My wife decided to buy a Daewoo microwave last week. She liked the red colour. She’s special that way – and I mean it in a good way.
She bought it at Asda (I couldn’t remember any more whether we were still supposed to be boycotting them – or, even, if we were ever supposed to be doing so) – and so that I thought was going to be the end of that.
Yesterday, whilst checking out prices for some other appliance online, I stumbled across the Asda Direct website. As per the screenshot below, it showed the same microwave – only this time with a ten percent discount on the previous lowest price charged (that is to say, the one that my wife had paid the previous weekend).
At the time of my web browsing, my wife was near the local Asda. I rang her up and suggested she went to the store and asked them if anything could be done about the matter. As chance would have it, and although she obviously wasn’t going to have the microwave itself on her, she did have the receipt. She agreed to pop in on the off-chance that maybe a price adjustment might be possible.
Worth a try. After all, “every little helps”. Or is that “every penny matters”?
Or should I have said “saving you money every day”?
Or even “Asda price”!
Hmm. Asda price. Now that’s an idea and a half. As you’ll shortly see.
A few minutes later, my wife phoned me back – a little distraught in a first-world-pains sort of way. In short, the lady at the helpdesk had explained to my wife that she could take advantage of the price change, but in order to do so, she’d have to return the microwave she’d bought, reorder online with the relevant checkout code, wait two days or so for another appliance to be delivered to the store, and only then pick up the latter at the revised price.
Now my wife is Spanish and she sometimes feels awfully frustrated in ridiculous situations like these, especially when she sees herself obliged to overcome her fury at stupidity whilst having to do so by communicating in a foreign language. So she asked me to speak by phone to the helpdesk manager to try and explain the essentially rubbish nature of the whole process as already explained to my wife by the first woman she had spoken to.
So it was that the manager described the reality as follows:
- Asda Direct is effectively a separate company within a company.
- A store and Asda Direct compete for business.
- The prices of one and the other can vary, even as the latter offers a Collect In-Store service where customers can pick up the products delivered for free at the (allegedly competing) stores themselves.
- Customers frequently complain about these kinds of issues. I refrained from asking why they weren’t being listened to.
- When I suggested Asda might like to price-match itself, I was informed that Asda hasn’t offered a price-match facility for years (could have fooled me from the ads). “Price guarantees”, on the other hand, were currently offered on groceries.
- Prices depended on customer demand (understandable) which could vary from online shop to bricks and mortar store to bricks and mortar store – whilst often, for example, CDs were cheaper because they were delivered from the Channel Islands. I observed that microwaves probably weren’t. She did kind of agree.
- She did confirm that in theory we would have to return the microwave to the shop, reorder online with the checkout code and request Collect In-Store in order to purchase again at the new price. She also agreed however – all credit to her by now creeping sense of customer focus here – that she would be prepared to give us a £5 gift card as a goodwill gesture to avoid the consummation of the above totally foolish palaver.
At which point we were, of course, ultimately grateful – again, in that very first-world-pains sort of way. But it did lead me to a couple of inconsequential thoughts on the back of it. Inconsequential – or perhaps not so very.
Firstly, it might indeed have been an example of good customer service – but the customer might not have been my wife. Imagine how much it would have cost Asda to process a return of product to the store, an online order, and a delivery of the very same product from their Asda Direct arm to the store in question. I don’t have the data but I’m pretty sure it would have been more than the value of the gift card my wife was given. Yes. The helpdesk manager might have been helping my wife out on my insistence – but she might just as easily have been calculating the odds pretty damn quickly and doing what her business’s procedures clearly didn’t want to contemplate: that is to say, the sensible thing.
Secondly, let’s imagine what such internal-market dynamics might do when applied, say, to public-sector corporate organisations like the NHS.
No. I don’t have the knowhow to lay it out before you in black and white. I don’t have the skill or wherewithal to define with precision and accuracy the implications of such structures.
But I do have the prescience to fear the possibility not only for simple corporate abuse but more significantly – as in this case – utter procedural stupidity.
Internal markets aren’t the only way. They don’t have to even be the best way. As in the above-mentioned situation, they can even be the worst way.
Bad enough when applied to the sale of consumer durables.
With the potential for a negligence by almost criminal default when applied to sensitive matters such as patient care.