Who is the real winner when you go sales shopping?

A tweet posted today by Northern Ireland newsagent Eugene Diamond/ @EDiamond136 notes that the usual Boxing Day traffic in his town has been strangely absent today.

Eugene’s own shop is in Ballymena, one of NI’s busiest shopping towns and one where the often rural-based customers are famous for their canny wits and bargaining powers. This is a town where big-name shops and spit-and-a-handshake dealing still sit beside each other. And many shoppers quite rightly love the place all the more for it.

It made me wonder if Ballymena shoppers were becoming wise to something I’ve believed for years: that there is simply no such thing as a sale.

Let me explain.

We aren’t surprised when a car sitting outside a showroom drops from £12,000 to £10,000 over Christmas. After all, the car is now older. It has a new market value of £10,000, so the new price has been adjusted to what is it worth. It isn’t in a ‘sale’, you haven’t saved £2,000 and the car would cost in or around £10,000 in any showroom in the country.

The same goes, then, for stock a shop will be glad to get off their shelves after Christmas. If it wasn’t wanted by a hoard of Christmas shoppers it wasn’t worth the RRP and has a new market value.

So, essentially, you get to stand in a queue at 6am to buy consumer rejects at the exact price they are worth in that shop and elsewhere. So that market value would often buy the same items online or elsewhere with a bit of looking around.

Yes, you may get to buy a year’s worth of kids’ clothes at a reduced price. But you may well pick up extra items and use finance to boot. And of course you can pick up brand clothes with the same reduced market value online from home.

As an aside, I’m not convinced the quality of the clothes at one of the major 6am sales can be said to be any better than the likes of Dunnes, where your pound would go just as far.

A special mention at this point for those famous sofa sales. You know the ones: “this £1,000 sofa (‘after sales price’) is now £400, with interest-free finance!!”.

Except it may well never be bought by anyone at £1,000, and someone has to pay for that finance (for one example, by costing you the discount you’d have negotiated at a local shop).

So, the sofa is a £400 sofa. Except it isn’t due to the cost of the finance, which we’ll guess at £50 (not to mention the loss of discount). So if it is a £350 sofa how much will have been spent making it? Does it now sound like the “£1,000 sofa” you are expecting to still look good when the finance finishes up years from now? Would you have bought a £350 sofa from Dunnes? If so, why not have a look around and if not…well, I really can’t see the difference.

Ultimately, and in my humble view, shop sales are a way of selling unwanted stock at the exact market value, meaning the item can be found elsewhere and online at the same price, with the chance of selling on even more things you didn’t know you wanted in the first place.

The shop isn’t losing a penny or doing you a favour. Except for some genuine household needs and/ or those addicted to a particular label, the new universal market value of the item means you can skip the 6am start, take a look online later or chat to a decent local shopkeeper in your own time.

The distasteful twist of asking shop staff to come into work before 6am on Boxing Day to fulfill all the above aside, I’ll concede that sale shopping does keep money circulating and stock moving off shelves as well as providing a genuine opportunity in some cases.

But more often than not as the customer I’m not sure you get the bargain you’ve counted on.

Buying gadgets or movie-watching tech? A reminder about a very worthwhile check not to miss

My BenQ home projector from eBuyers has just arrived back after a warranty fix.

The projector had previously been cutting out about ten minutes into a movie, making – for example – the Usual Suspects entirely about some guys in a police station and Good Vibrations about the financial aspects of running a record shop.

What I wasn’t expecting was that the (almost) Thirty-Nine Steps of having the warranty fix carried out made the Da Vinci code look like an afternoon in the pub.

One month and a string of reference numbers, web forms, phone calls and emails later and I’ve promised myself that I’ll ask a few questions about the warranty the next time I buy tech.

Who is the warranty with? How does the warranty work? How simple is it? Or do the steps involved in arranging a warranty fix make you feel like you should be given a process engineering diploma and a pay-cheque from the manufacturer by the time it is done.

Read on for the type of experience a few questions when buying can avoid.

The entire 29 steps (ok, so it wasn’t the 39 steps I mentioned earlier…I just liked how that sounds) of an eBuyer / BenQ warranty return…

– Try to return via the retailer’s website.

– Need login details. Hunt for these from months ago.

– Complete retailer’s webform for returns. 

– Email from retailer telling me to contact manufacturer by phone. 

– Phoned manufacturer, refers me to an online form on their website. 

– Form doesn’t work on iPhone, charge up iPad.

– Form needs lamp-hours from the projector. Unpack projector.

– Manufacturer’s site needs a copy of invoice from retailer.

– Log into retailer’s site to do a screen-grab of invoice.

– Manufacturer’s webform completed. Great! We’re through the looking glass here people.

– Email from manufacturer asks for a ‘diagnostic check’ to be carried out (various button pressing and resetting).

– Email says screengrab (the only document I could find using iPhone version of retailer site) isn’t a proper invoice and not accepted as it doesn’t show an invoice number.

– Perform diagnostic check as requested.

– Borrow a laptop to access retailer’s site again and look for invoice.

– Log into retailer site.

– Retailer site asks for the original order number to find the invoice. Hunt for this.

– Screengrab invoice and email to manufacturer.

– Email returned as it doesn’t show something called a CETS reference number. Hunt for his.

– Manufacturer sends a form to be printed and asks (well, gives “essential instructions”) for the projector to be parcelled up and a new ‘RMA’ reference number added to the box. 

– I don’t have a printer. Hunt for someone to print form. Feel like I should be charging BenQ by the hour at this point.

– Projector packed up with form and RMA reference number marked on box. Email says I’ll be “contacted within three days” re courier collection. Could be tricky as I’m never home. Repair to be carried out by an ‘Authorised Service Partner’. Wonder if I’ll get another reference number?!

– Missed a call from the ‘service partner’, called back, rings out.

– Email from ‘service partner’ two days later asking when I’ll be home. I won’t be home for days.

– Ask them if I can take it to a depot. They say no.

– Hunt for someone who is at home to take the projector in for me.

– Replied and email received confirming date of collection.

– Partner stays home in her house for collection one Monday. 

– Phone call from manufacturer, projector being dispatched by courier. Very friendly caller is unable to explain what work was done to repair.

– Projector arrives at home. No details about the work carried out but it is back.

The moral of the story? If you are a customer be aware that not all warranties are equal. Ask what it is, who it is with and how it works. If time is precious then paying extra to buy from a local shop might be worth it in the long run.

And if you are a company? Every printout, reference number, email, ‘diagnostic check’ and webform adds up: If you make your customers do too much work, they’ll find somewhere else next time.