Archive for the ‘Retail and Banking’ Category

Australian Do Not Call register: success or failure?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

It’s just over a year since the Australian government launched the Do Not Call Register. By adding your name and phone number to this register, you (theoretically) stop telemarketers from cold-calling you. I hate telemarketing calls – they’re a complete waste of my time and energy – so I signed up straight away.

So, how has it worked out over the last year? Well, the number of telemarketing calls we get has dropped from over 1 a week to maybe 2 a month, so that’s a definite improvement. I had one very persistent debt collection agency calling me repeatedly every 2 days after I was on the register, but after making a complaint on the Do Not Call Register website, they stopped. (Turned out they thought I was somebody else. Nice bit of research there.) We also had a call from a mortgage company last month, but again, a quick complaint seems to have sorted that one out. (Apparently many people had complained about the same company. I hope they get hit with a nice big fine.)

It’s for a good cause – honest

The biggest problem, though, has been with charities. For some inexplicable reason, charities were made exempt when the Do Not Call Register Act was introduced. Charities are all to eager to exploit this loophole, too – we get more charities calling us now than ever before.

I don’t understand the logic here. I’m no Scrooge when it comes to charitable giving, but what gives a charity the right to call me, when I have explicitly stated that I do not want to receive telemarketing calls? When a telemarketer calls me at 6PM and wakes my sick baby who’s just got off to sleep, I don’t care whether they’re selling me mortgages or donations to one-armed homeless Martians, they will get an earful from me. (Apparently though they’re providing a service to the community by waking my sick baby.) Telling them not to call me again rarely works either. (more…)

The Aussie petrol price lottery

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Petrol droplet with dollar signNow that we have a car, we’re obviously buying a lot of petrol. I have to say, the way they price petrol in Australia is insane. It’s cheap enough – compared to the UK, that is – but you never know what the price is going to be one day to the next. They change the prices every day! At least in the UK if fuel was £1 a litre one day, there was a reasonable chance it’d be £1 a litre the next day. Here in Sydney, it might be $1.29 a litre on Wednesday, $1.40 a litre on Thursday, then back down to $1.35 a litre on Friday!

So what gives? According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), petrol prices are subject to all sorts of factors, including international wholesale prices and movements in the exchange rate. But do petrol stations really have to change their prices every single day? Just think of the wasted time and effort changing all those signs each morning! (Well it keeps the petrol station owners fit, I guess.) In fact, sometimes they change prices several times a day! Talk about a lottery.

Anyway, for the record it appears the best time to buy fuel in Sydney is on a Tuesday, and the worst day of the week is Thursday. So now you know.

Australia: A tough country for vegetarians

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Chicken saltI’m not vegetarian, but my wife Cat is. She finds it hard going in this country.

She’s not vegetarian for any moral “think of the furry-wurry animals” reason – she just hates the taste (and texture) of meat. The thought of eating meat or its various products makes her sick. So it’s not like she can have chicken “just this once”. It’s no meat, or no food at all.

Trouble is, the Aussie definition of “vegetarian” seems to be “pretends not to like meat, but likes it really”. Cat’s had this conversation in more than one restaurant:

“Here’s our menu, madam.”

“I’m vegetarian. What dishes can you offer for me?”

“You’re vegetarian? Do you eat chicken and fish?”

“Er, no. I’m vegetarian.”

You wouldn’t have thought it a hard concept to grasp.

Quite often we’ll go out for a meal on holiday, to find that only one restaurant in town has anything veggie on the menu. And that will be “stir-fried vegetables” (which Cat is understandably sick of by now). Often restaurants will have a veggie entrée, then the mains will all be meat. (As if vegetarians somehow have smaller stomachs or something.)

(more…)

Need a hand? Ask an Aussie!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

No worries! speech bubbleAussies are, on the whole, a helpful and cheery bunch – at least compared to the inhabitants of southern England. (They’re friendlier oop north, so northerners constantly remind me.) The moment I get into London it seems like everyone’s walking around wearing a worried frown, doing their utmost to avoid you. Then, when I get off the plane in Sydney, I see smiling faces and helpful people again. (Provided Australia hasn’t just lost a test match.)

For example, when we first arrived in Australia back in 2002 we wandered around Bondi, and promptly got lost. So we got our map book out. Within seconds we had locals coming up to us, asking if we were lost and needed a hand. There was a connection there immediately. It seems to happen all the time; whenever you need help, a friendly local pops out of nowhere. Total strangers think nothing of coming up to you and starting a conversation. That just doesn’t seem to happen in London.

Shop assistants are generally helpful, too. They’ll often come up and ask if you need a hand – not in a pushy Dixons salesperson kind of way, but in a genuinely interested way. (Cat still hates this – she prefers to do her shopping unassisted – but I quite like it.) Even while you’re handing over your money they’ll happily chat away with you, often mentioning what a good choice you’ve made. Sure, a lot of it is probably good sales training, but they seem quite genuine about it.

In fact, we’ve had a couple of shop assistants that were so helpful they didn’t even care about losing a sale. We went to one department store to buy a washing machine. The guy was wonderfully helpful and explained everything, even getting out the manual for us. Then he said, “Don’t buy it here, though, mate – it’s 50 bucks cheaper down the road!”

Now that’s helpful.

The high cost of living in Australia

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Dollars in a shopping cartFor some reason, when I lived in the UK I was always under the mistaken impression that Australia is a cheap place to live. I suppose it is cheaper living in Sydney than, say, London, but it’s by no means “cheap”. In fact, in some areas, Australia seems more expensive than the UK.

For one thing, electronics goods tend to be pricier here – presumably because of the cost of shipping stuff to this remote island. (I’m really hoping an amazon.com.au will open here soon, and create some decent competition on pricing.)

Even foodstuffs are often more expensive than in the UK. For example, Tesco in the UK sells pretty decent own-brand wholemeal sliced bread for around 55p, or AUD $1.35. That’s for an 800g loaf. Try finding an 800g wholemeal loaf in an Australian supermarket for under $3. Other basics such as potatoes and tomatoes are pricey here, though they fluctuate wildly according to season. (Not much chance of Tesco influencing prices here now, either.)

Then again, it’s not surprising food is expensive, seeing as the supermarkets import half their goods from the other side of the world. You’d have thought with Australia’s climate that the shelves would be packed with Australian olives, but 90% of them are from Greece or Spain. I have a Woolworths own-brand jar of strawberry jam in the fridge that was made in Poland.

I suspect a lot of this is down to the supermarkets; there’s not really much competition amongst supermarkets here, with Woolworths and Coles pretty much sewing up the “supermarket market”. If you shop in small local shops, such as bakers and greengrocers, you often get better quality food – I guess that’s a given – but they’re often cheaper than the supermarkets, and you get a bigger range too. The opposite of the UK, basically.

It also doesn’t help that the government happily slaps 10% GST – the equivalent of VAT – on anything considered a “luxury item” in a supermarket – and this includes things like coffee, biscuits, and toilet rolls.

To be fair, some things, such as milk and tins of beans, seem to be roughly the same price in both Australian and UK supermarkets, and of course the exchange rate has a big effect on these comparisons too. So maybe there’s not a lot in it overall.

However, books are ridiculously expensive – often up to double the price of books in the UK – and to add insult to injury that 10% GST applies to books too. Doesn’t the government want its citizens to read?! On the plus side, this makes second-hand bookstores very popular here.

Electricity has traditionally been relatively inexpensive – compared to the UK – but thanks to the major drought going on here at the moment, that looks set to change.

It must be said, though – compared to the UK, Australian public transport is a bargain. And the beer’s cheap too! :)

Culture shock for Brits

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Culturally speaking, Australia is pretty similar to the UK, so if you’re a Brit moving over here then things will mostly be plain sailing. However there are a few oddities that’ll catch you out when you first arrive:

  • Saying “Alright” to someone doesn’t mean “hello”, it means “are you OK?”. So you’ll get some strange looks if you go up to someone and say “Alright mate!”
  • A “hotel” is sometimes an actual hotel, but more often than not, it’s a pub. (Aussies also use the word “pub” for the same thing, just to add to the confusion.)
  • Manchester isn’t a city over here – it means bedding and linen. So don’t be surprised when you see shops selling Manchester.
  • Woolworths isn’t a cut-price department store flogging music and pick & mix – it’s a supermarket like Tesco.
  • Speaking of supermarkets, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets here. You have to go into the bottle shop, or “bottle-o” – otherwise known as an off-licence – next door and make a separate purchase. (Crazy, but them’s the rules.)
  • Most banks charge you for the privilege of banking your money with them. The concept of “free banking” is relatively novel here, despite existing in the UK for over 20 years now. HSBC’s online accounts were some of the first to abolish charges, and other Aussie banks are slowly starting to follow suit.
  • And speaking of banks, Aussies call a current account a “savings” account, just to confuse the foreigners. Sometimes they call them “check” accounts too, just for fun. When you pay via a bank card in a shop, you have to press either the “cheque” or the “savings” button, depending on your account type.
  • 9/532 Sydney Street is the Aussie way of writing “Flat 9, 532 Sydney Street”. Except they don’t call them flats either – they call them units. (Not quite so romantic sounding, is it?)
  • Contrary to appearances, “Sydney” isn’t, strictly speaking, the whole city, but just a small suburb in the middle. (Much like Kensington isn’t London.) So if you’re addressing a letter to someone in the central-ish Sydney suburb of Newtown, you must write “Newtown, NSW” on the envelope, not “Sydney, NSW”. Assuming you want your letter to get delivered of course.
  • You’ll find that locals will call you a Pom quite a lot. This is quite normal and they’re not trying to be offensive.
  • Automatic transmissions are much more common here. In fact, most cars are automatics. If you hire a car, you’ll probably be given an automatic by default. (Suits me – one less pedal to worry about.)
  • In the UK, a B&B (bed & breakfast) is often cheaper than a hotel, and often consists of a mouldy old room in a ramshackle terrace house with a deaf host. In Australia, a B&B tends to be more of a luxury option when compared to a standard hotel or motel. (Although we have stayed in a couple of fairly grotty B&Bs here too.)

These are just off the top of my head. If you’re British then no doubt you will encounter (or have encountered) many more!