They’ll be back.

I mentioned how good it felt to see Homebase gradually putting back together the strong, attractive, and distinctive kitchen business they had until Bunnings tried to turn it into a barbecue shop.

I’ve heard that they’re hiring designers again – and even paying them, in some cases, the highest commission rates in the mass market. You don’t get experts just by paying them – but you can’t get them at all for nothing.

It’s still a work in progress, but it’s looking better all the time:

It’s not up to you.

I’ve seen some dodgy practice around retail finance, in my time. I’ve even seen fraud covered up by a retailer which didn’t want to lose its licence.

What I’ve seen most of is what I saw this week, eavesdropping as a designer at one of the sheds sold a loan improperly.

“It’s up to you if you want to read all the little writing,” he said. “It tells you how to cancel, and stuff.”

That’s not how it works. There are legal requirements about the information we have to give the customer, and this doesn’t satisfy them.

Why does it happen? It happens because retailers aren’t financial institutions: their training, their sales staff, and their daily processes are focussed on selling kitchens (in the sheds, a lot of cheap kitchens fast), by whatever means they need. Some of them also suffer – by their own choice – from blisteringly-fast staff turnover, which means that nobody has time to learn to do things properly before they’re looking for another job.

It’s illegal. It’s not policed. It results in customers entering into binding financial agreements to which they haven’t paid proper attention. Retailers have committed to doing this properly, and they just don’t.

Push me, pull you.

A Regional Manager at Wickes told me that their new investment – in style, as well as money – in kitchen showrooms had been inspired by Wren’s. Obviously, Wren has the money.

I haven’t seen this yet at Wren; probably will soon. It’s nice, isn’t it?

(I’d want to check the instructions on the hob over the pull-out table, though).

Ssh.

Nobody’s ever called me gaudy. But I do think retailers should at least speak loudly about what they have, and I suggested recently that B&Q was almost trying to hide the fact that they still did kitchens.

It’s not just kitchen retailers, though. Currys is having a HUUUGE winter clearance, but they’re keeping it to themselves.

It’s not lying if you get away with it.

I do go on about kitchen retailers pretending their kitchens would usually cost twice as much, or pretending you’ll lose a lot of money if you don’t buy one RIGHT NOW! I keep saying Hurry Up And Buy, Before The Price Stays The Same!

I can’t read minds. I’m assuming intention. It might be accidental that these retailers keep saying things in ways that would make a reasonable person draw a conclusion which isn’t true. I just don’t think that’s likely, and the Advertising Standards Authority tends to agree.

There are people – especially some retailers – who say, Who cares? Caveat Emptor and all that: if people are silly enough to fall for it, that’s their look-out.

I don’t think deceiving people is either clever or an acceptable way to do business, but, yes, that’s just an opinion. Some people think it is clever, and acceptable.

But some other people say that it wouldn’t be allowed if it was really bad, would it?

Allowed by whom?

Nobody actively polices retail marketing. Trading Standards can take up a complaint, and even prosecute, if you’ve been ripped off, but that’s after the fact. The ASA, similarly, will investigate a complaint about advertising – if someone complains, and, again, after the fact. Publishers of advertising will try to anticipate whether they might be implicated in such a complaint, and what the consequences might be, and weigh that against their need to sell ad space.

And what happens if the ASA finds that advertising has been misleading? They tell the retailer not to do it again. Oo-er. By that time, of course, the retailer’s enjoyed the benefit of the misleading advertising: they’ve taken the sales, thanks very much.

Offenders tend to be repeat offenders. That is, when they get caught misleading people, they adjust their wording slightly – and then tend to get caught again. It’s almost as if misleading people isn’t accidental at all.

Wren misleads on comparisons.

Wren misleads on discounts and on offer ends.

Wren misleads on comparisons.

Wickes misleads on discounts.

Wren misleads on offer ends.

Wren misleads on discounts.

Wickes misleads on discounts.

Cheaper than cheap

It’s got better. There was a time when it seemed like all the sheds promised to “beat any quote”.

Obviously, they couldn’t all be cheaper than each other.

What they really meant was that there was a secret pocket of extra discount available, which could be accessed if you could persuade a store manager, or sometimes a regional manager or head office, that you’d buy elsewhere if they wouldn’t give you the competitor’s price, and the products weren’t too dissimilar.

The best times to ask were late on a Saturday – because that’s when most retailers’ week ends, and there are always targets to be met -, or in the last minutes before an offer “ended”: advertised prices might not actually go up the next day, but there would be high expectations, and retailers desperate to satisfy them.

Requests wouldn’t always be met. There was always the get-out that the two products weren’t actually comparable – even if they were really the same and from the same source, which happens, one retailer calls them X and the other calls them Y -, and, anyway, the decision of the deciding authority, whether manager or at head office, was final.

As the photo above shows, We Beat Any Price was for a long time part of Wren’s whole identity. Right now, they lean more on their detailed cabinet-by-cabinet comparison. Only Wickes and Howdens seem to be still duking this one out:

Speed Berry

I may have sold the last one of these kitchens, a few years ago. The Berry colour was being discontinued by Nobilia, and I had a customer in love with it. I had to design it and send the design to Nobilia in Germany, before they’d agree to supply it.

She was over the moon.

What’s it worth?

When Wren introduced the “worth £200” claim on its free design service, its staff were told that it stacked up, because John Lewis charged £200. Everybody else did it free.

Others imitated, as they do. This was Wickes, in September 2019:

However, this is Wickes today:

This is Homebase:

Even Howdens:

Here’s the thing, though: John Lewis – which has been through a bit of a kitchens supply adventure – now charges a “redeemable” £50 – leaving Wren’s value claim, as far as I can see, unsupported.