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The electrical home appliance market is one of the most hotly contested and competitive markets I have come across, I worked for a white goods distribution company some years ago and know the wafer thin margins that retailers are working on.
It therefore surprises me to see the number of retailers that have jumped on the band wagon and have set up home appliance retail operations. It is not till you peek behind the facade of their websites that you see the trick.
Search on any price comparison site for say a Hotpoint washing machine and you will get anything up to 30 different retailers, most of whom pitch their price within £10-£15 pounds of each other. But did you know that at least 10 of those different companies are supplied from the same warehouse.
I recently ordered the appliances for my new kitchen and wanting to take advantage of the special offers some suppliers were offering I placed my order in early January. After much mouse clicking and linking to other sites I finally found 6 companies that had the appliances I wanted, with availability and at a competitive price. So from these how do you select a winner; on price, reputation, service? They all came in around £20 difference on price and all had stock of the items.
In the end I chose Sainsbury's as they had all the items, offered 10 day delivery (although I did not require them until mid February) the delivery charge was £19.99 per delivery and I was on for 1600 nectar points which meant I got nearly half the delivery charge back anyway.
So onto the website and order the appliances? Well that's where we find out who we a really dealing with.
Sainsbury's Home Appliances is run on their behalf by a company called DRL ltd. If you look at the small print you will find this name as the c/o address.
In fact DRL run retail websites for Boots, Next and a number of other retailers. They also have their own retail site under the name Appliance Deals.
So if you think a man in a Sainsbury's van is bringing your fridge think again. In theory it makes sense, Sainsbury's take a commission from selling and DRL are selling to customers who would never consider buying from a company like them. Where you take the leap of faith after finding this out , is do they deliver the kind of quality service that you expect from a company like Sainsbury's, and likewise would Sainsbury's use a company like this to stake their reputation on. All things considered I decided they should be OK and took the plunge.
I had looked at Sainsbury's site before I had started my search. Having recently switched my grocery shopping alliance to Sainsbury's I had a surf round their website to see what else was on offer.
The site is corporate Sainsbury's with the usual orange and blue trimming on white background and looks clean and clearly laid out.
There are three search options: check by appliance type on left margin or by manufacture/ price on the header rail and finally click the picture item on the home page. I am not sure why they went for so many options but the easiest one to use it the left hand margin, where you click on the alliance type, this then offers all the manufactures to click on or on the main page a picture and summery of all is shown. Click on your chosen manufacture then displays all the machines from cheapest to most expensive. Click on the picture and the full specification and lager picture comes up. So you guest it, it works like just about every other site going.
I always check out terms and conditions these days and Sainsbury's site takes you through a fairly standard list. They do however make a big play on their delivery service listing a ten point delivery promise.
Once your choice is made you go through the normal basket and checkout procedure, you get a summery page that lists your goods the price, total and nectar points. Next section is delivery options, you are offered the nearest available date or you can choose a forward delivery date (more on that later) Then onto the payment page which is standard and secure with the choice of credit or debit card payments. Once processed you get a confirmation e-mail with sales reference number.
Also very interesting and have not seen this before. Two market research surveys appeared at the order confirmation page, one by price runner, the other by shopping.com on behalf of Sainsbury's. They were both quick five minute multi choice questionnaires about the website and order process, but I was impressed to see them and felt that they really cared about their service
Here came the only niggles of the transaction so far. The next day I was called by a very pleasant woman from Sainsbury's (DRL) who informed me that they could not hold an order without delivery for more than 21 days if they were holding stock. I had specified a date in the third week of February to coincide with the completion of my kitchen. She offered to hold the order unprocessed until the first week in February, but could not guarantee either price or availability, so I decided to action the order and take the latest delivery date possible as the sale prices would have ended by then. So another e-mail was sent confirming the delivery date and procedures for delivery.
The delivery company phones the day before delivery to confirm a four hour time slot and to ask about any parking or access restrictions at your property.
Again a very polite and cheerful gentleman phoned announcing he was from Wincanton distribution on behalf or Sainsbury's and said my delivery would be between 08:30 am and 12:00 pm.
And again on the delivery day the driver phoned at 07:30am and said he would be between 08:00 am and 10:00 am. Great, early delivery and the rest of the date to myself. As it turned out 10:00 came and went and by 10:45 I got a very apologetic phone call to say that their driver had got stuck in mud and was going to be delayed for two hours. Well we've all heard those excuses have we not?
But at 12:15 a big white (non sign written) van pulled up with two slightly bedraggled chaps, one of whom was spattered in mud and the van's undercarriage looking like it had traversed a ploughed field, so the story was true.
The appliances were carefully carried in and placed. As I was not using them straight away the driver marked his delivery sheet "boxed and unchecked" to cover any damage, but all boxes were pristine so any damage would have occurred in the factory and not delivery damage, but it was nice to have the waiver on the delivery note anyway.
I did not have the old appliances to take away, but old machines will be taken away (except refrigeration) for a charge of £12.99 per item. They item must be disconnected from plumbing or gas.
The delivery team will also connect the new appliance (except gas) for a charge of £15 per item to suitable plumbing installation.
Again a day after delivery the two market research companies e-mailed surveys regarding the delivery and overall satisfaction with Sainsbury Home Appliances
I have to say the service does credit to the Sainsbury's ethos of value and quality service. The only fault I could find is the system allowing the choice of a delivery date over the 21 day holding time. But the woman I spoke to said it would be something they would speak to the web designer about to get fixed and included in the terms and conditions on the site where it was not displayed.
I found on price Sainsbury's are in the top five lowest prices on most searches I checked, and that combined with the excellent delivery service puts them a cut above the dedicated retailers such as Comet and Curry's.
In the cutthroat world of White Goods retailing Sainsbury albeit DRL ltd are a company to be trusted.