ISPs accused of being misleading

A broadband shopper test conducted by communications regulator Ofcom has revealed that customers are being misinformed by several major UK internet service providers (ISPs) about their broadband speeds. The report states that customers are not being told upfront about the speeds they can expect from their Internet connection and warns that advertised speeds are not achievable for most customers.

There are several factors that can affect the broadband speeds that a customer can expect to get. How near the user lives to the telephone exchange, the quality of the telephone line and even the time of day the user is accessing the Internet can all affect the speed provided to the user. However, Ofcom believes that users can be better informed of the speeds they should expect if all ISPs offer speed tests.

A speed test can offer an accurate and personalised estimate to users, but mystery shoppers found that providers were not doing enough to offer them to users. The worst offenders were TalkTalk and BT, as they offered users a speed estimate without prompting in only less than half of the cases. Other ISPs fared better, and the providers who were most likely to prompt callers with a speed tests were Karoo (76 per cent), Sky (72 per cent) and Plusnet (67 per cent).

The findings of the study warns ISPs that consumers need to be provided with more information. As speed is the principal factor which determines a customer’s decision to choose a broadband provider, more speed tests need to be provided unprompted. Many customers are unaware that they will not be receiving the advertised maximum speeds and are likely to assume these are the speeds they should expect from the service. Customers need to be provided with speed tests prior to purchasing broadband so that they know what to expect from their providers.

Will writers to be investigated

Companies that provide will writing services in England and Wales have recently come under fire by the Legal Services Consumer Panel. The Panel was set up in 2007 with the purpose of providing independent advice to the Legal Services Board. The Panel had conducted a small survey using mystery shoppers to test how well will-writers and solicitors provide the service and they have concluded that in many instances the service is very poor. It has now recommended that a full statutory investigation should be instigated with a view to completely regulating the will-writing service industry, including probate and estate administration. It is a first for the panel, which has never before had to take steps to recommend that a service should become regulated with specifically approved will-writers.

The Panel uncovered shocking examples of poor will-writing with as many as one in five wills found to be unsatisfactory by assessors and the individuals responsible for drawing them up being cited for malpractice. Examples include charging outrageous fees for drawing up the will, despite an initial low quote. Some people found themselves liable for a fee of £3000 whereas they were initially quoted £35. When the charges were challenged, the individual was subject to threats of being liable to hand over a significant portion of their estate if they did not pay. Pressure selling was also found to be common, with people being forced into accepting monthly management fees, or charges for secure storage when that storage did not even exist.

Although there were dreadful examples of extortion and hard selling techniques, the Panel emphasised that most will-writers provided a service that was acceptable to the consumer. However, they still felt that regulation is needed in order to stamp out the small minority who are tarnishing the industry’s reputation.

Warning against newspaper scam

Trading Standards officers are advising people to be vigilant against a certain type of scammer that is touting for mystery shoppers. The scam typically presents itself as an innocuous looking newspaper advertisement in the situations vacant section. The job ad promises to offer the chance for someone to become a mystery shopper, with the potential to earn a reasonable sum of money fairly quickly for minimum outlay and effort. Mystery shopping is currently very popular amongst individuals who are seeking an additional income that they can obtain by working hours that fit around their existing family duties and doesn’t require any regular firm commitment.

The con works by the fraudster telling the respondent to the job advert that the situation is to test how well money transfer providers deal with their customers and what sort of service they provide. Anyone who has any experience of mystery shopping will expect to be asked to do these types of tasks routinely, so this part of the fraud is seemingly nothing out of the ordinary. However, the mystery shopper will then be asked to accept a cheque of approximately £2,500 and will be given specific instructions to pay it into their own personal bank account. They will then be told to transfer a similar amount of money immediately, before the cheque officially clears, to a specific address and account outside of the UK.

The scam is revealed when the money is sent from the mystery shopper’s bank account whilst the cheque is supposedly clearing. In reality, the cheque is a fake and will not clear, meaning that the money sent is going directly from the unsuspecting individual’s actual bank balance. The money is then collected by the gang of fraudsters, and since it has gone abroad, there is no hope of recovering it.

Rail fares not always cheapest

According to Which? magazine, rail commuters and users are often paying higher fares than needed due to station clerks failing to advise the cheapest options available. Mystery shopper style researchers from the well known consumer watchdog said that clearer signposting was needed to help passengers find the cheapest possible fare and blamed the whole situation on poor training that was being given to National Rail enquiries staff.

The research also showed that after asking for assistance with fares from the station staff for over 150 different rail journeys, 59 percent of rail station assistants and 43 percent of call centre staff on the enquiries line failed to advise passengers on the most suitable options with only one operator highlighting the fact that buying one of the season tickets available would save £112 for the passenger. Which? also found faults with National Rail’s website due to its failure at providing passengers with cheaper fare options. It believes that regular rail customers are being considerably left out of pocket every time they take the train and that people who use this form of transport to commute to work every day were the ones that weren’t getting the correct advice on how they can save money on tickets.

This comes after a survey with over 1,500 people who had used trains for transport in the last year were still under the impression they were getting the best possible deal and felt confident they could source the best possible price for their journey. Train operators have since said that the research conducted by the consumer watchdog was based on unrealistic scenarios and said the findings were misleading.

New high street designer ranges

High street chain Debenhams has announced it will be working with designers Jonathan Saunders, Preen, Jonathan Kelsey and Roksanda Ilincic on a completely new concept titled Edition. Contrary to many other collaborations which Debenhams’ competitors have made, the designers will be working with the retailer for a minimum of four seasons.

The Edition range of products is a new strategy for Debenhams, created to shift a balance towards product ranges which the company controls. Not only will customers have improved access to a greater range of British designers, but the designers will be able to prove themselves as fresh talent at the forefront of a new generation.

With competition in the retail sector fierce, it’s a mystery why other competitors have not always been as proactive in their thinking. Shoppers interested in Debenhams’ Edition range will be able to find many of the items both online and in stores from spring 2011, however other collections such as Roksanda Ilincic’s will launch in the autumn of the same year.

Pub jobs for high school leavers

Many young jobseekers are struggling to find a job or get into university, and there is a chance that a career can now be made easier than ever in the pub industry. If you are coming up to high school leaving age and are looking for a job then the super pub brand Wetherspoon, who are behind venues such as Lloyds No. 1, may have the answer.

Last year, it was announced that 10,000 jobs would be created by the company as they look to open 250 new pubs. Wetherspoon is offering young people the option of taking on the challenge of working their way up from bar/kitchen staff right up to pub management and beyond. With award winning training along the way, it represents a solid and appealing offer for a career.

Many school leavers will welcome the opportunity of working in the pub industry, which has changed considerably over the decades. In addition to working, you will have an opportunity to gain a recognised qualification in areas such as hospitality at apprenticeship and NVQ level as well as diploma and degree at pub management level.

The benefits offered by the company are competitive too. Job perks for associates include generous holiday allowances, bonuses and free shares after a qualifying period. For managers however you’ll get to enjoy free food whilst working and eligibility to join a healthcare and pension scheme, also after a qualifying period.

Boost in seasonal supermarket jobs

Sainsbury’s, one of the largest supermarkets in Britain, is seeking to employ 20,000 people in order to help them cope with increasing customer demand over the Christmas and New Year seasonal holiday period. This year will represent the largest amount of jobs the shop has ever required to fulfil in one season. To compare with a similar period last year, Sainsbury’s filled around 12,000 jobs.

At the supermarket, there are 150,000 staff based at over 800 stores. Sainsbury’s is currently Britain’s third largest supermarket and the news of job creation is welcomed by both jobseekers and the economy. Seasonal jobs often represent a perfect opportunity for students to earn extra money when they return home from university for weeks or months.

Out of the 20,000 seasonal jobs which are created, the chain expects that at least 1,000 of them will be transformed into long term permanent roles. When you are shopping over the seasonal holidays, you may notice new recruits being trained in the shops ready to handle the increased demand. Remember, as someone wanting to be a mystery shopper you should always be taking notice of customer service levels.

Lasagne sandwich hits the shelves

If you are mystery shopping in the supermarket Tesco any time soon, you may spot a limited edition lasagna sandwich and consider it as a poor man’s food for rough times. The reasons behind this unhealthy innovation from Tesco are still uncertain, but one may think the giant supermarket chain was throwing away too much lasagna left on the shelves. An extremely innovate way of recycling if this is the case however.

Even though some people say it brings back memories of their student life, those could not have all been good memories; it allegedly contains a large amount of fat and carbohydrates. Something the UK doesn’t necessarily need right now is a product which will assist people in gaining weight after just a few bits.

Whilst many supermarkets are promoting healthier food, such as vegetables, fruit and fish, it is surprising to see an already unhealthy lasagna snack placed between slices of bread for even more carbohydrates. There appears to be few healthy ingredients in it except for the tomato puree and calcium in the cheese.

Student food is a notion you normally correlate with necessity, lack of money and lack of a better alternative. It’s quite bizarre for Tesco to imagine that once in the store, the first thing a customer will go for is something like a lasagna sandwich. However, this particular sandwich hasn’t been created to eat every day and students are known for liking to try something new.

Future of shop environments

The future may well be an exciting time for mystery shoppers, with predictions that shop environments will be altered to make full use of all human senses. According to one media firm, shoppers will listen not only to carefully selected background music but also be able to smell a signature scent which they can relate to a brand.

With thoughts on there possibly being a double-dip recession, can retailers really afford to make these changes? Analysts think so, as it will all assist in boosting sales and ultimately increasing growth for businesses.

Stores have experienced media since the early 1930s, however the majority of efforts have been placed on traditional methods such as background music and strategically placed advertisements. With the availability of new technology, a large amount of new opportunities are available for any business to really stand out from the crowd.

One example is the Timberland shop in London’s Westfield. Within the shop is a special signature scent which aims to invigorate customers, making them want to grab a pair of boots and sprint up a mountain.

North West faces hosepipe ban

Water levels in many reservoirs and lakes in the North West of England have plummeted to less than half their normal capacity as a result of an extremely dry start to the year. It is thought that there hasn’t been anything quite like it since 1929.

Even though there have been patches of rain in recent weeks, water supplies have not increased enough to cover normal demand. United Utilities, the water supplier for the area, said that having a temporary hosepipe ban would help to “safeguard essential supplies”.

The ban restricts using any hosepipes or sprinklers for household or garden use including washing cars. Customers may still water their gardens with a watering can and wash their cars using a bucket and sponge.

It will be the first time in 14 years since the North West has experienced a ban. If you are tempted to break the rules, then you should be aware that should someone such as a mystery shopper spot you, you may face a fine of up to £1,000.