Why local shops need to focus on their customers to survive

I’ve always considered myself an advocate for shopping locally, for supporting local businesses where I can. So when our washing machine broke down recently, we decided to purchase one from Beacon Electrical Kingsbridge, a local Devon based electrical and appliances retailer which I believed would offer a more personal service. I’m sad to say though, my instincts to support the local high street on this occasion were proven entirely wrong.

One evening, after just 5 weeks of use, the new Hotpoint washing machine we had purchased from Beacon Electrical became incredibly noisy, making I expect much the same noise were I washing a bag of old spanners. So the following day I called Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge. I admit anticipating some empathy for the problem, and perhaps even a certain amount of embarrassment that a new appliance they had supplied had gone so wrong after just a few short weeks. Therefore I was taken aback by the Branch Manager’s approach to the call, as the moment I mentioned our machine had an issue his tone changed to one of exasperation I felt, aggression even. There was certainly no sharing in our disappointment of the new machine breaking down so soon, certainly no empathy for us having a problem, indeed he made me feel like we were the problem by the tone he adopted.

It got worse when I went on to enquire if it would involve having the machine replaced. Like many people I guess, I don’t like to take things back, I just don’t enjoy confrontations or complaints, and so I admit I’m not well versed in my consumer rights. The manager at Beacon Electrical I felt went on the attack at this enquiry, insisting as the machine was just outside of 30 days olds, that we were not entitled to a replacement machine. I have to admit his manner of speaking to me during this part of the conversation, probably made up my mind that we should indeed insist on a new machine rather than a repair.

So after the call to Beacon Electrical I checked into this, and according to the person with whom I spoke at Citizens Advice, what Beacon had advised wasn’t true, indeed in the first six months they stated that you can decide if you would like a repair or a replacement. However, if you agree to have a repair, you then can’t change your mind. If you are misled into thinking you are not entitled to a replacement and accept a repair, then the opportunity for a replacement is lost, even if you were misled.

Citizens Advice went on to suggest my best course of action from here would be to send an email to them, stating that I’m exercising my rights under the Consumer Rights Act and that I request a replacement. This is what I therefore did, to their manager at their head office in Plymouth though, since their manager in Kingsbridge had been so off from the outset on the phone.

The first email I received in reply was actually the receipt of purchase intended for a Mr K Tawadrous of Harrow. Them sending me the private correspondence intended for another customer didn’t do anything to instil any confidence in them at this point, it was a bizarre thing to do. So I wrote again, and in the end spoke to a manager in the Plymouth store who went on to backup the decision of the Kingsbridge branch management, and stated Citizens Advice didn’t know the law on this matter. I felt this was a strange position to take since Trading Standards now direct you to Citizens Advice for consumer advice, and so I might be wrong but I’m guessing they have a good idea on consumer law. An article on the Which? website in which they state ‘You can choose whether you want the goods to be repaired or replaced’ (click here to view) also seems to backup the advice from Citizens Advice.

Luckily for us when I called Hotpoint directly myself, they entirely understood a new machine shouldn’t have a drum fail, as had their engineer when he visited, and they agreed to just arrange to have the machine exchanged.

Regardless of the law, even if Beacon Electrical are allowed to choose between repair or replacement, why not in such circumstances just make the effort, keep the customer happy and just replace it and send the other back to the manufacturer? Putting the issue of a repair or replacement to one side, why not just be nice to a customer who is having a problem? In the end that’s what has upset me as a customer, the machine is replaced, the problem has gone, but I’m still boiling mad when I think of how I was spoken to by the manager at Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge. I’m sure it’s not hard for him to understand the frustration a customer might feel after buying a new washing machine, only for it to break down after 5 weeks. For me the most job satisfaction in retail would come from turning an unhappy customer into a happy one, and increasing word-of-mouth recommendations by giving good service, building relationships and being nice to people. Any retailer can be friendly and helpful when selling you something, but it’s when something goes wrong that they can actually get a chance to demonstrate their true customer service levels, it could be seen as an opportunity even.

In terms of shopping locally I’m still an advocate for it, I’ve had some great experiences in the past, but obviously that would exclude my shopping at Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge again. The last time I think I had an issue like this was some twenty years ago with a Roberts alarm clock, bought from another local electrical store called Garnetts Electrical in Settle. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast however, Garnetts proved themselves a company that value their customers and gave amazing service, and so I still talk about how they dealt with it to this day.

Supporting local businesses as I do, I really take no pleasure in writing this publicly viewable, negative blog post about one of them. I normally feel feedback that is kept private is more helpful to everyone concerned, but in this case, after my experience of the management of Beacon Electrical in both Plymouth and Kingsbridge, and after reading some other customer reviews, I can’t help but wonder if the company as a whole has a culture of poor customer service. So in writing this, I hope it might serve to save some of the many older, more vulnerable people living locally in the South Hams area, from the same kind of experience with Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge. I imagine some people might be quite shaken, were they spoken to in the same way that I was initially by the manager at Kingsbridge.

My concluding thought is this. That in a world of online shopping, expensive town centre parking, and giant out of town national retailers, that things have changed for local independent shops. The only unique selling point that local retails have, is to offer customers a highly personal service and build valued face-to-face personal relationships. Embracing that could mean they still have a place, but if they don’t then I really don’t see what they have to offer anymore, especially now CXM (Customer Experience Management) is so important to large retailers.

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14 Responses

  1. I had a washing machine from a different retailer COD .Unfortunately my service was worse.After the washing machine breaking down after a year,because the parts were obsolete,we couldn’t have a repair and only had the option of a replacement machine at the cost of a further £299 of which £99 was a call out charge After 2 weeks of use the drum in new machine started making a terrible banging noise so we were told a repair man would come round however if he found it was our fault we would have to pay a £99 call out charge,luckily we found that it was the back plate of the drum hadn’t been adequately tightened at the factory so the fault was easily fixed.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      That’s terrible Jacqui, I’m so sorry you’ve also had such a bad experience. We are lucky as Hotpoint just authorised us to have the machine swapped. The thing that concerns me still is how we were spoken to by the manager at Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge. The South Hams has a lot of elderly people living in the area, and so the thought of them being spoken to in the same way upsets me, so I thought I’d write this post about our experience.

  2. A well-put letter Mr.Snape.
    I will never again use Beacon Electrical here in Plymouth. I bought a new washer-drier from them some 2 years ago. The delivery men were half-way up the stairs when they asked if I had disconnected the old machine. I replied I was 73 and unable to kneel due to a recent knee replacement. They refused to bring it into my flat. I telephoned the manager of Beacon and he eventually very reluctantly agreed the delivery men could install the machine upon my payment of £5 (I had paid almost £300 up front for the washer-drier). I said I would pay this on receipt of an invoice from them, None came for over a week but I was constantly bombarded with phone calls from Beacon demanding payment. I sometimes received 4 calls a day for a week! I eventually paid the £5 with a cheque and an accompanying letter saying their customer relations service was abysmal and I would never ever buy a thing from Beacon Electrical ever again – and I never will.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Hello William, and thank you for sharing your terrible experience of Beacon Electrical. I’m appalled, I wish I could say I was surprised, but I was worried that if they were dealing with me in such a way, that they might be dealing with others like that too, and you’ve confirmed that to be true so I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. Anna says:

    I had a very similar experience when it was the old owners. It was 24 hours after purchase and I was treated very rudely and accused of breaking the appliance myself. It never worked! I went home crying. Days later called the appliance manufacturer who sent me a new one and took old one away. I learned my lesson not to go into that shop again. And now that I read this article, I see nothing has changed.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Hi Anna, thanks for your comments, I’m really interested to read other people’s experiences of this store. In the face of all the competition you’d think that all local retailers would be incredibly precious about their customer relationships, and really nurture them. The evidence with this store seems to suggest otherwise, William’s comments above suggest it might be the same across the whole Beacon Electrical company too. Meanwhile larger retailers now understand the value of each and every customer, and so it’s now incredibly easy to get something replaced by the likes of John Lewis, Argos etc. That said I do still believe in shopping locally if you can, but I concede perhaps it’s becoming more an argument from my heart rather than my head though.

  4. Loopy Lady says:

    Although I haven’t yet purchased anything from Beacon, my mother (who is in her late 70s) has. She bought something quite cheap (about £100) at Christmas as a present and asked about having it delivered as she doesn’t drive and is quite unsteady on her feet at times. They were shocked that she needed delivery for this item (a record player combination) and then asked for over £20. She responded by saying that this was ridiculous because one of their Beacon vans is parked, every day, at the end of her road – surely they could drop it off as they were there anyway.

    Eventually, they did agree to do that and she tipped the driver instead.

    I had a similar experience which led me to not purchase from them. I needed a new DVD / Blueray player and was willing to pay for one of their more expensive models . Because I’m disabled and have difficulty with getting down onto the floor to plug things in, I asked about delivery and connection. They weren’t interested in helping and quoted the type of fee that you’d expect to pay to have a large appliance installed. I honestly can’t remember how much as it was a few years ago now and I didn’t take their offer up.

    We never had a problem with the original company who owned the business, Pritchards, who had it for many years. They were always happy to go out of their way to deliver even cheap items locally – for example, a halogen heater was delivered for me, although it only cost £15. All my white goods were purchased from them (about 15 years ago) and they were delivered and installed free of charge.

    I think, unfortunately, that Beacon are not what people in a small community would think of as a “local retailer” – most Fore Street shops used to go out of their way to help but times are changing.

    When I moved to KB, 15 years ago, I found that most were quite happy to drop things off for me, even if I waited a day or so, I always offered to pay but this was not required. I can remember getting back from Fore Street to find a delivery of a stack of items including a washing up bowl, dustpan and brush, kitchen dustbin etc. The same thing happened when I was looking at carpets / curtains – the sample books were delivered to me as it was appreciated that I had no way of getting them home.

    Unfortunately, times are gradually changing, even in Kingsbridge.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Thanks for your comment, and it’s really interesting to read your thoughts on it being changing times, I’m sure you are right to take a broader view. I hope things will swing back to a world of selling service as well as goods. I still like to shop locally and look for service, and I do still get great service in many local places around Kingsbridge and the South Hams. I know for sure in this area there are lots of lovely people working incredibly long hours to make a success of their businesses, that are passionate about their customers too. I’m really trying to hold onto that thought and remain an advocate for local shopping. Thanks again, really good of you to write at such length and I’m sure you’re right about it being changing times.

  5. Phillipa says:

    I bought a washing machine from Beacon Electrical in Kingsbridge. After a couple of weeks the washing machine (Bosch) made a noise similar to the one you have described on it’s spin cycle. I didn’t think to ring the shop as I had bought the machine in the sale. Instead as the washing machine was under warranty, I telephoned the people dealing with that. An engineer called. He was ill mannered, cross at having been called out (obviously not happy in his work) and told me I should unblock the filter. And left. There was nothing in the filter and the machine continued to make the noise. I telephoned the warranty people again, who were rude and said that should an engineer be dispatched to us then we would have to pay as the first engineer had said there was something in the filter and there was no fault with the machine. I did not call request an engineer again as I thought I would get the same man and I would end up paying £100 for the privilege. The machine works but continues to make a sound like it is spinning loose change. When the machine finally dies, It is out of warranty now but when I have to replace it, it will most certainly not be the same model and I will go somewhere else to buy it.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Hi Phillipa, I’m really sorry to hear how you were spoken to by the engineer, I just can’t understand why people are awful to others when they are already experiencing problems. It’s like being kicked when you are down. I have to say our engineer from Hotpoint was a really nice guy, but wouldn’t it be nice though Phillipa if you didn’t need an engineer after a few weeks, if things lasted like they used to. I remember my folks had the same television for probably a decade or more, now it seems like you’re lucky if things last a couple of years. I wish there were makes like those still, where if something went wrong they’d move heaven and earth to help and protect their brand and look after their customers.

  6. pauline says:

    Having moved from Kingsbridge to North Yorkshire (not too far from skipton & Settle – as mentioned in the main post by Jamie, I have found the old adage that northerners are more friendly to be very true. Shopkeepers here go out of their way to be helpful. There were a few pleasant shops in Kingsbridge but I found many of them to have a similar attitude to Beacon. They all despise the tourists even though it is the tourists who bring in a great proportion of their income and they also do not seem to respect the importance of the pensioners pound even considering it is a high retirement area. It’s sad when a town dies but those, like Beacon, who don’t cherish their customers deserve to go out of business.

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Hi Pauline, many thanks for your comment, and I’m genuinely chuffed to bits that you’re finding the North so friendly. I have to admit I’ve found the people of the South Hams to be completely lovely too, and now I’m raising my family here. I understand many points you make and why you make them, for sure it’s an area with some complex issues to be sorted out on housing, and the imbalance of the local economy to name but two, but it remains a wonderful place to raise a family, and over time, with some vision from local government I’m sure the issues will be sorted out. Thanks again Pauline

  7. Sueann Wilson says:

    Hi Jamie I have just had the worst experience from Ben Davies at the Kingsbridge shop – bought a hot point washing machine and a Dryer and had to wait a week for delivery and when I started the dryer it went red and started smoking and I turned it off b4 it blew up !! I had to wait another week for an exchange and that also started smoking and smelling – they then said wait another week for another one !!! No apology so I asked for some compensation for being patient and having to take my laundry to the dryers to dry and have radiators on to dry my clothes (family of 6) and Ben said he had to arrange 3 deliveries to my place that has been difficult and I could have a rinse to clean my machine as a token !!! I cancelled my dryer and want my money back and will buy on line as supporting my local shop was a bad idea !! I now have no dryer and it’s raining ☔️

    • Jamie Snape says:

      Hello Sueann, I’m so sorry to hear of your experience, it’s not nice to learn that other people are still having similar experiences in their dealings with the Beacon and their Kingsbridge store manager Ben. I found him so rude and eight months on I’m just as determined not to step foot in a Beacon shop while he works there, and I know from speaking to people over the last few months that I’m not alone. Since then I’ve bought a television and a number of other things elsewhere which I’d have loved to have popped in and purchased there.

      I’m sorry also to read they have made you determined to shop online in future, I must admit I felt much the same way at first. Time has passed though and I do still try and shop locally and support local Kingsbridge businesses when I can. There are some great little businesses here, and they do really need our support, one bad apple and all that.

      We are a family of six also so I can completely understand your frustration, washing machines and dryers are just so essential to large families, it’s just not practical to keep dragging that much laundry to the laundrette. Hopefully the sunshine will return soon and you get your dryer sorted too!

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