The Consumers Association of Ireland to go social?

Back in February, Krishna De blogged about a digital marketing tender published by the Consumers Association of Ireland, The Consumers Association of Ireland – Digital Marketing Tender, closing date 18 February 2011.

As a former director of the CAI, it’s going to be interesting to see how this aging “old media” magazine publishing organisation can adapt to a newer market.

It seems that the gist of their “digital marketing” requirements involves a review of their website (much better now than it used to be), and suggestions as to how the CAI can get involved with Twitter and Facebook.

The mainstay of the funding the CAI needs to survive is the €96 per year subscription for the monthly magazine. Any move to a digital platform will most likely (I expect) require online subscriptions in place of magazine subscribers, and many more of them to make up for the constantly falling magazine subscriptions.

I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge to see how the Association will manage this. People familiar with online publishing know the issues with charging for content – particularly for content which in most cases is available elsewhere online for free.

I presume that the CAI will maybe seek to mirror how the UK Which? magazine provides it’s online content. Which? currently charge £9.75 per month for its online access – which would actually prove a boost to the flagging CAI coffers. I can’t, however, find out how many online subscribers Which? has at that price.

All an interesting project to keep an eye on – particularly as the tender says that:

At this time they are unable to provide a guide on the budget for the investment in these changes but due to the nature of the organisation, their budget is limited and we will be therefore determining choice of provider from their ‘can-do’ approach matched with a realistic costing.

If this all works out, it could be an good case-study for others in jumping into the social media world.

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Irish bank pulls fast one on client to try to lodge money to their current account

Do you have both a current account and a savings account (a demand or term deposit savings account) with one of the main Irish banks? If you do, read on. 

A ValueIreland reader write in earlier this week to share their experience of just how desperate the Irish banks (or one of them at least) are to get money locked away on long term deposit.

Our reader went into a branch recently to lodge a decent sized cheque to their current account in order to pay some bills.

They went in with their cash card and presented the cheque to be lodged as one would normally do. The reader thought it was strange that the receipt provided was manually made out rather than printed, but confirmed with the teller that the money was available immediately (both accounts were with the same bank).

Given assurances from the teller that the money was immediately available, further cheques were written and posted out.

And all of the cheques bounced.

When checked with AIB, the reader found that instead of lodging the money into their current account, the money was actually lodged into a term deposit account, locking the money away for months.

As the reader says:

I had a feeling something was up when they gave me a written receipt rather than a printed one, but  suppose I shouldn’t have been so trusting when they told me the money was definitely available in my current account immediately.

I had no inkling that they would even be able to lodge the money to another account since I provided them with my cash card linked to my current account.

It just shows the efforts they’d have gone to to use that information to track down if I had any other accounts and then lodge the money to an almost dormant term deposit account rather than to my current account.

When confronted, a different teller in the bank concerned denied any possibility of any wrong doing – insisting instead that the VI reader must have asked to lodge the money to the term deposit account rather than their current account.
However, in a damning indication that the bank knew their own wrong doing, they immediately took the money out of the term deposit account and put it back into the current account, refunded the bounced cheque fees, and tried to close off the matter.


For anyone familiar with term deposits nowadays, it’s nigh on impossible to get money out before the term ends, so in doing this immediately without any fuss, to me it just shows that the bank knew well they’d been caught out pulling a fast one on one of their clients.

Moral of the story – as usual, never trust your bank, particularly an Irish one. And secondly, when lodging money in the bank, make sure you check your receipt – printed or written – and make sure the money has ended up resting in the account that you expect.

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A reminder of the cost implications when calling 1890 numbers

This e-mail came through from a user of the website recently:

This may be of interest to you. I’ve a revenue demand (which my pay roll dept insists is revenue’s mistake) which gives an enquiry line 1890 203070.

It’s a sooper-dooper system where you tell the computer your pps, it repeats the wrong number to you and you try again etc. Then you get the option of telling the computer the extension number you want (which you obviously were not told). Finally you are given a list of options and you have to repeat the option you want.

This would be fine if the list of options contained other than three seconds of silence followed by ‘None of the Above’. I’m glad I wasn’t ringing from a mobile!

Of course, that’s the beauty of – you can get the geographical alternative for that 1890 203070 Revenue number and save yourself on the cost of calling them.


Click here for the Website.

Click here for the Website.

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Swiss Air – as bad as Ryanair in getting you to your destination?

And everyone thinks that Ryanair is bad when it comes to flying you to different cities in Europe. The “Frankfurt” airport is miles from the centre of Frankfurt as an example with numerous other examples across Europe.

This example from the Swiss Air website over the weekend show you something to be very watchful for. If you search Google for flights from Dublin to Basel, Swiss Air are top of the list with an advert claiming flights from €171.

Only problem is, as you can see from the image below, you’re actually flying to Zurich with a train connection being sold as part of the package to get you the rest of the way to Basel.

Flying from Dublin to Basel (sort of)

Flying from Dublin to Basel (sort of)

At least Ryanair are somewhat up front with where they fly you to – this from Swiss Air completely takes the biscuit though.

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Whatever happened to “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”?

I’m torn about how to comment on this story from the Irish Times a few weeks ago, “Buyer, and Gmailer, Beware”. It did take guts for the author to put their name to an article clearly explaining how they’d been duped out of €2,500 in an online transaction.

But on the other hand, the story has a distinctly whining tone to it in the way they complain how no one helped him after he’d been duped.

To be fair, it’s an impressive listing of agencies they went to looking for some comeback for being taken for €2,500.

And to a certain extent, this is something that I’ve been a constant critic of in our Irish regulatory environment at the moment – we have so many regulators and enforcers for almost anything – except until you’re actually in a scenario where you need some help. It’s then that you find that very few of them can help when you expect them to.

However, for all of the above, I can only ever come back to a single statement in the story.

And instead of the €5,000 or so I had expected to pay, the asking price was less than €2,500. How could I not be tempted?

Whatever else comes before or after, the old adage still applies now matter the situation – “if an offer seems too good to be true, it most probably is”.


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Customer service from Interflora – bad start, but good recovery

Back in early February, I ordered some flowers for a birthday and when given the choice between a “regular” and a “large” bouquet – I splashed out and went for the large.

However, when the flowers arrived at their destination, they were clearly the smaller bouquet size – and a comparison to the photographs confirmed this.

In the spirit of the ValueIreland Tips on How to Complain, I wrote an e-mail to the Interflora customer service e-mail account to explain what the problem was, and what I would like them to do to fix the issue – simply refund me the difference between the two bouquet sizes (€24). I mailed the day after the bouquet arrived, so the complaint was prompt – as it was clear and polite. I received an automated response – “we’ve seen your e-mail, and we’ll follow up”.

Three days later (enough time for them to action the complaint) after not receiving a response, I sent a polite follow up explaining that if I didn’t hear from them following my complaint, I would go to the small claims court. There was another automated response, but still no action on my complaint.

Four days after my initial complain, Interflora sent me an automated survey asking me to answer questions on my “customer experience” following my order with them. I answered, providing some not very positive comments based on my experience and explicitly indicating that I’d be willing to have them follow up on my answers.

After filling in that survey, I had myself removed from the Interflora e-mail listing so that I wouldn’t receive any further unsolicited communications.

A month later, after still no response, Interflora sent me another e-mail asking me to complete another survey – despite me being supposedly off their e-mail lists.

That was the final straw. So off to Twitter I go:

Did I mention recent shocking cust service, product quality frm @InterfloraUK? More to follow, inc how they totally ignore customer feedback

Followed by:

Have full blog drafted on shockingly underhanded treatment of a customer and complete refusal to engage when complaints made/ @InterfloraUK

And then:

And remarkably, they still e-mail me looking for feedback despite multiple complaints sent and ignored / @InterfloraUK / #menace

And within a day, I had my refund of €24 back to my credit card.

Impressive follow up in the end, but it’s just unfortunately that it took a channel of complaint that most Irish consumers don’t use to get my complaint resolved.

Interflora claimed that they hadn’t received my 2 e-mail complaints to their customer service e-mail box – despite me received the confirmation e-mails.

I suppose it’s back to the normal customer service process of many large companies – we’ll ignore all complaints until we’ve no choice but to follow up. Given that many people might give up after being ignored for a month, it’s likely that in most customer service complaints, the problems will go away and companies like Interflora won’t actually have to do anything.

So, stick with it!

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Top Tip when dealing with electronic boarding passes online

It’s a few months now since a discussion on Twitter with a few people about how to best manage your tickets and boarding passes online.

A popular suggestion was to print the tickets and boarding passes a few times when they first become available on the airlines websites.

The consensus, however, seemed to be to print your boarding to a PDF file to save on your computer and then to reprint as required.

To be fair, this might be more for the more techie persons amongst us, but there are two simple things that you could use/install on your computer to help you with this.

The first is to install the excellent (and free) PrimoPDF on your computer. It basically adds a new printer to your listing of printers, to which you can print your documents.

Alternatively, there is the Web2PDF application which you can install on your web browser. This will put a button on the browser that you click when your boarding pass or ticket is onscreen, and it’ll create a PDF file of the document.

A final tip for handling these PDF files is to e-mail them to yourself to an e-mail account that you can access remotely just in case you need it after you’ve left home.

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More stock photo laziness

I’ve written a couple of times before (here and here) about journalists (or subs) being pretty lazy when it comes to picking stock photos to somewhat illustrate stories.

And for some reason, it always seems to be related to property stories – at least the ones that I’ve noticed anyway.

Another for the list is who yesterday posted a story about repossessions of homes in Ireland – illustrated with a photograph of houses from Newcastle, England.

Maybe it’s just me, but if someone’s going to be giving me the news, I’d like them to put a bit of effort into making sure it’s all (story, images, quotes and references) accurate, relevant and appropriate. story about Irish property market story about Irish property market

AP Images of Newcastle housing estate

AP Images of Newcastle housing estate

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Can one really defend Irish restaurant prices?

Recently, the leading international chef Ken Hom, criticised the prices charged in Irish restaurants – even now after us wallowing for 2+ years in recession.

In this story in the Irish Independent, Chef roasts restaurants over ‘shocking’ prices, Mr. Hom had the following to say:

“It used to be property prices in Ireland I couldn’t believe, now it’s what restaurants charge. I was pretty shocked.

These establishments could all drop their prices by at least a third. The only way restaurants can survive here is to begin offering diners value for money.”

Predictably, there was the usual defense of the indefensible from a celebrity Irish chef, Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain in Dublin. In a typically chef-like gracious response, Mr. Clarke claimed that Mr. Hom could be mentally instable:

Ken must be off his head. I’m doing lunch now for €25. A third off that would be fast-food prices.

Or, then again, anyone who walks in the door of L’Ecrivan expecting a lunch for €25 could be off their head. Yes, your lunch is €25, but you must pay €4 for a coffee. Yes, that’s right, €4 for a coffee.

And don’t forget the (optional) 12.5% service charge which is added to your bill automatically, and which you must ask to be removed if you don’t wish to pay – a disgraceful form of blackmail applied by restaurateurs to consumers.

Restaurant Bargains not what they claim to be

A big issue that I have with Irish restaurants at the moment is touched upon in this article, Recipe for Survival: 23 Ways Restaurants Save Money.

This article, from a restaurant owners perspective, shows how money can be saved in recessionary times at the expense of the consumer experience. The list includes many items you’ll see in Irish restaurants of all quality levels today:

1. Reduced Portions
3. Reconstituted Meats
5. Weaker Drinks
7. Adding Surcharges
11. Mystery Fish
12. Shrinking Menus
13. Cheaper Ingredients

One restaurant close to where I work proclaims a value “early bird” lunch, but serve mostly mackerel or offal meats. Yes, it’s cheap, but most definitely not value for money. If I wanted decent mackerel, I’ll go fishing myself, catch a few and barbecue them immediately with some roast potatoes – nothing better, and a fraction of the cost.

Another restaurant I used to frequent, and recommend, was Rolys Bistro in Ballsbridge. They used to have a great value for money lunch on the weekends. Only problem now is that they’ve definitely cut back on the quality of the food provided – including at least 2 offal meat options last time I was there.

As has always been the case during the years of what became know as “Rip Off Ireland”, there’s a huge difference between cheap, and value for money. Food, charged at the same price but with cheaper ingredients, does not make for value of money.

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Top Tip – How to protect receipts for big ticket items

The US based Consumerist website has some great advice on what to do about receipts that over time will degenerate and become unreadable and useless.

We’re told that we should always be keeping our receipts, just in case something goes wrong. While you only really need a “proof of purchase” such as credit card statement or Laser statements, it is always easier to deal with shops when you’ve a problem is to have your receipts as well.

This was the readers query submitted to the Consumerist:

So many receipts are now printed on thermal paper. Thermal paper reacts to heat. Case in point- we have a folder of nearly blank receipts for electronics purchases over the last year after my husband rested a big mug of coffee on it while sorting through tax documents. I have also noticed that they fade as they age, even when carefully filed away.

The responses were a combination of either scanning them, or photocopying them. Alternatively, you could take a photograph of them.

Given most of us now have phones with cameras on them, and e-mail as well probably, it’ll be very quick and easy to take a picture of a receipt on the day you make your purchase, and then e-mail it to yourself and store away in a folder in your e-mail or your computer in case you need it in the future.

Personally, when I need to keep track of such things, I use a combination of the equally fantastically useful Evernote and DropBox iPhone applications synced with my laptop at home.

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