What are they up to now? 23/01/2020

Wren ended another don’t-miss-out offer last night. They even stayed open until 10 at night again, to make sure that nobody missed out.

Judging by the offers advertised, nobody missed out. Screenshots below are before the fantastic offers ended, and after. Spot the difference.

Magnet and Wickes don’t seem to be advertising end dates for their Winter Sales: the Sale goes on forever, which does seem to be the truth. Right now, Wren is the only one still trying to make us think we’ll lose a lot of money if we don’t buy RIGHT NOW. That’s not true.

Hurry up and buy, before the price stays the same!

What are they up to now? 11/01/2020

Completing the set: we saw a few days ago how Magnet said “these offers” were going to end, but most of them didn’t, and we saw how Wickes said theirs had to end – and they did.

Wren said “selected offers” were ending on Wednesday, and they stayed open until 10PM so that nobody would miss out.

So what ended? I mean, there’s money off everything, as always, but which offers were available before Wednesday and aren’t now? If anything, there are more.

Hurry up and buy, before the price stays the same.

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.

Half what price?

I was at B&Q when they broke it.

A few years before that, I was at MFI. We had two months a year in which all our kitchens were full-price, and we all went on holiday; the rest of the time, they were half-price. Later on, we experimented with having half the range full-price at a time, so that there was always something half-price. Sometimes, we’d offer something on top, and even something on top of that: I remember trying to explain to customers that 50% plus 20% plus 10% isn’t actually 80%, and it was all made-up anyway.

It was legal – still is -, but, obviously, according to common sense, if something’s one price nearly all the time, then that’s the real price.

B&Q, while I was there, decided to abandon all that, and go EDLP: Every Day Low Price. They chose to do it at the start of their Winter Sale, without telling staff or customers, and it was devastating for their sales and, ultimately, their model: they’ve adapted, but the designers are gone, the installation service is gone, and they sell different things now, differently.

Wren launched with a strong statement against see-saw pricing, but it didn’t last. Their approach now is similar to that of the trade outlets, Howdens and Benchmarx: there’s a list price, and in theory you’d pay it if you bought just one or two items, but if you buy a kitchen, you get it half-price. When I was there – and I don’t think it’s changed -, it was physically impossible (without hacking) to sell a kitchen at its full price, ever. Since a ruling against them by the Advertising Standards Authority, they’ve been making this clearer.

Again, according to common sense, if that’s the price all the time, then it’s not really half-price: that’s the price.

The way the trade outlets work it, there’s the list price, but they only sell to trade, and trade gets the discount. As at Wren, you can’t pay full price even if you want to.

The Winter Sale’s the same. The days when it was really about clearing unsold seasonal stock – if those days ever existed at all for big-ticket items like kitchens – are long gone. The Winter Sale is like all the other sales, all year ‘round.

I’ve often used the phrase – I’ve used it elsewhere on this site – “Hurry up and buy, before the price stays the same!” Some retailers still use the MFI approach – put the price up for a bit, then bring it back down -, and some the Wren one, but nobody – nobody – sells kitchens at one price for most of the year, then at half of it in January.

There’s an argument that if you believe it, you get what you deserve. I think that’s a bit harsh, because I don’t think businesses should be tricking people just because it’s easy. It’s not going away, because look at what happened to B&Q when they went solo: it would need everyone to do it at once, and that’s not going to happen. But don’t be fooled: kitchens aren’t really half-price, and you’ll pay pretty much the same next week, or at the worst next month.

I don’t always post my references, but here are some:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/jul/16/howdens-kitchen-varying-quotations-customers-confused

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-1692338/Ill-expose-kitchen-retailers-pricing-tricks.html

By any other name

Kitchens aren’t all the same, except when they are.

I used to work with a designer who’d tell customers that he’d met Cooke and Lewis, the chaps who’d created B&Q’s then higher kitchen brand. In fact, Cooke and Lewis were imaginary people, invented by the agency which actually had created the brand.

There was a time, not very long ago, when kitchens at Benchmarx, Homebase, Magnet and Wickes (and, for that matter, even Argos) all came from the same place. No wonder people think kitchens are all the same.

It’s not that simple anymore, and it’s not easy to find a straight comparison anywhere, either. B&Q has a close relationship with a kitchen comparison website, which generously compares factors which reflect well on B&Q; Wren shows examples of its competitors’ cabinets in its showrooms, but it chooses the comparisons very carefully. Some marketing goes further, and simply lies; and then it doesn’t help that you’ll often get your information from a salesperson, who’s had a few days’ training, itself perhaps biased, and then applied his or her own twist to it – and is on commission.

Door materials are a huge subject, which doesn’t receive a lot of attention; I’ll have to write about it one day. Cabinet construction is talked about most. The examples below show what kinds of things are considered. Generally, thicker carcase panels are better; thicker backs are stronger (but don’t be fooled by the simple phrase “solid back”, because you can have a solid sheet of paper); glued-and-dowelled construction is likely to be stronger than flat-pack-style metal cam and dowel, and some kitchens described as rigid are only flat packs assembled before delivery; soft-close hinges and drawers, and full-extension drawers, are easier to use and more durable.

Kitchens in the UK mass market are not bespoke. Apart from the flexibility, bespoke cabinets don’t have all those extra holes inside. At least one retailer uses the term “bespoke built” for its rigid kitchens: whatever they might mean to imply, all it actually means is that they build them just for you – as do their competitors. Similarly, “ready to assemble” and its variations are euphemisms for flat-packed.