What’s going on at WH Smith?

This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged 

I had cause to visit my local WH Smith in Wood Green, North London, on Saturday. Disappointed at not finding some quality paper DL envelopes (very strange for a supposed top stationer) I trudged to the checkout with an inferior pack. I counted only three members of staff including the manager on the shop floor, and whilst the store was almost empty (it was near closing time) it occurred to me whilst waiting in the queue how easy shoplifters must find it, as the usual security guard wasn’t in evidence. I negotiated the convoluted path up to the tills – a ‘gauntlet of confectionary’ – to be served by the over-stressed, but very pleasant, young, female manager.

From this and previous visits, everything seems to be wrong with WH Smith for me. Gaps in their product range, demoralised and overworked staff, unacceptable queues at the tills, tired store layouts, and desperate marketing ploys like the confectionary gauntlet to squeeze out extra sales. I’ve even been propositioned before by a couple of salesmen for nPower, the energy supplier, who were allowed to ply their trade in the store! How much damage to the brand does that do? Go to Smiths for a birthday card and come out with an energy plan you don’t want! Somehow, Smiths seems to have lost its way. And I’m not the only person to thinks so… last year, Mary Portas branded WH Smith “a dump”. So in an effort to find out what’s going on at WH Smith, I’ve done a little research… Continue reading

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Why you can’t bank on Santander

Has there been a general decline in customer service by brands or is this an isolated case? After coming bottom of the moneysavingexpert.com customer service poll in 2010, Santander has once again been voted the worst bank account provider for customer service. Yesterday I experienced yet more appalling customer service from Santander, where I have had a high interest savings account for years. In case you didn’t know, it is standard practice with most banks offering high interest accounts to revert to their very low, standard interest after you’ve had your account for one year. Trouble is, they don’t tell you – so it is up to you to actively transfer your funds to a new account to get the high interest rate.

I did this last week, but when one payment from the account didn’t go through I tried to log in – and found myself barred. So I called Customer Service and was taken through a security check and was told I’d made a security error and I would have to be called back by the ‘Security department’ within the next 4 hours. No call materialised so I called them again. Actually they said they’d said it was 4-6hrs. No they hadn’t, but I let that pass. Continue reading

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The Sun on Sunday – a failure of Branding and Content

Have you been as disappointed as me with the new Sun on Sunday (SoS)? It’s just, well, so bland. It’s like the weekly Sun, only less interesting. I expect a Sunday paper to be patently different from the other six days and so, I suggest, do others. The News of the World (NotW) is a hard act to follow but not only have there been no major scoops and exclusives but absolutely none of the stories that really made the NotW the great tabloid product it was. It was that paper’s ability to uncover those local stories that made it such a compulsive read – such as drug-dealing parking wardens, council corruption, benefit scroungers, MPs leading double lives, and yes, the local vicar having an affair with the church flower arranger. The campaigning zealousness of the NotW is not evident in the SoS. It’s dull and makes no effort to make Sunday breakfast interesting.

Various commentators also seem distinctly unimpressed. Alexander Lebedev, proprietor of the Independent and Evening Standard, described the first issue as “quite flat and not particularly exciting. Just pages and pages of talent show judges”. Peter Preston, former Guardian editor said it was “too much like any other day of the week”, whilst John Walsh of The Independent said “it’s exactly the same as the daily, only less so… the exclusives lack the wow factor”. Continue reading

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