Holland & Barrett going bag and brainless

I work 4 blocks from Holland & Barrett’s Victoria branch and yesterday, like every other week, I went to the store to stock up. 2 large bags of cashews, 2 large bags of dried banana, 2 large bags of brazil nuts, 3 protein bars and 2 500gr Manuka honey jars. Enough to fill a few bags. Which I did not carry.

Following what I consider their new ill-advised policy (more below), the sales associate asked me whether I wanted a carrier bag. I looked at him and told him that of course, then he replied that I “should by a 49p bag” otherwise I couldn’t carry my shopping. What? I told him that if I had to pay for the bag, I would leave the shopping, and so I did.

Having lived in Southern Africa for a while, I am no stranger to bagless shopping, but there are some things that they have missed with their new year’s resolution of stopping giving free bags to customers.

  • In Africa, a blank plastic bag costs you a few pennies. These were the ones logo-free plastic bags they gave before 2010 for free at H&B and now they moved to 4/5p paper bags WITH their logo. Do they really think we HAVE to pay for the dubious right to advertise their brand? That is ludicrous. That’s adding insult to injury or squeezing the customer in the wrong direction.
  • Their Victoria station branch is in a station (duh!), people come and go, that branch is NOT a destination store. It is more of a convenience store and they just turned it into an inconvenience store. I used to do my monthly shopping there because it was convenient and could use just a few minutes from my breaks. Now I have to plan ahead and bring career bags from home, to work, and to the shop? Think twice.
  • My purchase was worth close to £50 and their sales associate solution was asking me to purchase a 49p bag that I did NOT need and would bin straight away. 49p out of £50 is 1%. Are they insane? What do you think the effect on sales would be if Sainsbury’s charged a 1% bag fee per purchase? Imagine a £10 bagging fee after spending £1,000 in Harrods?

I wish them luck in the future, but I can only see a dark fate in the name of green mindless strategies.

Mr-Greener-than-Thou at Holland & Barrett, just to let you know that your “green” decision to get rid of plastic bags has made you lose a customer. Me. Or perhaps we are more? There are better ways than kicking your own nuts.


On Vodafone and how to live off a brand name and nothing else

Calvin Ltd. has had a small business account with Vodafone for a few years now. We tried first with Virgin, then T-Mobile but they proved pretty deficient in terms of service and signal coverage, so in the classical crowd wisdom, we signed up with Vodafone. Surely a mammoth of telecommunications would know how to do business and treat its customers, surely…

Few years have gone by, and the amount of problems we have had to deal with has been so extensive and bizarre (from having to challenge a £17,000 charge that wasn’t ours to four new 8310 BlackBerry Curves in 2 months), that  I finally decided to write another diary, similar to the one I have been keeping on my BB Bold.

So please, enjoy and do not doubt to join in, as no matter how much time, effort and money I waste dealing with them, they never call back, apologise or explain what happened. We are playing the better the devil you know that the devil you don’t, but quite frankly, we are really tired of sending complaints to Vodafone.

Enjoy our misery:

(38) September 1, 2009
It has been a while since I had to spent longer on the phone to Vodafone than with my wife, mother and old friends together. But today I received the bills for July and September. For some unknown reason, they stopped (again) to send the call breakdown. We have been down this road before, so if I can gather enough strength tomorrow morning, I will call them before going to work.

(37) April 16th, 2009 at 9:34am
I finally got the patience to personally deal with Vodafone’s incompetence. I called customer services and it took me 13′ to get to speak to a human being (the usual “lines are busy”, I wonder how bad it is for normal customers, not business customers). I explained to Tracy, from Team 18 the situation with the USB Modem invoice and that I had been told last month that it wouldn’t happen again, but that it HAD happened again. She disappeared again for 3 minutes.

When she came back she said that she didn’t know what had happened, she apologised for the inconvenience and blamed the “brand new system”.

It was then, 18′ down the phone call when I asked her whether sending the invoice had been a mistake and the £14.15 were still outstanding. Silence. She rushed to say that the £14.15 were still outstanding (and due on March 31, by the way) but rushed to say that “as a goodwill gesture” they would credit our account with that amount.

“It won’t happen again”, she said, and I requested written confirmation. She asked for our email (what type of business doesn’t keep the email of their business customers?) and said that she would email it. I hope nothing. Continue reading

On working for the NIGAZ. Another marketing blunder

nigaz I know I might wake up a bit late, but after thinking that Microsoft Poland’s advertising savvy was one of the worse ever, I just heard of Russia’s Gazprom and Nigeria’s NNPC joint venture. The baby’s name? NIGAZ.

Unbelievable, you may say, but thinking heads of two continents couldn’t even get this straight.

I just finished James Dyson’s great autobiography (Against the Odds), and he moans and bitches about the advertising, PR and marketing community all along. He may have a point… I remember choosing marketing as major out of not knowing what to do with my life. I even got a Masters degree in market research and despised the idea of “creating needs to the customers” (what translated to me as selling people things that they don’t need by making them think that they do.)

It was interesting to learn how they trick us, but the NIGAZ thing is at least, hilarious. Did anyone get paid to come up with the name? I bet so. I have no doubt that Russia’s far right would have loved to do the prank, but I don’t think of them as a cheeky comedians who kill journalist for a laugh.

In any case, Nigger is nothing but a derivation of the Latin word niger, meaning colour black. Instead of finding the term offensive, black people could call us Albus, the Latin word for white. Both true and ingenious, but I am pretty sure that some Caucasians would be offended by that too.

After all, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”


On Spain looking down the tunnel, is that the exit or just a train coming?

I am sorry, I know I am a voluntary expat, but Spain is just the land of the joke. Yesterday three things happened that made me corroborate as a right idea leaving the Peninsula.

1. The financial health
The FT informs us that “Spain acts to help lenders”. Is this the same Spain that a few weeks ago was still bragging about the soundness of her financial system? The same Spain that was so proud that the rest of Europe was turning towards the “Spanish way” of dealing with bank reserves? (all coming from the Banesto/Mario Conde disaster of the early 90s). And I am still watching Banco Santander with a pinch of salt…

2. The moral and legal health
On a different note, again the FT tell us of how to do business in Spain. As a Dubai friend told me once, if you are not from Dubai [Spain], don’t try to do business without a local in Dubai [Spain]. And if you do, you will probably get ripped off and the court will not rule in your favour.

Anyway, the story is that of César Alierta, the chairman of Telefónica, the telecom monopoly (let’s call things what they are) that skins Spaniards alive with the most expensive mobile, landline and internet prices of any Western country (claim denied by the Spanish government, though). This fella, just set up a company to oversee his insider trader deals. In the best interest of the few, the court just cleared him of accusations of insider trading because “too much time had elapsed between the alleged offence and the start of judicial proceedings”.

3. The job market health
We heard drums of record unemployment in Spain (near 20% doubling the rate 12 months ago and near my own prediction of 22-25%). Also that the heat wave has brought American cockroaches to Barcelona. Inspired by G.W. Bush, I decided to launch a preventive attack on the little fellas and spent this morning ringing insect exterminators for my flat in El Born.


a) Unemployment in Spain is partly out of laziness or deeply stupid laws and regulations. I only found two companies who worked on weekends but none did on Sunday. With unemployment over the roof, one would think that the government would relax the law and that people would be willing to work whenever.

b) The country is a rip-off. For a Roach Killer Gel I can get in a drugstore in USA for $6, they wanted €80-180 including spraying (and a 6-month guarantee when the gel producers promise 12 months).

c) All the companies I contacted quoted me the cost of the roach-raid with and without VAT, for my convenience. “In any case”, one lady told me without even thinking I might be a tax inspector, “you will get your 6 month guarantee”.

Sunlight might be the best of disinfectants, but surely rottens your spirit.


On the new clothes of the Spanish economy, where’s a child to tell the truth when you need it?

Hobbes, what Spain needs now, is the child in the crowd that that the emperor is walking down the street fully naked, and tells the truth. But they do not listen.

Today, it was the turn of the FT.com (Spain’s recession: After the fiesta). Paul Preston is considered one of the top specialists in the Spanish Civil War, and now it seems it takes the Financial Times to state the obvious. What is wrong with Spaniards that need a foreign voice to see reality as it is or was? Even El Pais, the leading left-wing Spanish newspaper, needs to quote the FT to comment on the matter.  Continue reading

On talking about the weather and the hell we are going through

February 2, 2009. What a day to remember. It was a Monday, right after… a Sunday.

Freezing weather from the East brought us the “biggest snowstorms in 18 years!”

No trains in or out of London, no buses in the city, curiously even the underground underground services cancelled… the great ex-Imperial capital brought to its knees by some fluffy snowflake and its mates.

And the aftermath? Politicians, pundits and £19k journalists started the usual witch hunt.

The journalists with a 7-day memory: The city wasn’t ready for the snowstorm even though we had known it was coming for four days (aka incompetence argument)

Continue reading

On Pret-a-Manger running out of fresh ideas. Are private equity firm Bridgepoint and Goldman Sachs squeezing the customer?

Hobbes, they say that the first step is always to recognise the problem. OK Hobbes, I agree, I have an addiction. Well, more than one, but this one is cheese-related.

I am a keen Pret a Manger victim, and the guilty sin is their Posh Cheddar & Pickle Artisan Baguette. I have gone through many tantrums with the company. Over time the baguette has turned into a petit baguette, the price has ridden the oil, milk and wheat price increases but stayed there since the summer (£2.99) regardless of falling commodity prices. Continue reading