also known, that sales of warm coats, toffee apples and cheap spinny plastic light up things boom in the first week of November. That the guy selling 5 refillable gas lighters for a quid has a roaring trade (by the way, why buy 5 when they’re refillable??) and that flowers and the slightly inadequate small blotchy pumpkins are quickly removed from the front entrance to Sainsbury’s Trinity Walk.

Instead, in the foyer of said supermarket, a tonne of Blastboxes, Laser Fountains, Stardust, Mini-Volcanoes and Whizz Wheels dominate, overshadowing the poor customer service assistant who holds the keys to the lock up cabinet. A massive neon banner reminds us it’s the 5th November, in case we didn’t already remember remember, alongside the Danger of Death sign at our children’s eye-line.

We spend in excess of £100 million each year on fireworks in the UK. That’s a lot of money – enough to collectively own Paul Pogba. OK, bad example… enough to employ over 3,000 teachers, or we could chomp through half a billion Curly Wurlys. As I say, a lot of money.

What does this mean? It means that even accounting for its commercial value increasing exponentially since 1605, the guy who sought to blow up Parliament has his name next an astronomically lucrative business venture.

As he plotted to blow up King James I in the name of Catholicism, it’s curious to consider if it was all part of his plan. As he rolled his barrels of gunpowder into the rented room, checking his pockets for his refillable gas lighters, he already knew of the excitement, commerce, injury, cold, dampness and noise that would follow.

As he got ready to rumble these barrels across London’s cobble stone roads, he could feel the baseline of a £25 Blastbox in his bones. He saw the hundreds on bonfires in village fields, the Dads lighting Phantom Afterburners in back gardens and the kids with their massive gloves painting floating circles with their sparklers.

All 400 years ahead of time.

OK – the whole venture meant he was hung, drawn and quartered, but the guy left a glorious, fun legacy, he sparked a national celebration and enabled generations of business people to make lots of money.

At least all his dreams didn’t go up in smoke.

Have the Pokémon Gone yet?

“How old were they?”

“They were our age! Like, grown ups. Walking around like zombies – it’s crazy”

Yes – crazy seems to be the right word. Children are understandable, if still a little tragic. But ladies and gents, professional business people in Wakefield can be seen in full public view playing Pokémon Go. Shameless in being so conspicuous, they walk around hypnotised by their phones, eyes darting around for any one of the 151 catchable characters in the smartphone app that has taken the world by a storm.

So what on earth is this Pokémon Go lark everyone seems to be talking about? There are several dimensions to the answer…

First – it’s the next generation launch for Pokémon – led by the legendary Pikachu, the cartoon phenomenon was launched by Nintendo on their ubiquitous Gameboy in the 1995. Realising the wonga to be made, Pokémon quickly spread into a cartoon series, cuddly toys, balloons and various other cheap and nasty things.

Second – it’s a smartphone app – but a special one in that it uses augmented reality technology. Basically the placement of animated creations into a reality, as seen on a smartphone screen via the camera. Augmented reality is tipped to be a game changer for the next generation of tech, and Pokémon Go is widely regarded as its biggest launch into the mainstream.

Third – it’s an enormous money-making cash cow for Nintendo – or at least that’s their hope. Within days of being launched just a few weeks ago it added $9 billion to the company’s market value. And when a Pokémon obsessive feels compelled to spend £75 on some balls (in both senses of the word), you can see the reason why. There are tens of millions of these folk – and thousands of them live in Wakefield – just around the corner from where you are now.

It’s a money spinner for more than just these micro-transactions though. Our local shopping centres are helping fund the boom by buying Lures! These little gadgets are a temptation to bring Pokémon characters into their vicinity to be caught. And loose Pokémon are crowd pullers. Sprinkling crispy new fivers from the ceiling of Trinity Walk Wakefield would have a similar crowd pulling effect – just check out the YouTube movies. And as and when the Lure expires after 30 minutes, these well-paid professional 30-something Pokémon hunters then check out the Jack & Jones mid-season sale, before getting a Chai Latte to take away from Costa and driving home in their shiny 1 Series motors.

That’s not to mention the churches, the libraries, the farm shops, the ice cream vans and the umm, Holocaust Museum who swiftly had a change of heart. Then consider a Coca-cola branded Pokestop in the not too distant future. Or even a Bill’s Butchers Wakefield one – pick up a Pokémon and get some half-price sausage.

So next time you see someone with a look of excited expectation on their face, as if they’ve just seen Keith Chegwin on their driveway clutching a man-size cheque, chuckle to yourself as you realise they’ve probably just snapped up Jigglypuff or one of his friends into their Pokedeck. They’ve got some exercise whilst traipsing around St Johns Church, they’ve raised their heartbeat a little and perhaps even got a little hot under the collar with excitement. They’ve contributed to the £3million daily revenue of Nintendo, and also to their street cred as they tell their Pokemates of their fine achievement.

Happy days.