Tag Archives | Shopping Around

Now NoNonsense are trying to convince you not to shop around for car insurance

Ignore them as well. We’ve already had Aviva try this last year.

It’s all very cheeky.

If these companies really think they’ve got the best deal, people will find out by shopping around. And, when you think about it, consumers will be happier with the better deal when they know it’s a better deal, rather than simply trusting a big faceless insurance company.

So, as a wise man once said, don’t believe what you see on the TV. And as I’ve written about before here, there are very good tactics that can be employed when it comes to shopping around for car insurance. Shamefully however, these are legitimate consumer tactics that NoNonsense are trying to get their current and potential customers to avoid.

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NCA survey results – Consumers are shopping around less. But why?

Back in January, the National Consumer Agency released the results of a survey (and strangely, seemed to release pretty much the same survey results again last week here) where their headline revelation was that “The number of consumers shopping around has dropped from 75% to 67%”.

Given that as consumers the world and their mother in the Government, the Competition Authority and the selfsame National Consumer Agency are telling us to shop around more to get the best value for money in these difficult economic times, wouldn’t it be interesting to know why consumers are shopping around less, rather than more?

We’re told in their press release that “we have seen very positive outcomes for consumers as competition has intensified driven by consumer demands for value” and a quote from Ann Fitzgerald tells us that “The research shows that consumers continue to seek out value, particularly in the grocery sector, but it also demonstrates that overall, fewer are shopping around”.

Worrying trend, but no explanations provided

Ms. Fitzgerald tells us that they find this reduction in shopping around as “worrying because if that trend continues and we fall back into old habits, becoming complacent in our shopping behaviour, we can expect retailers to take advantage resulting in less competition and higher prices”.

All very true – less shopping around could reduce competition and lead to higher prices. But still, no explanation as to why this is happening now – I read the press release and the report produced by Amarach Consulting, who did the research for the National Consumer Agency, but nowhere can I find any suggestion as to why consumers are shopping around less, rather than more.

Consumers don’t shop around as much now – it’s because they can’t

I was wondering how much of the drop in consumers shopping around could be ascribed to consumer potentially returning to the bad habits of the good old days of “rip off Ireland”, or how much of it could be blamed on the actual reduction in choice that consumers are facing because of the number of places that are closing down because of the recession.

When you look at business closing down, reducing hours or services, or closing and consolidating branches, it’s logical to think that part of reason for people shopping around less is because they actually can’t – there isn’t the choice available any more.

Think about it – take holidays for example. Budget Travel, Thomas Cook, Toolin Travel and many many more have all closed down, while others like Sunway Travel have closed offices. (A full listing of closed travel agents can be found on the Commission for Aviation Regulation website). All of these closures have the impact on consumers that there is less choice and less competition, and less opportunity to shop around.

Look at what’s happening in the financial services market at the moment as well. Halifax is closing all their 44 branches, Postbank is closing their branches, National Irish Bank is closing 25 branches, ACCBank is closing 16 branches, First Active closed 45 branches, and  PermanentTSB closed 11 branches.

Added to that significant reduction in banking choices, any merger between EBS, Irish Nationwide and anyone else will also only lead to further branch closures, potentially up to 50. And that’s before AIB and Bank of Ireland begin to look at how many branches they don’t need.  Again, all of these closures have the impact on consumers that there is less choice and less competition, and less opportunity to shop around.

Less choice will mean higher prices

In any other area of business in Ireland at the moment, we’re unfortunately seeing many many businesses closing their doors. While all these closures have direct implications now on the ability to shop around now, it also has potentially worse implications for the future (whenever we return to better days) because we’ll have a reduced selection of businesses once the current cull is finished, but with people having more available spending money by then, we’re just going to be back to exactly where we were when “rip off Ireland” was at its height.

Such a reduced selection for consumer who have a bit more cash in hand will lead inevitably to increasing prices again – supply reduced, but increased demand – simple economics.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our National Consumer Agency spent some of their time doing some proper cause and effect analysis on why things are happening rather than trying to con us all by pretending they’re doing some useful work when all they’re doing is publishing the exact same survey results in two consecutive months.

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Irish consumers are shopping around to save money

There was an interesting report yesterday evening on the Irish Times website – link here. According to the report, research from the National Consumer Agency found that:

More Irish people are shopping around before buying into service contracts for broadband, mobile phones or electricity, according to a survey by the National Consumer Agency (NCA).

Some 12 of the 17 contract areas surveyed show increases in the incidence of consumers changing service providers in search of better value.

The research found that consumers were shopping around and changing their service providers in the areas or home and car insurance market, home electricity provider, fixed line and mobile phone providers, as well as broadband providers.

I was interested in the article statement that said:

Of the people who changed, four out of five have saved money as a result, the survey, which was published today, indicated.

Are people switching for other reasons other than to save money? Are the leaving because of poor service quality (8%)? Or poor customer service (14%)? Or because of overcharging (not reported)? 15% of consumers said that they they changed because they were following the recommendations of others.

The full report, available here on the National Consumer Agency website is definitely worth while reading.

A final point to leave you with – there is a table giving reasons why people haven’t switched different service providers. Interestingly, only 2% of respondants said that they haven’t switched broadband providers because of a lack of alternatives.

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Top Tips for Cheaper Car Insurance

One of our more popular pages on ValueIreland.com was our Top Tips on getting cheaper car insurance. Associated with this was a write up on my own experience in shopping around for car insurance when my policy was up for renewal.

Here are a few tips for you to follow next time you’re renewing your own car insurance.

Don’t automatically renew with the same insurance company. Consumer inertia is something all rip off merchants depend on. Insurers are supposed to provide renewal quotes a certain amount of time before the policy expires so that policyholders can shop around for competitive quotes. Use this time wisely.

Shop around, getting quotes from at least three different companies and brokers. There are no more than 10-15 insurance companies operating in Ireland at any one time – it’s not going to be overly time consuming to get a quote from them all.

Don’t be afraid to use the internet. We’re told that costs are lower from companies operating on the internet – particularly those with only an internet presence. Beware of the small print here more than usual. At least check all the sites before buying in case any of them have any special offers. Check out the offers carefully to make sure you’re getting the insurance you actually need.

Check your annual mileage. Insurers assume you drive a certain number of miles per year. Check what their assumption is, and if it’s less, tell them.

Extra drivers on your policy? If they are not necessary all the time, it can be cheaper to only insure extra drivers when they will actually use the car.

Increasing your excess can reduce your premiums in the UK. Ask your Irish insurance broker or company when requesting a quote if this is possible.

Do you really need fully comprehensive? This is the most expensive type of car insurance available. It is normally recommended that brand new cars be covered by comprehensive insurance – but as always, you should consider your needs fully.

Fitting immobilisers and alarms, and using a garage, can reduce premiums. Those living in larger cities will normally have a loading imposed. Some companies will also impose a loading if the car is not kept in a garage at night.

Do you belong to a professional body? For example are you a member of the Institution of Engineers, the Law Society or Chartered Accountants? It may be worthwhile to call your professional organisation to see if they have arranged any special offers with an insurance provider. This could also be true for any other types of organisations such as Unions or other affinity groups.

Check your policy and make sure you are not paying for features you don’t need. For example, many policies automatically add on and charge extra for overseas cover. Or some policies may provide breakdown cover as part of the policy – is this necessary if you are already a member of the AA?

Premium payments up front, or spread over the year? Paying over the year may incur extra costs of financing so paying up front would save you such extra costs. Or alternatively, many drivers cannot afford to pay the entire premium at once and elect to pay in installments. Sometimes it can be cheaper to borrow the money from a bank or credit union as some companies have been known to charge finance charges of up to 20% on the installments.

Don’t Lie. Telling a couple of little white lies on when looking for a quotation might seem like a good idea at the time and save you a few quid, but if it ever comes to making a claim, such a decision could come back to haunt you and cost you more in the long run.

Penalty Points. Some companies will acually provide a discount if you have 0 or 2 penalty points on your licence. Check this out when getting your quotation – as per the tip above, it’s not something you should hide.

Buy more than one policy. If you find a company that has the car insurance that suits you at a price that you like, ask them about discounts if you were to give them your home, travel or health insurance business also. Don’t buy these other policies on impulse though, just for the discount – make sure those other policies give you the value and coverage you need.

Two Car Family. Slightly similar to the tip above, you may get a discount if your quotation covers both cars in your family, rather than just your own.

Changing your car? If you’re thinking about changing your car, it could be useful to bear in mind the potential insurance costs of any new car you’re going to buy. Generally a smaller engined car, more in the “family” size range, free from any modifications, will cost you less in insurance costs.

Brokers vs Direct – A ValueIreland.com reader sent us this tip where they received a quote from an insurance broker for an insurance policy with a particular insurance company. Our reader rang the company directly and got a quote for the same policy going direct rather than via the broker, and found that they could get the policy at a significant discount than from the broker. Something to check out if you normally use a broker.

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Tips for Shopping Around

We’re all being told to do it. We’re being encouraged left, right and centre to shop around, and look at, or find out in advance, the prices we’re charged.

Are we being told anything that we don’t know already? Maybe. But then why are we still complaining about being ripped off when we have a choice of what to pay? Why are businesses getting away still with charging rip off prices?

Here are suggestions about how we can shop even smarter in order to save our hard earned money, and beat the rip off prices.

Ask Around –
If you’re thinking about buying something, particularly a large purchase, (e.g. a television, insurance, or a holiday etc.), check first with friends and colleagues and find out where they may have made similar purchase. They may be able to refer you to a retailer with a proven record of providing reasonable prices, as well as acceptable quality and service.

Research Your Purchase – There’s not much you can’t find out on the internet at the moment. So use it to find out about your prospective purchase. There are also many specialty magazines available that provide a similar service. These sources will tell you all about the marketplace for whatever it is you want to buy (e.g. hi-fi equipment, computers, cars or financial services), and will give you an idea about relative prices, options and functionality, and prices.

Shop Smart – Now, armed with the above information, you can start shopping smarter. Go to a store, let the sales person know exactly what you’re looking for, and ask to see/hear what they can do for you. Have some questions prepared if necessary – different features available, prices, comparisons etc. Take notes – the sales assistants name, details of what you’ve been told and anything else necessary to add to the information you already have.

Shopping Alternatives – Apart from researching the product you wish to purchase, you should also research the alternative places you can make your purchase. Don’t limit your search to your local area as there are many more possibilities. These include the internet, catalogues, via telephone, and in other towns and cities. If you know what you’re looking for, you can ring around to check prices and check issues such as collection, or possible delivery charges.

Don’t Get Hooked – Don’t let “sales”, “special offers” or “promotions” cloud your judgment when making purchases. Be careful that you’re not pressurised into making a purchase before a deadline or closing date in order to take advantage of such offers. Ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of such offers, and make yourself happy that there is value on offer. Obviously, if purchasing something on special offer based on your research, do so much the better.

Don’t Be Shy – Particularly for larger purchases, the prices being asked for need not necessarily be the price you eventually pay. Don’t be shy to ask if there is anything the sales person (especially more senior sales people) can do for you on the price. If you’ve done your research and know the market, you can ask from a position of confidence.

Don’t Buy on Impulse – Buy now, regret later? Remember to resist any sale pressure tactics. Don’t let anyone talk you into purchasing something you’re not sure about, you haven’t researched, or something more expensive that you’ve budgeted for. Be polite, take note of their offer, and tell them you need to think about it. If you’re still happy you’re getting a good deal in the morning, go right ahead.

Set Your Budget – As part of your research, you’ll get an idea of the market place, what’s available, and what you’re likely to buy. With this in mind, set your budget of what you’re willing to spend, and then stick to it. Do this before going to the shops – you may be tempted by little extras etc. that you may not really need.

Spending Money – You should probably also decide how you’re going to pay for your purchase – cash, credit card, or credit agreement of some sort. If you’re going to use some type of credit, you should probably research where you’re going to get the best deal there as well.

After Sales Service – One of our users has suggested purchasing anything that you should check and confirm what after sales service is available – what comes free under guarantee, and what must be paid for. Many stores today offer their own coverage. If you’re interested, confirm all relevant details (what’s included, what’s not, and the costs) and decide if it’s really for you. This also goes for insurance packages you may be offered with your purchases.

Ask for a Discount – If you have shopped around for a particular good or service, and you’ve decided you want to purchase or change existing provider, make sure you go back to your original provider, let them know what you’re thinking of doing (i.e. taking your business away from them), and ask them if there’s anything they can offer you in order to stay with them. Any supplier who values your business should at least make an attempt to entice you to stay – most have the flexibility to offer packages to people who are thinking of taking their business elsewhere. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”.

Same Company, Different Outlets – As we learned in our Advance Pitstop investigation, it is possible for different outlets or branches of the same company to charge different prices for exactly the same items. So, if you’ve decided on a particular company, and they have other branches within easy reach of your location, give them a ring, just in case. As we found, you could save yourself another 10% or more.

Call First. Don’t just walk in off the street – If you’ve shopped around, and have found a supplier who provides the service you want, and the price you want, ring them again, confirm their price, get the persons name, give them your own name, and tell them you’ll be in to see them at some particular time. In this way, you’ll be more likely to get the price you’re quoted.

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Top Tips when thinking about a new credit card

Following on from a recent appearance to talk about this on Ireland AM on TV3, click on this link to read a couple of top tips on things that you should watch out for if you’re thinking about getting a new credit card – or changing from one company to another.

There are plenty of credit card providers, and an even bigger choice of credit cards themselves available, in Ireland at the moment. Make sure you check out everything that’s available and pick the one that suits you best. And remember, just cause you have a current account with your bank, you don’t have to get their credit card as well – you can always go elsewhere.

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Shopping Around for Petrol

I was always intrigued by the comments of certain commentators to “shop around” when it came to buying petrol. Not that it matters much these days (sort of) given the large price decreases we’ve seen in the past 5-6 weeks, but I thought I’d consider it a little here.

I suppose my skepticism about shopping around for petrol is that it’s kind of hard to do when the red light flashing at you on the dashboard. But there are a few things that you can do to ensure that you take advantage of the cheapest petrol and diesel available.

1. Stay informed – Check out the AA Petrol Prices web page to see what the current average price of petrol and diesel in the country. That sets the benchmark price in your mind. Now you can gauge what’s cheap and what’s dear.

2. Use Petrol Price Comparison Websites – Check out Pumps.ie or BestGarages.ie (no longer active) to find out the reported petrol and diesel prices in your local area. If you use these sites to find out information, make sure you pay it back by providing updates of prices that you’re aware of – sharing the information around makes these sites as useful as possible to everyone.

3. Don’t drive to empty – If you’re driving past a petrol station that has cheap petrol or diesel, but you’re only half empty – go in and fill up. If you know it’s cheap, fill up and take advantage of the price. You might not be back that way again, or if you’re waiting for the red light, you might be too far away to make it back to fill up.
4. Don’t fill up just because you’re empty – If you’re a red light gauge bandit but you get caught short and you end up having to buy petrol at a price you know is too dear, you don’t need to fill your car there. Get a tenners worth and get yourself to somewhere you know is cheaper.

5. Don’t get caught out in the shops – Most garages selling petrol now have swanky new shops and snack food providers associated with them. And given that’s how petrol retailers make most of their money, the prices here can sometimes be over the odds. If you can, avoid buying things in these shops, and you’ll cut the overall cost of your visit to the petrol station.

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More on Buying Irish

My post last Friday, Buying Irish requires a bit of work, generated a few comments on the merits or otherwise of focusing our purchasing considerations on only buying from Irish retailers and service providers.

I had wondered if it it could be possible for Irish consumers to support the country in its time of need by re-starting a Buy Irish campaign again by frequenting Irish retailers and service providers. I asked what the problems might be if we were to do that – questions brilliantly answered by the commenters.

One reader sent an e-mail over the weekend which showed exactly why we, as consumers, couldn’t possibly do ourselves justice by going hell for leather on such a Buy (from) Irish campaign.

What would you pay for 1.75l of Tropicana Smooth Orange Juice?

  • UK Retail Chain – Tesco Ireland Navan = €4.99
  • Irish Retail Chain – SuperValu Trim = €5.19
  • Local Corner Store – Gillan’s Summerhill = €6.75
  • Irish Retail Chain – Eurospar, Meakstown Dublin 11 = €7.99

As pointed out in a comment over the weekend, why would Irish consumer reward the uncompetitive Irish retailers when they could save up to €3 by going to a non-Irish retailer.

We in ValueIreland.com have always advocated that consumers must look after themselves by going after price and service. If an Irish retailer or service provider manages to beat the foreign competition on those aspects, then all the better. If not, they’ll at some point in time either wake up to the competition or close down for lack of business.

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Anyone else having problems with Pigsback.com?

I love free stuff, and in pursuit of that, I use Pigsback,com. Over time, the free points add up and provide me with Hughes & Hughes book vouchers so I can add to my collection every so often.

However, I’ve had two problems with Pigsback.com recently. Firstly, it seems that every time I earn points for whatever reason, the only way I get my points allocated is after having to e-mail customer support rather than getting them credited automatically. Its becoming a pain, and starting to take the good out of the website completely.

Secondly, I was checking the cost of hotels in Limerick through their “1000 points if you book through 1800 Hotels” offer – which has the punchline “Choose from 55,000 quality discounted hotels worldwide”.

Jurys Inn Hotel in Limerick through that offer was €100. And with 1000 points, or €10 returned, that’s a net cost of €90.

But Jurys Inn Hotel in Limerick for the same night is €61 through Hotels.com. Which is even better value than going directly via the Jurys Inn website which was charging €69 for the same room.

And just to finish the story, the Hotels.com website had rooms at the Clarion in Limerick for about 22% cheaper than going directly through the Clarion website.

Lessons learned:

  • Just because someone tells you hotels, or anything else, are discounted, it doesn’t mean you’ll be getting the best value.
  • Just because you’re getting money back on a purchase doesn’t mean you’re getting the best value.
  • In my experience, Hotels.com provides the best value for most hotels that you might want to make a booking for, worldwide.
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Shopping Around – It can actually pay

There has been some cynicasm regarding the National Consumer Agency and Ann Fitzgeralds recommendation that we all shop around for anything we’re looking to buy.

ValueIreland.com has been advocating shopping around since 2003, and this e-mail from one of our readers just shows how valuable the advice can be.

I walked into Harvey Normans (Waterford) yesterday to price the DLSR Canon EOS 400D and found the they were pricing the camera at €779. I checked the same camera out in Sam McAuleys chemist at the weekend and they only charge €599 (€550 online). There is quite a difference in price!

I told the HN sales assistant about the cheaper price at Sam McAuley and she just stared blankly at me: ‘ r ya sure it was de same camera’. Yes, I was pretty sure.

Having being bombarded by that Harvey Norman advert on the radio with the manic bloke telling everyone to get down to Harvey Norman right now, I had assumed that at the very least they would have offered some decent value. Not the case.

Of course, what this readers experience also tells us is that we shouldn’t always believe what we hear on the radio and tv.

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