Martin Houlden

Bad news time for B&Q. Kingfisher’s 2011 interim report (P4) shows “B&Q UK & Ireland’s total sales were down 2.0%” then they come under fire in this blog. I wonder which will have the board more worried?

Well, let me start with some praise for our much maligned national DIY chain (one of the few still standing of course!) I hereby declare my love for the gargantuan orange retail outlet. Many happy afternoons have been had trawling up and down its many aisles, finding things that needed fixing (often things that I didn’t know existed, or only needed repair after I’d tried to fix them in the first place), or waiting at the cutting saw with a giant slab of MDF in one hand, and some aspiring dimensions in the other. They’ve helped me build bathrooms and even an entire kitchen, and so I consider myself a very good patron. But all that might soon be about to change, and over an amount so trivial that I genuinely wonder who makes these decisions. Let me explain…

Last Sunday (aka “DIY Day”) I went to B&Q and spent about 30 minutes collecting all manner of small items that I required. Carefully placing them in my basket (like kids do when they go picking strawberries) then skipped off happily to the tills. The young checkout assistant was able and polite, and even though his ability to process the items could have been a bit more ‘enthusiastic’, I really didn’t have any cause for complain. The price came in at a shade over £35 (good value too) and I was preparing to pay, and then it all went horribly wrong.

“Can I have a bag please” I asked. “We have to charge 5p for bags now” said the assistant (looking a bit sheepish as if they knew it was a bloody stupid idea).

Now call me Mr Old-Fashioned, but I’m one of the many millions of people who happen to think that if you spend some of your hard-earned at a particular store by purchasing a considerable number of items, then it’s not entirely unreasonable for that store to offer you a method in which to transport the items back to your home. I often find it amusing when, after racking up my items on a conveyor belt in the local supermarket, the till-operator asks “would you like a bag with that”. So far i’ve only ever answered “Yes please” though I am tempted to say, “No thanks, I’ll just juggle them all the way home” and see if they get the humour (unlikely).

Anyway, after a few seconds of stunned silence, I asked if the assistant was serious? Apparently they were, it was a new policy to “encourage customers to help the environment”. I pointed out that the only effect it was going to have on me was to encourage me to shop elsewhere, and with that I apologised to the assistant (as it’s not his fault after all) removed my card from the machine, wished them well in restocking the shelves and walked toward the door.

But why? It’s only 5p after all, well for several reasons (if you’re reading this in Chandlers Ford, take note).

Reason 1: Customers do not like surprises. If you’re going to mug charge them an extra fee at the checkout, then you really should let them know in advance. Might I suggest a sign on entry to the store, and perhaps another repeater sign at the tills. Perhaps something like “B&Q are committed to helping the environment and are now charging 5p for each carrier bad to help reduce landfill”. Or perhaps “B&Q are getting right royally stuffed by the recession and we need to squeeze an extra 5p from you to pay for the Bolly at the annual shareholders meeting” – whichever one you prefer, but just point it out in advance.

Reason 2: Offer the customer a choice of bags. It’s easier to take the sting away from a 5p ‘BagTax‘ by offering a ‘bag for life’ for 20p, (or even free of charge on any purchases over a certain amount).

Reason 3: Petrochemical engineering (of which i’ll admit to not being an expert, however…) Not supplying customers with plastic bags DOES NOT help the environment. There are two reasons for this. The first is that people generally tend to use the plastic bags more than once, so they carry goods home from the shops and then reuse them anyway (normally as bin bags). If you don’t give them these bags, then it just means they have to buy more bin bags anyway, ergo, no effect on landfill. The second reason is that plastic carrier bags are made from a very narrow part of the petroleum refining process called Naphthalene (Naphtha for short). Sadly Naphtha has some rather pathetic chemical characteristics which make it suitable for practically bugger all uses EXCEPT the manufacture of plastic bags. Thus If Naphtha is not turned into plastic bags then it gets burned off into the atmosphere during refinement, creating lots of lovely warming* Co2 (*allegedly).

So there you have it Mr B&Q. Your current policy needs to be looked at as if through the eyes of the customer, not the shareholder. The good news is that you still got my sale of £35 (breathe a sigh of relief) only thanks to the Customer Service Manager who followed me to the exit apologising and offered a bag “free of charge” saying it was “a stupid policy that had already upset a lot of customers”. So my advice is to either value your customers, or at least be transparent and fair with them from the outset.

Come on, you know you can do it when you B&Q it….

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