A self build house project diary
by Oliver Cannell

Why is it so hard to buy stuff?

Are we just getting old or is it becoming increasingly hard to actually get decent customer service these days?

Maybe the fact I'm finding myself ask that very question, means I'm getting old!

Let the games begin

No matter what budget you've set yourself when building a new house, you're still going to be spending thousands of pounds on all the fixtures and fittings to make the house an actual home.

This is supposed to be start of the fun stuff - choosing shiny bathroom fittings and suchlike. All the stuff that will make the home unique to your taste. You expect the retailers to be welcoming you with open arms to grab as much of that cash as possible. After all, how many times a day do they get people walking into their stores needing literally... everything?!

Where to shop

We know that most of the fittings and products we'll be buying will be coming from mainstream retailers, such as the big DIY chains. This is usually where the best deals and best choice is to be had - although that's not always the case. Mostly, we don't have the budget to buy stuff from upmarket specialist shops, but some things will need to be sourced from these places - like the log burner for example.

Having shopped in the big DIY chains for many years - Homebase, B&Q, Wickes, etc - we pretty much know what to expect, but when you're under a little pressure to get things for the best price and you are on a deadline to buy stuff in time for the builders to actually install them, things can suddenly get a lot more stressful.

The other option of course, is to buy online. Usually better prices (being careful not to be stung by delivery costs) and usually all the choice you'll ever need. But the one problem with buying online is you can't actually see and touch the products first. When you're buying a shower unit, I want to be able to touch the controls and see how well (or how badly) it's made. Often this leads to looking around in the shops and them going home to buy online but that doesn't always work out.

Bullshit and waffle

Most of the time I have researched the product I'm after online beforehand, so it's frustrating when the shop staff know less than me and make out like they're experts.

Now, I don't expect a 20-something or student member of staff to have a clue about the technical aspects of a product - they're just their to earn some cash. All I (anyone) ever wants is some customer service and the truth.

Too many times have I been into a DIY chain and got bullshit and waffle from staff. Just get to the point. If you don't know something, don't pretend that you do! I wont be offended or annoyed if you say, "Sorry, I'm not 100% sure what the answer to that question is. But let me find out for you."

It's not my department

Big chain retailers... listen up! The public don't give a monkies about what internal departments, partnerships and sub-sections you want operate!

If we walk into Wickes, we expect to buy a kitchen from Wickes and want to talk about the Wickes kitchen from your Wickes staff. We don't want to hear that the one specialist sub-contracted kitchen specialist staff member is on a lunch break or off today - after we have driven 10 miles to talk to someone. How about your have more that one person in-store that actually knows what they're doing?!

Neither do we want to hear that your kitchen ordering computer system isn't linked to whatever other system you have... or that this question can only be answered by the guy who took our order.

Homebase... we like the look of the shower unit offers you have on at the moment, we'd like to buy that one please? I'm sorry, what...?!

  • You don't have any staff available for that department at the moment?
  • You can't find the key to the store room where the shower units are kept?
  • That unit is no longer available. The one you have on display you mean?! With a price. In a shop. Selling products.

If that department has no staff or you can't run it... close it off temporarily. Close the store. You might as well. Just don't bother!

Big chain stores - we don't care about how you want to run your business. We DO care about how you're wasting our time... making us do all the leg-work... giving us excuses of non-service... and generally being a pain the backside and an uphill struggle for us to give you our money.

Shape up... coz the inernet is coming to bite you in the ass. You might have heard of the internet, yeah?

Kiss my VAT

Any builder's merchant will give you a proper VAT receipt. They deal with trade people all the time, so they know they'll need to claim back the VAT. It's a simple process of including all the details on the invoice/receipt. Easy.

Why are Homebase still making people pay for their goods at the till, and then walk up to the 'customer service' desk to ask for a manually written out VAT receipt?!! Seriously?!

What usually happens then is...

  • "Tut! I don't know how to do those."
  • "Where's the VAT receipt triplicate book?"
  • "We're out of VAT slips."
  • "What are your name and address details please?"
  • 10 minutes passes... I can feel my life slipping away!

The Homebase VAT slip calculation instructions are ridiculously difficult to understand as well. I can see how complicated they've made it for staff. Obviously management have never had to perform the operation infront of a customer under pressure.

This is how I do it:

  • £25 / 6 = the 20% VAT amount.
  • £25 / 1.2 = the amount before VAT.
  • Simple.

Sort your tills out before I lose my cool!

PS. Homebase - I don't need someone to hand me a shopping basket and say "Hello" when I walk into the shop. I'm building a house. I run my own business. I even dress myself in the morning. Train that guy up on how to work out the sums for the VAT receipts please! Don't patronise me!

Awful product displays

Yes, I know the public can be a bunch of bulls in your "china shop" - just look at the state of Primark on a Saturday afternoon! But why are your kitchens and bathrooms falling apart in-store?

You're not giving my any confidence in the lifespan or build quality of these products. You're supposed to make these products look attractive and appealling. Mostly they look like a 5-year old has had a go at putting them together in a tantrum.

Sort it out!

Too many tales

Basically there are too many sad stories of trying to buy stuff and failing. No wonder people are shopping more online. You don't have to deal with crap staff, lack of knowledge and bad service.

I'm in a massively lucky position to be building a new house. I have cash burning a hole in my pocket - we need everything. Don't you guys want to sell me great products? Don't you guys want my money? Don't you guys want me to recommend you to my friends (real life and social media)? Don't you want their money too? I guess not.

Next entry: More plasterboarding - it feels like home already (Friday 16th January 2015)

Previous entry: The beginning of the end (Thursday 15th January 2015)

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