Monday, January 24, 2011

Sainsbury's: The End Of The Love Affair.

Before we begin, I'd like to point out that I've been a loyal customer of Sainsbury's for about 15 years, maybe more. For the past few years my local branch has been Streatham Common, and up until mid-2010, I was delighted with the store. I'd even sent them an email telling them how much I enjoyed shopping there.

I used to be fairly happy with the prices that I paid, until last week when I noticed that some prices had increased by 15% or more pretty much overnight. Previous Friday, three cartons of 1 litre own brand juice were £2, by Tuesday this was £2.30. Previous Friday, Whiskas Katzini was 91p a pack, by Tuesday, £1.02. You'll see all of this in the email conversations below (if you can be bothered to read them) but thought you should be aware that I do pay attention to prices and can do math/maths.

So my first contact with Sainsbury's Customer Services (via their website form) was this;
We have been loyal customers of Sainsburys for over 10 years & have normally been very pleased with the prices charged. However, over the past three weeks, I have seen prices on items that I buy going up by over 15%.

While I did expect some prices to rise due to the increases in VAT & fuel duty, I am astounded that you can justify an increase of 11p on Katzini, 30p on three own-brand one litre juice cartons & over 10p on a loaf of instore bread.

When I asked about the increase in food prices, I was informed that this was due to "VAT increases" which is interesting as I was under the - perhaps misguided - impression that most of food was VAT free.

("VAT increases" was, by the way, also offered as the explanation at our local Streatham store for why there were four different prices of the same product on display in the vegetable section. I would include a picture of this, but there's no way of attaching it on your website.)

I asked the customer services department in Streatham Common if it was to them I should complain about the prices, but they tell me it is a national pricing decision and I should contact head office, hence this email. Can you please tell me why some of your prices have gone up by such a large amount? Are you trying to con the consumer into thinking that the price rise is due to VAT increases?

This is disgraceful behaviour by a supermarket which is currently advertising that there are 974 price cuts around the store. Can you send me a list of the products that have been reduced in price and their availability, as the majority of red shelf edge labels seem to refer to products that are not on the shelf.

Any response would be welcomed.
Okay, so my first mistake was that "any response" would be welcomed. I realise now that I should have been more specific. I'll save you the auto-responder thanking me for my feedback, and skip to the first reply I got from a human.
Thanks for your email about our recent price rises

We’re committed to offering great quality food at fair prices which is sourced with integrity. We regularly review our prices to make sure we offer value for money whilst remaining competitive. Although we try to keep our pricing as fair as possible sometime prices can go up as well as down.

There are lots of factors which can affect pricing, from rising costs of raw materials, to the production and packaging and even transportation. Whilst we try to absorb these increases for as long as possible, sometimes we eventually have to put the price up. I can’t be anymore specific why some of our products have become dearer, but I do hope that you’ll still find your overall cost of shopping at Sainsbury’s is good value.

I’m grateful to you for taking the time to contact us as your feedback helps us to improve our products and services. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Maybe it's just me, but I was hoping for more of an actual reply to the points I'd raised than what felt like a cut & paste job of standard answers. So I replied to them.
Thanks for sending me a reply, of sorts.

As I mentioned in my email, I understand that VAT and fuel duty increases affect prices. I am also open to the idea that raw material costs have gone up and that this could affect prices in the future (such as the floods in Australia causing flour prices to increase worldwide due to the likely shortage). What I still don't understand is why some of your prices have gone up by more than 12% in a week.

If you were absorbing increases in costs over a long period of time, and now need to increase prices, can I suggest a phased increase, rather than suddenly lumping 12% on? As a shopper, if you put something up by 2p a week over 5 weeks, I'm less likely to notice and/or feel ripped off than by you suddenly pushing the price up by 10p overnight without any warning/explanation - while simultaneously seeing advertising designed to give me the impression that you have cut prices throughout the store.

Your methodology seems flawed, as you are now making me think my shopping is no longer good value as I am acutely aware that the prices have just shot up by 10-12%. Couple this with your instore customer service staff trying vainly to pass off every price rise as being due to the VAT increases - on items not even within the remit of VAT - and the whole shopping experience feels like a rip-off. You have essentially done the exact opposite of what you have set out to achieve.

I also note that despite me asking for a list of your 900+ half-price items (surely just a cut & paste from somewhere) and my comments about their apparent lack of availability in our local store, you have chosen to not respond to this part of my query. Could you possibly respond to it this time?

While I'm here, could you also confirm whether there are 100s or 1000s of products that have been reduced in price as your website shows both numbers on the same page. I've attached a screenshot so you can see what I'm talking about. (Click on the photo to embiggen)
And I've also attached a photo which shows the multiple prices on display for the same product that I mentioned in the previous email but couldn't attach via your website. (Click on the photo to embiggen)
Having previously commended the Streatham Common store, I was hoping that my comments in the previous mail regarding the price increases, the lack of staff knowledge about why the prices have increased, the lack of availability of your half-price items etc would possibly be mentioned in your reply. Or that you had passed them on to the store manager. I'm sorry that you didn't feel it necessary to do so.

Something I'd also intended including in the original email, but coincides nicely with my feelings of being ripped off, are when you keep prices on certain items the same, but reduce the amount of product. You used to do a circular goat cheese tart with six pieces of cheese on it. This then was reincarnated as a rectangular goat cheese tart with five pieces of cheese for exactly the same price. You used to do a fairly priced bag of basic brocolli. The bag shape changed, the amount of stalk increased and the amount of useable brocolli reduced. Price remained the same. The number of spring onions in a bunch went down. Price remained the same.

I noticed these things at the time and felt like Sainsbury's was trying to deceive me, but didn't bother mailing you. I'm beginning to suspect that I shouldn't have bothered mailing you this time either and should just take my business elsewhere.

Any comments or further information you can provide would be appreciated.
Which may seem harsh, but I was feeling like I was being brushed off. And I hate feeling like I'm being brushed off by companies that I actually like. Again, I'll save you the auto-response and go straight to the next mail I sent them, which includes their email to me. The bits in italic are their mail.
I have replied to this mail within the "reply" you sent me.

Thanks for your email. I’m sorry our response wasn’t satisfactory.

I'm beginning to expect it, to be honest. Which saddens me, as I try to make the mail I send to you very clear and do expect some level of actual answers in any response I receive.

I’ve passed your request for the list of products which are on sale at half price to our marketing team. I will email this to you as soon as I get it.

You know what, I suspect there's going to be no point as I can't actually see myself visiting Sainsbury's ever again.

The advert one the website states there are 100s of great offers at the moment, which there are. The statement of bringing you low prices on 1000s of products every week is basically stating we have many products at prices.

Well thanks for reading through what you'd written and checking it made sense before you bothered sending it. Surely all your products are "at prices", not just many of them? As you could see from the picture I attached last time, part of the problem is discovering just which of the prices on display are actually the correct one for the product. Did you see the picture I sent? I'm assuming that you didn't, or are ignoring it, as you haven't made mention of it in the reply.

Your comments on colleagues not being aware of prices increasing and stock availability have been fed back to the Streatham Common store. They will monitor the situation and ensure colleagues are fully trained in areas needed. Our colleagues won’t always be aware why some items have increased and may have to find out.

Yeah, or they could do what they've done repeatedly to me and just make up an answer and claim it's due to VAT. Thank you for passing my comments on to the store, although I won't be back in there to see if there's any improvement. Could you also mention to them that leaving out of date vegetables in the section right beneath the price label, while having the in date version of the same vegetable just a couple of feet further down isn't acceptable either? Could you also ask them why there's less people on the cigarette kiosk on a Saturday than there is on a Wednesday afternoon?

It's not just Streatham Common store I have issues with, I've tried shopping in the Wandsworth/Vauxhall branch and the one on Purley Way as I honestly did enjoy shopping at Sainsbury's. It made no difference, the problems seem endemic: no-one who works for you seems to care about the shop anymore. I personally think that there will be more customers who feel that if the staff don't care, then why should they - the customer - pay more for their products, get smaller portions, and "mis-informed" by staff when they could be getting the same level of service at Asda.

Hopefully you won't lose too many other shoppers or your shareholders - for whom you must need to increase your prices to maintain your profits - are going to get seriously unhappy when people stop shopping at Sainsbury's altogether. I cannot be the only shopper to complain about you increasing prices by over 15%, and I cannot be the only person who has contacted you and been unhappy at the non-reply I've had back. Is there anyone in charge of your Customer Service department? Do they know what mails are coming in and going out?

Our products are constantly reviewed and sometimes changed to try and improve them.

With the Basic brocolli you made the package smaller, the product worse and kept the price the same. With the tart I also mentioned in the previous email, you decreased the amount of goats cheese and kept the price the same. The only improvement made is in the profit margin as you've reduced the cost of manufacture. If you'd like to inform me of any products where you've increased the size of the portion, or added costlier ingredients without increasing the sale price, please enlighten me as I must have missed them.

We try our best to supply high quality products at fair prices whilst still remaining competitive.

You might want to try a bit harder then, as I can do a comparable shop for less at Waitrose. Would you like a copy of my receipt?

We would never intentionally deceive our customers and want you to be able to take advantage of the vast amount of products we have.

I'll ignore the non-sequitur in that sentence, but point out that by not telling the consumer that the product they're paying the same price for is now smaller than it used to be isn't exactly going to inspire trust and confidence, is it? Particularly when a fellow shopper points it out to them as I did the last time I was in Sainsbury's. I may well start doing it online as well, just to reach out and connect with as many people as possible.

We appreciate your patience.

What patience are you appreciating? Do you appreciate my sense of humour, my attire or my ability to juggle, none of which have been evident either?

If you'd like to get someone who can string a few words together that make sense, and maybe sit them next to someone who can answer any of my queries from any of my emails, please do reply. If that's beyond you, then please don't bother.
So that's where it stands. I'm waiting to see if I get a reply, but I'm not holding my breath.


Blogger Welshie said...

And from the supermarket that bought you the useful warning on memory cards. Expecting the shelf stackers to understand the products?


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