Sunday 12 April 2015

Run With It: the Google You-dle

I assume that everybody who reads The Restless Consumer knows what a Google Doodle is, right? In case you don’t: it’s what you see when you go to the Google homepage and it’s turned into an image or an animation or something. The idea is to celebrate cultural milestones, famous people, public holidays and so on, in a fun way. The genius of today’s Run With It! is that I take the concept but then remove the cultural milestones and famous people and public holidays and the element of fun.

It was cool when they commemorated the 107th birthday of Grace Hopper (inventor of the compiler) with an animation that used COBOL. And the Don’t Stop Me Now animation for Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday was great too. But there’s a bit of a theme with the birthday doodles, whether it’s Les Paul or Lucille Ball: they tend to go for dead people.

So, my idea? The Google You-dle. This would be an intensely practical feature that combs your Gmail for phrases like “party”, “born weighing $lbs $oz” and “mother and baby both well” to find phrases corresponding to likely birthday dates. It would log the date of the email alongside a name. Then, 50 weeks after the date of the email, you would go to search for something while logged into your Google account and see the relevant You-dle. I don't have much design imagination, so I'm thinking probably a picture of a birthday cake plus the person's name.

This gives you time to sort out a card, a present or whatever. Unlike Facebook, which only gives you time to guiltily write “Happy birthday!” on the person’s Facebook wall. 

Of course sometimes it would get it wrong. Likely errors include mixing up the date of the birthday with the date of the actual party you got invited to last year, or mixing up the name of the person who told you about the baby’s birth with the name of the actual baby. But if you’re pretty disorganised, it might be an improvement on whatever system you’ve currently got in place. And Google is combing through all your personal data and “tailoring” your searches anyway, so it might as well be doing it in a way that’s actually useful.

This is a Run With It! blog post. Anyone reading it is free to try the business idea described and attempt to make money out of it. If you do, please tell us about it! 

Thursday 30 October 2014

Vintage Bus Hire Ltd: the case of the bruised bridesmaids

Hiring a vintage bus for your wedding is a cute retro touch. It’s also a way of showing consideration for your guests and ensuring they get back to their accommodation safely. Unfortunately, for one set of wedding guests it didn’t quite work out that way.

The company in question was Vintage Bus Hire Ltd, based in New Romney. The bride’s parents chose this company for their daughter’s July 2014 wedding because it seemed like a classy, reliable business. They were reassured by the promise on the website that “The staff at Vintage Bus Hire have a wealth of experience providing buses for weddings. " They had no idea that this short journey would be an upsetting experience involving multiple injuries.

The bride’s parents booked a London Routemaster Bus through Vintage Bus Hire Ltd. It was hired to transport the party from the ceremony at Rye Town Hall to Udimore Village Hall for the reception, then back to Rye after the reception. The journey from ceremony to reception went fine.

After the reception, the bus arrived at 11pm as agreed for the return journey. There were two members of staff on board, the driver and another man. Both were dressed very casually and  behaved in an unfriendly manner, which struck several wedding guests as inappropriate – surely the point of hiring a vintage bus rather than a regular bus is to be part of the wedding experience?

One of the bridesmaids asked the driver if he could stop on the way back to Rye to drop off some of the passengers, including the bridal party. The driver seemed reluctant to do this, arguing that he couldn’t be expected to know where to stop. People described various landmarks to help him pinpoint the place but he said he couldn’t be expected to look out for them. He said that if people wanted the bus to stop anywhere except the final drop-off point, they should ring the bell when approaching the place.

So, as the bus approached the desired drop-off point, a guest rang the bell. The driver stopped the bus and several passengers got up to disembark. At this point, for no apparent reason, the driver began to pull away again. So, a guest pressed the bell again to signify that people wanted to get off.

At this point the driver suddenly braked into a violent emergency stop, the force of which was felt by everyone. The people who had been standing were thrown backwards onto the floor. A passenger who was standing on the stairs hit his head. Several people were hurt and shocked - including a pregnant woman and six young children.

Astonishingly, there was no apology from the driver or his colleague, despite the tears, the injuries and the massive upset. Both representatives of Vintage Bus Hire Ltd were defensive and rude.

It was a nasty ending to a lovely day. The next day, the father of the bride telephoned Vintage Bus Hire to complain. The person who answered the phone immediately became argumentative – again, no apology - and hung up on him. They are now refusing to discuss the incident at all. Vintage Bus Hire have also ignored a written complaint.

This blog post has been written to warn anyone thinking of using Vintage Bus Hire Ltd for their wedding transport. If you need any more persuading, there are photos of the bruises.

Friday 11 October 2013

e2save followup: the question so secret they couldn't ask it

I wrote (in August) about a mobile phone company called e2save, who repeatedly contacted me saying they had a “query” but refused to give me any way of responding to that query (or even finding out what the query was) without paying for the privilege. They emailed me from a no-reply address and sent me texts with the reply option disabled. I don’t like one-sided communication, so I took to Twitter.

I repeatedly refused to fill in the e2save webform, on the grounds that the webform forces you to choose a category and none of the categories included “You keep telling me you have a query but you won’t tell me what it is.” (Also, I just hate webforms.)

I also repeatedly asked for e2save to stop telling me they need to ask me a question and just ask me the question. Sadly the social media people didn’t have access to any of my info and they were a bit obsessed with “verifying” my details. It’s Kafkaesque: I’m repeatedly told that this organisation wants to ask me a question, but before I can find out what the question is, I must pay money and jump through hoops to verify my identity.

Anyway, I wore them down and got a real email address out of them: I’m publishing it here because it’s not anywhere visible on their own website. So let this blog post be a public record of e2save’s contact details.

e2save email address:
e2save phone number: 01509 611818

I emailed the address in question, forwarding on their original message to me.

Hello there,

You sent me the below email earlier. I can't reply to it. I have no idea what details you want to check and I don't understand why you can't just put that information in the email instead of asking me to ring you. You've also texted me asking me to ring you.

I am not going to ring you.

If you want me to answer some questions, ring me or put them in an email I can reply to. You have my contact details already.

Here’s an extract from the reply I got:

I\'m very sorry for the difficulties you’ve had with your order and I would very much like to look into this for you; however in order for me to access your account and comply with the Data Protection Act, please can you confirm the following information:

- Full name

- Home address including postal code

- Transaction number / customer number

- Date of birth

- Make and model of the phone purchased

- Name of the bank used to purchase your phone or to set up the direct debit request

Once we have this information I’ll be happy to look into your query for you.

(If my query is simply "What's your query?" is it really my query or their query?)

So, before I can find out what information they want from me, I need to supply seven different pieces of information. That’s not to get an answer to any question of my own – it’s simply to find out what their question is. Like I said, Kafkaesque.

As it happened, their reply arrived while I was away, so it got my out-of-office autoreply...which bounced. So even if I had painstakingly replied with those seven pieces of information, my message would have gone into the ether anyway.

Back to Twitter. I stuck to my position: I will not spend a penny of my own money trying to help them get an answer to their question if they won’t do me the courtesy of telling me what the question is. After a flurry of direct messages they agreed to ring me.

A woman from e2save phoned me, asked me a long series of “security” questions to “verify” my account and then finally, finally asked the actual question. It was...

What was your previous address?

Yep. That was the top-secret question they couldn’t possibly put into words in an email, on Twitter or in a text message. That was the question that could only be put to me after extensive verification of my identity.

The woman on the phone explained that my previous address was needed for the credit check, but couldn’t explain why the question was so sensitive it needed to be kept secret from the person who was expected to answer it.

Another thing she couldn’t explain: the checks were apparently being done by T-Mobile to make sure I was a legit, credit-worthy customer. But I was already a T-Mobile customer anyway; e2save was just the intermediary switching me from one T-Mobile contract to another.

By now I felt that e2save had taken quite enough of my time and energy and I didn’t want them to have my money as well. So I said I wanted to cancel the contract. The e2save woman said I didn’t even have a contract to cancel, because I hadn’t passed the credit check, because they didn’t know my previous address, because they were refusing to ask me for my previous address...

Enough already. But this painful process has furnished me with two pieces of valuable information: e2save’s email address and their real phone number (not the one you have to pay to ring).

e2save email address:
e2save phone number: 01509 611818

I hope anyone having similar trouble with e2save will find that info useful. But my advice would be just to avoid e2save completely.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Good news for Glastonbury fan

We recently wrote about problems with Glastonbury’s ticket registration system; one customer had her registration details mysteriously deleted from the system, then Glastonbury Ticketing said that she must have done it herself and refused to reinstate her registration. I’m delighted to announce a happy ending:  Lara’s registration has now been reinstated and she was able to buy tickets for herself and friends.

Not long after the Restless Consumer blog post was published, someone working for the ticketing system rang Lara and said: “Can you and your friends stop tweeting about us?” He agreed to reinstate the registration (something they had previously said wasn’t possible).

The odd aspect to this story is that the man from the ticketing system is absolutely certain no error was made at their end. He also says that they tried several times to reinstate Lara’s registration, but, every time, it received an instant request to delete it again, seemingly coming from Lara’s account.

If this is true, the repeated and instant nature of the requests sounds like an automated script rather than a human. What’s not clear is whose system was being hacked by this script – Lara’s email account or the ticketing system? We would need more information to know for sure and it’s not something this blog is going to investigate. But we would like to put on record that Glastonbury Ticketing did eventually respond to their customer’s problem and did something to put it right. Whether they would have done that without this blog and a lot of “tweeting about us”, we couldn’t possibly say.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Glastonbury gives ticket buyer the brush-off

It’s the festival of peace, love and mud. You’d expect the people running ticket sales for the Glastonbury Festival to reflect the general hippy ethos – but Restless Consumer reader Lara Hogan has seen a much harder side to the organisers.

Glastonbury tickets are now so in demand – and so vulnerable to being snapped up by touts – that you have to register in advance to be in with a chance of buying a ticket. That’s what Lara duly did, registering well in advance so she could try to buy tickets when they went on sale.

But then an unexpected email arrived.

"Glastonbury" <> wrote:


Your registration has been deleted from our system. Please note you will not be eligible to purchase tickets when they become available. You may register again using the link below.

Regards, the Glastonbury team.

Lara replied within minutes to ask why her registration had been deleted. The helpful reply:

Your registration number [redacted] registered to postcode [redacted] has been deleted from our system. Please note you will no longer be eligible to purchase tickets for this year's festival.
You may register again using the link below.’s been deleted because it’s been deleted? Thanks for clearing that up, guys. Also, she couldn't really "register again using the link below" because registration was closed.

Lara asked for her original registration to be reinstated. After all, she didn’t ask them to delete it, she didn’t want them to delete it and she’s desperate to buy a Glastonbury ticket. Why should she miss out on buying a ticket because of their mistake? But computer says no:

We're sorry but it isn't possible to reinstated deleted accounts.

Registrations can only be deleted if the deletion is verified by the registered email account.

But this can’t possibly be true, because Lara did not verify the deletion of her registration. System errors do happen, but she shouldn’t have to miss out on tickets because of the ticketing system’s mistake. She asked if they can do anything to help. The reply:

There is nothing we can do Lara - registration is closed.

Lara asked to make a formal complaint and the ticketing team claimed that her complaint had been logged, but added:

Ultimately it is your responsibility to check you have a valid registration in time to submit a new one should that be necessary.

Yes, and Lara followed the steps to obtaining a valid registration. Then a system error deleted her registration, completely out of the blue, just two hours before the tickets went on sale and after registration had closed. How exactly was she supposed to “submit a new one”?

She pursued this but the last email she had from Glastonbury Ticketing said:

As we have explained, the verification of a deletion can only come from the registered email account. No one else could have deleted this other than you, Lara.

That’s quite a claim to make. Especially given that Glastonbury Ticketing can’t actually produce any evidence that she confirmed the deletion.

Thinking about it from the human angle, you can see there’s no reason why a longstanding fan who’s registered for tickets in advance would suddenly delete her registration hours before tickets go on sale.

And this is the problem: Glastonbury Ticketing are not behaving like human beings. Lara has reached out to them as a Glastonbury fan who loves the festival, goes every year and has tried her best to buy tickets. She’s asked for help. Their reaction has simply been to keep repeating that their systems couldn’t possibly make any kind of mistake. They’re ignoring everything Lara has told them about the situation and they haven’t showed a scrap of sympathy – sympathy which would be due even if the stupid mistake was hers and not theirs.

Almost all humans and organisations make mistakes. The real test is what you do about them. I would expect the fluffy, hippyish Glastonbury brand to admit any mistakes and try to help a true fan who’s been loyal for many years. Instead they’ve gone for the hard, nasty “computer says no” approach.

Friday 16 August 2013

e2save: hard 2 contact

I recently switched to a new mobile phone contract, using the mobile phone comparison site BillMonitor. The contract recommended for me was through an intermediary called It’s a SIM-only t-mobile contract which will save me about £14 a month. So far, so good. I gave my direct debit details (and endless other details) and that was that.

But a few hours later, e2save texted me. Could I contact them regarding my order? I rang the number (0871 521 1420) and immediately heard a recorded message telling me it would cost me 10p a minute from my landline, then a second message saying the average waiting time would be 12 minutes.I hung up.

Let’s recap. They want to get in touch with me because they have a query. But instead of ringing me, they text me and ask me to ring them. Fair enough – it lets me return the call at my convenience. But I rang back immediately and still couldn’t get through. So they’re sending texts asking people to ring them, at a time when they know people will have to wait before they can speak to anyone, while paying for the privilege.

Also, I have no idea why they want to speak to me. I tried to reply to the text but replying was disabled.

A few minutes after the text arrived, I got an email.

Your order is currently being processed, however we need to check some final details with you before it can be despatched.

As we want to get your order out as soon as possible we’ll try to contact you on the numbers you have provided to us. However if it's easier you can contact us in one of the following ways:

- Calling our dedicated processing team on 0871 521 1434, our office hours are Monday - Friday 9am until 8pm (Tuesday 10am until 8pm) & Saturday 9.30am until 6pm

The intelligent reader will note that after the words “one of the following ways”, only one way is listed. 

The email they sent me said at the bottom:

Please do not respond directly to this email as it's automatically generated and you will not receive a reply from us.

Go to the e2save website and you will find the same total absence of contact details. The “Customer Service” section of the site is the same as the “Helpdesk” section of the site. It’s just an FAQ page with no way to contact the company.

Here’s the situation:
  • e2save has contacted me in two different ways to tell me that it needs to communicate with me.
  • e2save has chosen not to give me any hint as to what it needs to communicate with me about.
  • e2save has set things up so I can’t reply to the text or email I’ve been sent.
  • My only option for getting in touch is to pay 10p/minute without knowing how long I’ll have to wait on hold, how long the call will take or whether or not the call is even necessary.
  • If I don’t make that expensive call, I may not get the new SIM card and contract I’ve ordered.

What would you do?

When I got the message this morning saying “thanks for your order”, I thought the whole thing was done and dusted and the SIM card was in the post. I have an instinctive aversion to any company or any person who reopens an issue after I think it’s finished with, because I like to MOVE ON.

I also have a huge instinctive aversion to companies who set up one-sided communication, contact-harvesting the hell out of me without providing a scrap of contact info for themselves.

My next move: Twitter. Even the most contact-avoidant company often has a social media presence (one that they might not even need if it was easier to get in touch with them).

I asked them to tell me what they need to know, or ring me on the number they already have for me.

The e2save Twitter account responded within minutes, asking me to fill in a webform:

As far as I can tell, this webform isn’t findable anywhere on the site – you have to already know the URL for it. So it’s purely for people who are persistent enough to contact them on social media, I guess.

The webform, like many webforms, required me to choose a category for my query. My actual query didn’t fit any of the categories – how could it, when I still have no idea what they were contacting me about? I pointed this out on Twitter but they are still insisting that I use the webform.

So my choice is to do nothing. If e2save really need to contact me that badly, they could...y’know....actually contact me. Actually use my mobile phone number to ring me, instead of sending a text I can’t reply to. Actually send me an email explaining what this is about, from an address I can reply to.

Maybe, by waiting, I’ll find out if they really do need an answer to this (still unspecified) query before they can go ahead and take my money using the direct debit I’ve already set up.

Friday 19 July 2013

Run With It: boring ethical clothes

The garment industry has been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. In April a Bangladesh clothing factory collapsed, killing over a thousand people. Some of the world’s biggest clothing brands signed a safety agreement designed to stop the same thing ever happening again in Bangladesh – and just hours later, there was another building collapse in Cambodia. More garment workers dead.

I love clothes as much as the next woman, but I don’t feel that any item of clothing justifies people working in sweatshop conditions or risking their lives. So I try to buy clothing from ethical brands: Nomads Clothing, BAM and so on. But I can’t buy my whole wardrobe from these places. I really like floaty, colourful clothes, but there comes a point when I have to go to a serious client meeting, or a funeral, and a low-cut kaftan made out of an upcycled sari just won’t cut it. (I have tried wearing a drapey daisy-print top from Nomads Clothing under a suit jacket, in an attempt to look interesting yet serious. A friend kindly took a photo and put it online, which is how I know it actually looked scrunched-up and weird.)

As for trousers, I’ve never been able to buy them from an ethical store, because they’re always too long. So I go to not-ethical-enough M&S instead. I’ll happily buy my tops from ethical online retailers, but it only recently dawned on me that “not dragging on the ground” does not equal “fits properly” when it comes to items designed to be worn on the top half of your body. It would be absolutely amazing if I could buy a basic white shirt that actually fitted me, from an ethical retailer.

I’d love it if a brand was brave enough to launch with a ridiculously limited range of clothing options and colours, but focused on diversity in sizing. Many ethical ranges just sell clothes in three sizes: small, medium and large. I can understand the business reasons behind this, but wouldn’t it be great if one shop broke the mould to sell a real range of sizes and lengths? Sizes 6-32, in a choice of lengths and fits. Perhaps with a petite fit available, and a Bravissimo-style Curvy fit for tops. You can’t do that if you’ve got 50 different items in your range. But what if you only sold black trousers? Or only sold dark-blue bootcut jeans? Or white shirts?

There is a serious gap in the market for a retailer selling boring, basic ethically-made clothes. I’m thinking of a price range that’s more expensive than M&S but cheaper than Howies. No frills, not much colour, just clothes that women think of as “the basics”, which are always much harder to buy than the frivolous extras. I mentioned this idea on Twitter and got a flood of responses from women saying they would definitely buy from this shop if it existed.

This is a Run With It! blog post. Anyone reading it is free to try the business idea described and attempt to make money out of it. If you do, please tell us about it!