Tag Archives | The Irish Times

The photographic representation of Grocery Shopping

This article today in The Irish Times by Lucy Kellaway, The photographic fiction of women at work, reminded me of a draft blog post that I put together some time ago, where I posed a similar question regarding what grocery shopping looked like through photographic representations.

In her article, Ms. Kellaway, asks “what do women look like at work?”, and states:

even though people endlessly write and think and talk about women at work, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photograph that captures what real working women actually look like, or what they get up to.

So, what does grocery shopping look like? Here’s a search for “grocery shopping” on Google from earlier this morning:

The photographic representation of Grocery Shopping

It’s only women who do the grocery shopping, I guess.

To paraphrase Ms. Kellaway, even though people endlessly write and think and talk about grocery shopping, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photograph that captures what real people doing their grocery shopping actually look like, or what they get up to.

Apart from the distinct lack of men in the photographs above, look how quiet those shopping aisles are. And, if you look closely, they’re almost entirely lacking in “special offers”, “3 for 2” and all other manner of product pushing we see these days.


Some help with saving money on your grocery shopping

There’s been a bit of focus on grocery shopping in general in the past few weeks, particularly with the renaming of the Superquinn stores to SuperValu, and the closure of 4 Marks & Spencer stores, but the opening of one other in Limerick.

The Irish Times in particular seems to have gone big on it in the past week, with what seems to me to be a pretty anti-Supervalu / Musgraves slant. I must go back through the PriceWatch articles (and particularly the “Value for Money” ones to see how Supervalu compares in mentions to the other chains.

On a more positive slant, here’s a few links that should help you save money on your weekly / monthly grocery shopping:

  1. I’ve updated the ValueIreland “This Weeks Grocery Special Offers” page with a couple of more outlets who provide weekly updates online to their grocery special offers available. It’s worth bookmarking that page to visit each week to see what’s out there.
  2. Don’t forget there’s the “Top Twitter Tips for Grocery Shopping” that I put together a couple of years ago now – it’s all still very relevant today.
  3. It’s worth remembering that there is no price comparison tool available in Ireland to help you compare prices of grocery items. This seems to be a very popular thing that people are looking for on Google, but it just doesn’t exist. The National Consumer Agency did try to do something some years ago, but went about it incorrectly and thus failed miserably.

Know Your Consumer Rights with Tina LeonadOne final link for you is from the (relatively) new website from Tina Leonard – consumer affairs journalist, radio and TV contributor, and director on the board of the aforementioned National Consumer Agency (though, strangely not declared on her website).

Tina’s website is a great resource with detailed tips and advice on all sorts of consumer stuff, with my suggested link now being her “Saving on your Groceries” article. There’s some great stuff in there, so check it out too.


Ulster Bank mortgage “glitch” – what happened, when, and who noticed what?

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a logo image for Ulster BankI’m intrigued by this story about Ulster Bank screwing up again at the expense of their customers. However, in this particular case, I’m finding it hard to have any sympathy for the 1300 affected borrowers.

Known, contracted and agreed

These customers, who in the most part had mortgages with First Active before it was taken over by Ulster Bank, had agreed to pay interest only on their mortgages for a period after which they would convert the repayments to both interest and capital at an agreed date.

A key reason for my lack of sympathy here is the word “agreed”. The borrower agreed to this deal with the lender. They would have known what they were getting into, and would have been aware that on a certain date, they’d be subject to larger monthly payments.

It would have been noticed

But when that date arrived, and the mortgage payments didn’t increase, what did these 1300 borrowers do?

If my understanding of such mortgage products is correct, then the monthly mortgage repayments at that agreed date from which capital would be repaid would significantly increase. Using the numbers provided in this Irish Times article, the monthly payments would have increased by €500 up to €1250 per month, with the average increase being around €700.

What was done with the money?

So, you’re expecting to have to stump up €700 next month on your mortgage payments – you’re going to be ready to be able to pay it. But the demand never comes from Ulster Bank. Did the people concerned save the extra money every month, in anticipation of when Ulster Bank would finally come knocking?

Did they just merge the spending of the money into their normal outgoings – that’s a big bump in standard of living to have an extra €700 per month to spend.


For anyone who was saving the money away monthly, at an average rate of 2.5% over the period, they could have ended up with a savings bundle where they’re comfortably able to repay the amount in one lump sum. And if they still take advantage of the Ulster Bank offer of repaying the amount over an extended, interest free, period, then they’re laughing.

Human Interest

I’d love if one of our personal finance journalists found an Ulster Bank customer in this situation and asked them exactly how this all happened. Were they aware that Ulster Bank made this mistake at the time? Assuming they said nothing, what was their thought process in deciding not to contact Ulster Bank and volunteer repayments? And what did they do with the money the expected to pay, but didn’t have to, each month?

And a question for Ulster Bank – did any mortgage customers impacted by this over the past 5 years actually come forward to highlight the problem? I’m guessing not if that didn’t trigger an earlier investigation by Ulster Bank – unless it was someone coming forward now that brought it all to light now.


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”.



More on Buying Irish – the Irish Question from PriceWatch

I didn’t get around to writing about this article when it was published a couple of weeks ago, but it’s definitely worth a read – The Irish Question. At the very end is something all Irish consumers should be aware of – particularly if you’re trying to support Irish businesses by buying Irish.

Conor presents a listing of items that you may think are made in Ireland, but in reality are not – worth remembering so you don’t get caught out.


This company says that the fig roll has been “Ireland’s favourite for over 100 years” which may well be the case. The secret of how Jacob’s gets its figs into the rolls has, however, been lost to this country for ever and when we called last week, we were told that the biscuits were now being manufactured in Malta.


The only thing that’s Irish about this brand is the name. All the beet factories have long since been shut down so not so much as a single grain of sugar is produced in Ireland. Greencore, the company which owns the Siúcra brand imports it from elsewhere in Europe, most frequently Germany, before repacking it for our supermarket shelves.


The “Olde Worlde” packaging and dewy-eyed shots of Limerick in the “rare auld times” in the advertising campaign used to promote this product could lead people to think this is made with Irish meat. Shaws is not, however, owned by a Limerick butcher called William, it’s owned by Breeo Foods, a subsidiary of co-op giant Dairygold and its bacon could just as easily have come from the Netherlands, Denmark or Scotland, or, indeed Ireland.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that Boyne Valley Honey contains honey from the Boyne Valley or, at a pinch, Ireland. And there is a chance – admittedly a small one that it does – but the packaging tells us no more than it is made with both EU and non-EU honey which suggests that many of the bees involve in the process were buzzing a long, long way from the Boyne.


If for some inexplicable reason you assumed that the fish caught by Donegal Catch came from Donegal you’d be wrong. This company’s salmon might have been farmed in Ireland. Or Scotland. Or Chile.

Another that comes to mind immediately is Fiacla Toothpaste – no longer made in Ireland either.


In the market for a new car? Here’s some old school advice dressed up as “game theory”

Someone sent me this article from the Irish Times, In the game for the best price, from their Motoring section.

The article tells us that using “a simple game theory technique” we’ll be able to save significant amounts of money if we’re looking to buy a car.

The journalists writes thus about the professor from the US who has developed this “game theory” for buying cars:

The CIA and US government regularly ask his opinion on what the terrorist threat is likely to be from North Korea or what Iran will want to do with atomic energy. So, when he turns his attention to game theory strategies on how to buy a car, it’s time to listen up.

You can read the article for yourself – you should, just to see how to stretch the words “shop around” into a few hundred word article.


Another reason not to get involved with gift vouchers – I’m losing count now

One of the more popular pages on this site is my constantly updated feature on reasons not to get involved in using gift vouchers – you can see the latest update here.

An oldish story in the Irish Times further highlights that recommendation – Consumers warned to redeem gift vouchers without delay.

The story refers to the policy of the then “about to close down” Hughes & Hughes to not honour any outstanding gift vouchers in the run up to their closing.

All you can say really is what complete and utter scumbags they are – seeing actions like this you’d have to say “no loss” to their closing down if that’s the way they’re going to do business.

Yes, yes, I know that circumstances were different then with their running out of money and shutting down, but in fairness, if that kind of stunt is symptomatic of how they normally ran their business, then we’re better off without them.

Still though, despite the bleating from the Consumers Association of Ireland (we haven’t heard from them in a while) and the National Consumer Agency, Hughes & Hughes were completely within their rights to do this as they had probably catered for it in the terms and conditions of using (or not using) their vouchers.

According to the article, the CAI had the following potentially misleading, and ultimately pointless comment to make:

Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chief executive Dermott Jewell said it was “not acceptable” for Hughes Hughes not to redeem the book token while branches were still open. “The consumer holding the voucher would have a contract with that company as long as it is still trading.”

A contract, yes, where there are terms and conditions in place which the consumer would have signed up to by getting involved in the vouchers in the first place.

Maria Hurley from the NCA, apparently echoing someone from the receivers, Deloitte, at least had the factual – if not altogether helpful for the consumer – comments to make:

A company which goes into receivership does not have to honour gift vouchers, even if stores are still open. After a receiver is appointed, he or she is responsible for all subsequent decisions affecting the business, including whether gift vouchers are honoured, she explained.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. In this current environment where you don’t know which businesses are ultimately going to survive, stay away from vouchers, credit notes, lay aways and even deposits – basically any situation where you give money up front to a business in expectation of a future delivery of a product or service.


We Irish are suckers for brands and labels, and it’s costing us dear

Paul Cullen wrote this story back in September, Stepping out in the €27.99 suit, when it was one of their websites top stories early in the morning. It even made the rounds of Twitter for a while as well.

The cheap Lidl suit story has been around for a while – I think it first came out back in October 2008.

What struck me more about this story was the reference to the Canali jacket being sold by Louis Copeland for 38 times the cost of the Lidl suit. That’s a jacket – not a full suit – for over €1,000.

Fair enough the jacket is made of wool and not polyester, and that it has a “breastpiece made from the hair of a female horse’s tail” (top of my shopping list when I look for a jacket, I have to admit!), and that “some” of the sewing is hand done,. My question is though, is there really any justification for spending that amount on an item of clothes – do those differences really amount to an extra €970 worth of jacket?

Or is the extra €970 really just for the people with loads of cash who listen to bull from Louis Copeland when he flatters them about how the jacket fits, and gives them the line that it’s the personal favourite jacket of Barak Obama – all from the article. How much of the extra €970 is really just paying for the most important piece of material on the jacket – no, not the horses ass hair – the Canali label?

Having grown up in the clothing industry, I can tell you numerous stories about how much a label is worth to the price of an item.

Best example I can remember in the recent past about the cache of a label was when Old Navy opened (briefly) in Arnotts in Dublin. In the grand scheme of things in the US, Old Navy is below Gap which in turn is below Banana Republic when it comes to both cost and cache.

Yet if you really study their clothes, while the styles and colours may be slightly different, they are effectively all the same items, but just with different labels on them.

Yet when Old Navy came to Ireland, it was perversely more expensive than the Gap outlet just beside it in Arnotts. Anyone familiar with shopping in the US was laughing out loud at the fact that Irish shoppers were buying Old Navy items that were more expensive than Gap, but however the perception was created in the minds of shoppers, it happened.

In the early 1990’s, you could have manufactured a garment for, say, €27. If you put your own Irish branded label on the item and sold it to an Irish retailer, it would sell for maybe €62 to the general public.

Say you made the same item for a big name international designer – exactly the same item. Firstly, just because they were the big name international designer, they’d say that they couldn’t possibly buy the item from you for €27. They’d give you €19 – and because you were making in bulk for a bigger order, and were keen for the business in the hope of repeat orders, you took the money.

Now, your €19 item gets the fancy label from the big name international designer added to it, and then gets sold by a chain of international chain stores or their own designer stores only in New York, London, Paris and Milan. Suddenly you see the €19 item being sold for €229.

People – it’s the same item. Made by the same people. Using the same materials. But with a different label on it. But being sold for nearly 4 times the price. And it sells more than the Irish retailer sells at €62.

Another great example was something I noticed in Tesco when I lived in London. There, if an ordinary grocery item became popular, they’d very soon put a “Tesco Finest” label on it and charge more – for exactly the same product inside.

Obviously, people can spend their money on whatever they want. And perceptions are hugely important when it comes to how money is spent – and labels feed into those perceptions enormously.

But think about it! We Irish are famous for our love of branded, labelled items. But how much extra money are we spending unnecessarily in order to fund that love.


Competition Authority and National Consumer Agency. A marriage made in hell?

I wrote previously, Are the Competition Authority happy to be merged with the National Consumer Agency?, about how it was unlikely that the Competition Authority of Ireland were unlikely to be happy about their proposed merger with the National Consumer Agency. I wonder is that the reason we’ve yet to see the actual paperwork from the Minister in charge, Mary Coughlan, TD, to actually make the merger happen.

It looks like the different reactions from each of these quangos to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employments proposal for a Consumer Ombudsman is going to cause further friction – coming as it does close to the time (apparently) when the merger is due to actually happen.

This article recently in the Irish Times from Paul Cullen, Agencies at odds over code of conduct for big retailers, covers the emerging differences of opinion.

What I’m more concerned about is this completely laughable statement, attributed in the article to the submission on the Consumer Ombudsman proposal made by the NCA to the Minister:

The National Consumer Agency, in a submission seen by The Irish Times, supports Ms Coughlan’s suggestion of a ban on unfair commercial practices in the grocery trade and says retailers should be prosecuted for treating their suppliers unfairly.

The bolded italics are mine. Remember, this is a statement that comes from a government quango that is more interested in maintaining the status quo by “working with” offending businesses rather than looking after the consumers interests by taking on big businesses who are breaking consumer legislation.

Then again, without having read too much about the Consumer Ombudsman proposal, it seems that the real meat of the proposals surrounds protecting Irish suppliers from the big grocery stores rather than protecting the interests of consumers – so I guess it’s logical that the NCA would be sticking their oar in rather than leaving it to the Competition Authority (in theory, the more competitent authority for those types of business to business transactions).


Top Tip when booking online for anything

In this post last week, I referred to this thread on Conor Popes Pricewatch blog where there was some discussion on the pros and cons of Ryanair.

One item that was mentioned that deserves to be highlighted as a Top Tip came from someone calling themselves Lil:

What I do do, is, when printing the boarding pass after online check-in, is to print a copy to PDF (i.e. create a PDF file using the print function) and this way, I can email myself a copy in case I need to print a copy closer to time if I’ve left the printed copy elsewhere, and not have to worry that I can’t access Ryanair’s website to reprint my boarding pass.

This is something that I do myself with all online confirmation pages – as well as just being a record for your own purposes, it could also be useful if any questions were to arise with your bookings in the future – it contains the web page details and so on necessary to indicate that a booking was made and confirmed to you.

You can download the free PDF writing application called PrimoPDF if you don’t already have the necessary software on your computer.

Update 22:45 – Thanks to the ValueIreland.com who sent in this related tip specifically for when travelling.

Liked the tip about e-mailing a copy of a boarding pass. In a similar vein, it is useful to e-mail your passport number to yourself so you can access it from abroad if necessary.

I’d add, just in case, make sure it’s not an e-mail that’s downloaded onto your phone in case your phone is stolen. If it’s on GMail or somewhere, then that might be safer. However, remember that that’s not 100% safe given recent issues with GMail as well.


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