A year or so ago, I went to a meeting of the Citrus Club. Chris Hirst runs this rather wonderful club.
The speaker on this particular night was Trevor Bish-Jones. He was, I think, Woolworths’ last CEO in the UK before it went bust, but he had had an illustrious career beforehand in companies such as Dixons. Not even the Archangel Gabriel was going to rescue Woolworths.
It was a slightly odd evening.
After Trevor finished telling us about his time in the Middle East, to which he has just returned, and his Dixons’ experiences, he waited for questions. Not a single person asked him about what happened at Woolworths. Whatever is wrong with the English? The French would have piled in.
Trevor said that, before the growth of Google and price comparison sites, he could raise the price of a £250 TV at Dixons, and see, maybe, a 5% drop in sales of that TV. Now, if Dixons tried to do the same, it would lead to a 100% drop in sales. They would sell nothing. Rien. Nada.
The point he was making is that the web makes everything transparent.
I’ve had a very different experience with Autoglass.
I drive an Audi TT which has a cracked windscreen. I managed this myself and from the inside. On the web, Autoglass quoted £325 gross to replace the glass. Having worked on Austin Rover, General Motors and Citroen, I thought this was a bit steep, so I visited an Autoglass outlet.
“Is it covered by your insurance?” asked the manager.
“Come with me,” he said as he led me to a distant place on a grim industrial estate. “You need to ring around,” he muttered. “You could do better.”
So, I did. I phoned three other local companies. One came in at £425 but the other two were a lot lower. I asked Auto Windscreens, which quoted £177 , to do the job at my home. However, today, when the screen was due to be replaced, it was raining. I got a call from the chap who was going to replace the windscreen. He was in Watford and was setting off to see me in London, but knew it was raining hard where I live.
He arrived, wet and looking shagged out, but very courteous nonetheless. He looked at the car.
He said, “You’ve ordered the wrong windshield. If I fit what I’ve got, it will reduce the value of your car. The right windscreen is tinted.” He was right.
He rang his boss, and then said to me, “We’ve messed you around, so we’ll fit this more expensive windscreen for £149. Is that OK? What are you doing on Tuesday afternoon?”
The original Autoglass quote was 218% higher than that of this new Auto Windscreens quote (0800 999 8000).
Whatever is distorting the market?
Clearly, the insurance companies are involved. Autoglass was not interested in me once they knew that I do not have windshield insurance.
How much, I wonder, is my comprehensive insurance of £800+ loaded by cosy deals between the insurers and repairers? In the USA, medical insurance is astronomically high because of this. And I had thought Trevor was right when he said that the internet makes everything transparent. I was wrong. Price comparison sites are absolutely useless here.
The web should make completely transparent the price of a windshield replacement, but not, it seems, for car windscreens.