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If you want to buy things from clothes to gardening equipment, but dislike going round shops, or find it hard to do so, a catalogue such as Littlewoods is extremely handy. The company manages several different catalogues such as Janet Frazer, and also has high-street branches in most towns, along with Littlewoods Extra stores run in a similar fashion to Argos. They also do finance, like loans and credit cards. The product I'm reviewing here is their main mail-order catalogue. I'll just warn you now, this review has turned out a lot longer then planned, because there's so much to this catalogue - I've shoved things under headings so feel free to skip bits if you're not interested in them!
APPLYING FOR AN ACCOUNT ------------------------------------------- To get yourself an account with Littlewoods is amazingly easy. You can call them, apply online or fill out a form from either a promotional leaflet or a friends' catalogue. (Contact details at the bottom of the review). Just remember that you are authorising them to carry out a credit check on you if you apply, as the whole idea of a catalogue is based on credit - you can order goods now and pay for them interest-free over a period of 20 or 38 weeks, depending on the cost of each item - I'll explain that more fully in a moment. I was accepted easily, which surprised me, because I had never had credit before. I actually applied after receiving several promotional mailings from them - the first few I ignored, they were offering discounts of £5 on my first order of £25 or over, and then progressed to £10 off an order over £40. When I received a leaflet offering me £25 off an order over £60, I caved in and applied. Bearing in mind that this was five years ago, I don't know if they still do this, so your best bet if you'd like a discounted first order is to find a friend or colleague who already has an account. You'll receive the same discount which I did.
HOW DO YOU PAY FOR GOODS? ----------------------------------------------- Depending on the price of the item you order, the payments are split over 20 or 38 weeks. A general rule is that items over £49.99 can be paid for over 38 weeks, less than that over 20 weeks.
If you're ordering expensive items such as sofa suites, a bedroom set, a washing machine etc. you can choose to pay for them over 50, 100 or 150 weeks. Also, any order you make can be put on the 50 or 100 week terms. This can be useful if the interest-free payments would be too high for you to manage, but you need to take into account that these terms attract interest at a nasty rate - currently 29.8%. On your statement, the whole amount of interest will be added to the cost of the item on the first statement after you've ordered it, and is not calculated each month. Whenever I've used this facility, this way of doing things makes life easier because I'm not estimating the interest each month when my statement comes in. If you pay off the item before the stipulated length of time, you will get some of the interest refunded.
A statement will be sent to you every four weeks, detailing what you have ordered, the payment period for each item, the balance of your account (how much you owe them) and any items you've ordered but which you don't have to pay for yet - these are usually special payment terms Littlewoods are offering. An example is one they're currently running, which is Buy Now Pay September. You can order your goods today, they'll arrive within the normal time period, but the price of them won't be added to your account until September - you'll then pay for them as usual, with the interest-free period starting from September.
You can pay through a bank or Post Office - if using a PO you don't have to pay the usual £1.50 charge there, but Littlewoods will add a 35p charge to your account on your next statement. You can also pay over the internet via Internet Banking from your own bank, or online at Littlewoods' own website. Payment by card over the phone is also accepted, but not with a Visa Electron card (Solo is fine). If you do happen to pay late, it is not usually a problem, unless you miss a payment altogether. Even in this case, the unpaid minimum will simply be added to your next statements' minimum. Unless you've missed more than two payments, they do not apply a charge to your account, which is reassuring, as sometimes even the best of us suffer from cash-flow crises, memory loss or plain old laziness!
THE CATALOGUE LAYOUT ---------------------------------------- The catalogue is split into sections for various items, making things easy to find. There is a massive Ladies clothing section at the front, which has sub-sections for exclusive designers (you won't usually find these clothes in other catalogues or in shops), their standard clothes section, designer brand names such as Gucci and Versace, Quiksilver or Mambo, high-street names such as Topshop or Evans, and sports, lingerie, nightwear and footwear sections. The mens clothing section is similarly laid out.
There are quite often offers detailed in the catalogue, like "three pieces for the price of two" on mix'n'match swimwear, or "buy the top with the trousers and save £5". There are usually good multipack offers on T-shirts or summer dresses, or trousers.
Childrens clothes go by age ranges and gender, which are clearly marked on the sides of each page. I personally think the kids' clothing range is quite small unless you happen to have a teenager, but there is still enough choice, the clothes are well-made, and it's cheaper than high-street places such as Adams. There's a good school clothing section, and quite a wide range of shoes and multipack underwear.
There is an upholstery section (sofas and suites), textiles comprising bedlinen, curtains, blinds, floorcoverings (carpets and wood-effect), furniture arranged by appropriate room, and then electrical - small kitchen and household items, washing machines and dishwashers, cookers etc, and then TV's, stereos and video players, DVD players and various package deals. There is a large toy section, and a gift section which incorporates collectible figurines, jewellery boxes, make-up and personalised items. There's even a garden section for essentials like lawnmowers and sheds, or non-essentials like garden furniture, and a section for tools ranging from screwdriver sets to big power saws. There's probably other items too - it's really like a massive department store without getting lost, hassled, or peeved by all the other people!
Prices are easy to find - each picture of an item has a number by it, and you find the number and description at the bottom of the page. This gives you details such as material content and washing instructions for clothes, or the dimensions for furniture, and also the payment options, how much it is over differing amount of weeks, and if your chosen amount of weeks is subject to interest, the description gives the APR and the total amount payable.
ORDERING AND RETURNING ---------------------------------------------- Once your account is set up, you can register for online shopping, which is handy as the most recent prices are displayed and it will tell you if an item is out of stock immediately (when ordering by phone, they can't always tell you). Delivery times are displayed too, so you can see how long something will take before you order. You can also order over the phone, or by post using the order forms they supply you with.
When ordering online or by telephone I've found that the majority of items they carry in stock (clothes, small electrical and homewares, textiles such as sheets and curtains) turn up the next day, as long as you don't order on a Saturday. If you want to guarantee next-day delivery they make a charge of £2.95, but for the items I've mentioned they won't usually take more then two days to arrive. I've always been pleasantly surprised by how quickly these goods arrive.
Just be a little careful on items which say "delivery greater than three weeks" or items which are delivered by the supplier and not held in stock by Littlewoods themselves - I've had items on order for months, and once, a sofa bed didn't arrive at all.
If you need to return something small, then simply wrap it back up in it's packaging, fill in the returns note which is part of your delivery slip, and hand it in at a Post Office, or call Littlewoods who will send a courier to collect it from you. This is all free. Returning larger items means you have to ring them up and they will arrange a larger pick-up van, and possibly two people to fetch it. Be warned, this can take ages! They still won't charge you for this though.
CASHBACK AND SPECIAL OFFERS ---------------------------------------------------- This is one of the reasons I'm so loyal to Littlewoods - the cashback. Once you have made £150 worth of payments on your account, your cashback starts to accumulate, and is displayed on your statement each month. It works like this; every time you make a payment to your account, a percentage is given to cashback. If you want to use your cashback to order goods from the catalogue, then you get 12.5%, and if you want to use it to pay off some of your balance, or sent to you as a cheque, you get 10%. So, for each £100 you pay off your outatanding balance, you get £12.50 to order more things with, or you can take £10 off your balance for free!
If you have friends or family who want to order something from the catalogue, but don't want an account of their own, you can act as an agent for them - you order things for them, and they pay you the minimum payments on what they buy. When you order, you'll be asked if any items are for a customer of yours, or for yourself. You'll earn cashback on anything they buy too.
I've already mentioned the Buy Now Pay September offer. These offers are very regular, especially around Christmas, but continue all through the year, meaning that if you needed a cooker and a new lawnmower NOW because something's just broken, but if you added the weekly payments for both items up and it's more than you can comfortably afford, you can put off paying for one until you've finished paying for the other - it will be on each statement too, so you won't go and forget. Other examples of special offers are extended interest-free periods. Often these are on specific items - such as 100 weeks to pay interest-free on sofas - but the newest one is 100 weeks int-free on absolutely everything. So, £100 Gucci jeans at a pound a week anyone?!
There are also regular leaflets with massive savings on certain items, covering the full catalogue range. Clothes ones can save you bundles on designer gear, but are often limited to certain sizes or colours. A recent introduction is the Clearance Club - for £10 a year, you get the first editions of the sale leaflets, and therefore the most choice, as the sale items often have ridiculous discounts and sell out extremely quickly.
CUSTOMER SERVICES AND REFUNDS ---------------------------------------------------------- Customer service is usually a tetchy subject - so many companies let themselves down by ill-informed, ill-mannered idiots on the other end of a long phone call. Littlewoods seem to have a middle-of-the-road approach - I've spoken to idiots, but I've also been impressed by the way they handle some complaints and deal with a few problems - usually, a problem takes quite a while to be resolved, but the solution is usually a good one in my experience. I'll give you an example:
I'd ordered a sofa suite from the catalogue, and it arrived well after the specified date, but it did arrive. After only four months, the seams started to split on the seat cushions and back cushions. I called Littlewoods who put me through to their upholstery department. An inspection of the damage had to be made, so an appointment for a specialist to come and evaluate the problem was agreed. He arrived on time, took a look and said a repair was possible, but it would have to be arranged for another date. A repairer did not materialise, and after about a month of phone calls I told them I wanted a refund on my account, and for them to arrange removal of the sofas. They agreed to this without any fobbing-off, which surprised me. They sent a lorry and two men to collect the sofas, but this took several weeks longer than we'd been told. They turned up unexpectedly on a Sunday of all days! However, having taken a very long time to sort things out, the cost of the sofas was removed from my account with no more questions.
CONTACT DETAILS -------------------------------- Well, if you've made it to the end of this, and are interested in having your own account, or simply want to have a further look, here are Littlewoods' contact details:
I wasn't all that happy with Littlewoods - i went with Kays - it's identical but the customer service was better and the joining incentive worked out cheaper.
Found this whilst searching for info about Littlewoods cashback for a friend who hadn't recieved any - I knew they did it.
Good review. Take care, bev