Last Saturday's Guardian Money supplement contained a letter from someone who was dismayed to discover that their WH Smith voucher, which they found in a drawer two years after losing it, was no longer valid. Aren't vouchers supposed to be as good as cash?
WH Smith were questioned about this. Normally retailers witter on about terms and conditions before adding 'But on this occasion, as a goodwill gesture, we will refund the money in full'. However Smith's refused to budge, possibly concerned that any comedown would create a precedent.
Smith's are dab hands at ripping off their customers with outwardly attractive offers that are, when you look at the small print, actually quite rubbish. In the lead-up to Christmas, customers were given free vouchers that promised £5 off with every £20 spent. It sounded good enough until you got out the electron microscope and read the terms and conditions:
Offer excludes all CDs DVDs and Games, ie. XBOX 360, PSP, PS2, PS3, NDS, PC, GameCube, Xbox, GBA and Wii, and stamps , tobacco, gift vouchers, phone cards, e-gift cards, book tokens, Day Out Vouchers, Charity Products, iTunes, eTop-UP & National Lottery products. Cannot be used with any other promotional voucher or with customer orders. Only one voucher per transaction.
But Smith's are no worse than their competitors. During my last few months at Waterstone's, I was under an increasing amount of pressure to sell the new electronic Waterstone's gift cards instead of National Book Tokens. I was told to remove the Book Tokens card spinner and peel off the stickers in the window that said we sold National Book Tokens. If customers asked to buy a voucher, I was told to sell them a Waterstone's gift card unless they specifically asked for a token.
In an increasingly competitive retail environment, I can understand why WH Smith and Waterstone's have taken a more aggressive stance. Both companies are now more profitable, which would suggest that in the short term their policies are working. However, if they want survive in the long term and withstand the threat of increased competition from the internet and supermarkets, they need to treat their customers with a little more respect.