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A RIGHT RIP-OFF
Park Christmas Savings Club
Member Name: MagdaDH
Park Christmas Savings Club
Date: 03/12/05, updated on 03/12/05 (11230 review reads)
Advantages: You might make some money if you are an agent
Disadvantages: Overpriced goods, pre-paid without an interest, set choice in hampers, BAD, BAD VALUE
This is a review written about 10 months ago (beginning of 2005) and I just didn't feel up to doing the research that I describe again this year. The company is still there, the glance through their catalogue this year shows that it has not changed and I just can't believe that they have repaired their ways in the last 10 odd months. I am posting it on dooyoo now as I feel that somebody might possibly benefit from what is essentially an extended warning.
I have not actually purchased from Park. If you feel that lack of personal experience disqualifies this review I will really be completely comfortable with any SH or NH rates.
And now to the point:
I suppose I am a naïve non-native and the sheer industrial extent of big-scale, shiny, glossy rip-off industry in Britain still beggars my belief. I have been on a bit of freebie-ordering, miles and point collecting spree.
Apart from various more or less useful samples and vouchers, I also got the catalogue from Parks Christmas Savings Club in my post.
***WHAT DO THEY SELL***
They offer hampers of produce, geared towards the Christmas period needs, composed either of packaged groceries, meat (that is delivered frozen), chilled goods, vegetables, booze, soft drinks and the like. The most expensive ones are £270, the cheapest (sweet selections) stand at £22.50.
The hampers with packaged goods contain the well-known non-premium mass-market brands like Heinz, Ambrosia, Jacob's, Princess, Kellogg's etc. The booze ones cover more of a variety, with a 'Luxury Spirits' selection that contains Remy Martin and Glenfiddich as well as more standard ones with Bacardi and Bells.
On top of the hampers they offer a selection of films, consumer electronics, Christmas lights and decorations and even items of furniture as well as gift vouchers - Debbenhams, M&S, High Street Vouchers, Thomas Cook and others.
***HOW DOES IT WORK***
You pay Park a weekly amount (you can pay everything off earlier) over a period of 45 weeks. When the amount is paid in full, you get the goods. As simple as that.
You can pay by bank transfer, credit or debit card, postal order and cash using a giro slip.
The orders can be placed over the telephone, by post or using their website www.getparks.co.uk
According to the website: The charge for all cancellations made up to and including 1st September 2005 will be 5% of the order value (minimum £20). The charge for all cancellations made after 1st September 2005 will be 10% of the order value (minimum £20). No charge is made for order alterations. Alterations to orders can only be accepted up to and including 31st October 2005.
However, before you rush there to get your catalogue and order your Christmas shopping, please read the next section.
***WHAT IS THE SNAG***
There has to be one, of course - you know that already - you must have noticed my title and the star rating.
- Let us start with the vouchers.
You can get them in different amounts, one of the largest ones is for example £200 in High Street Vouchers. But it's possible to order as little as £10 in vouchers. To receive your £200 worth of vouchers you pay £4.44 over 45 weeks. That means you pay £200 for your £200. That means that Park get your money to play with in sure, weekly increments and is free to play with it as it pleases (maybe it gives it to Martin from Switzerland to invest in his amazing money markets ventures, who knows?). And you get nothing. Zilch.
Similar result can be achieved by using a piggy bank, only you actually have £200 of cash at the end - not vouchers limiting your spending choices.
This is not to even mention the fact, that, as a bulk provider of vouchers Park undoubtedly get some form of discount or rebate from the chains and thus actually are very likely to pay less for your £200 worth than the £200. Of this, again, nothing is passed to the customer. Sorry, I am unfair. If you order over a whooping £625 worth of vouchers, they add another £10. That is 1.6%. Some *current* accounts pay more interest than that. Virtually every savings account pays more than that. Supermarket savings stamp schemes pay more than that (in Somerfield you get £3 for each £50 in savings stamps).
Of course, I am aware that there is a psychological benefit: the money one puts away like that is less accessible, there is some kind of obligation to pay and thus is more likely to be there at the end of the 45 week period than what you put in a piggy bank. But it's possible to do standing order to a web-based saving account that has no access from cashpoints (I used to do it with Halifax, and the rates were good), or a normal savings account (send the cash card and the book to your mother for safe keeping so you are not tempted). Or even use those saving stamps from supermarkets! Don't let these people steal your money, if you don't care about interest donate it to a charity or something.
- What about the goods, though?
The general principle is the same, you pay first, and in instalments and then you get your stuff. But perhaps they provide good value and savings on the retail prices. I have not had patience or time to check everything, but I did check a few.
Let's look at a simple lager pack. Park's 'Stella Artois' contains: 10x25cl; 2x660ml; 8x500ml; 8x330ml; a mixture of bottles and cans. I took my comparison prices from Tesco.com website; the size of multipacks offered by Tesco is different and they don't offer 500 ml cans but 440 ml cans; but using the most similar packaging and making allowances for a bigger size of cans; the cost of the equivalent package from Tesco would be less than £24. How much do the good people at Park charge their customers? Is there a saving in comparison with retail price considering the fact that they get all their money in advance and some of it several moths in advance? Is there a discount for buying in bulk, like buy-two-save something? Sadly but somehow expectedly, no. The price for the Stella package is £36. That is almost exactly 50% MORE than it would cost you to buy it in Tesco, not even mentioning discount stores or the Calais ferry. Sorry, but this is the most blatant rip-off I have ever seen short of the guys playing Three Cards on the Polish second-hand car fairs. This would be exceedingly bad value even with the agent's discount and even allowing for the convenience of home delivery.
But let's assume it was a slip. A one-off. Let's have a look at the 'Branded Spirits' package that contains 10 bottles of spirits (70 cl apart from port and sherry in 75 cl bottles) - that includes a free gift one (oh, lucky you!!!). The package consists of: Archers Schnapps, Baileys Irish Cream, Bell's Old Scotch Whisky, Cockburn's Fine Old Ruby Port, Courvoisier Cognac, Gordons Gin, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry, Bacardi White Rum, Smirnoff Red Vodka, Captain Morgan Rum. The total cost of the listed spirits and fortified wines from Tesco would be £110.16 (and that is assuming a purchase of two 35 cl bottles of Baileys instead of one 70 cl one; as there was no 70 cl size available on tesco.com). Now, Park charge you a whooping £157.50. Again, almost 50% premium on the standard retail price. Is there a pattern I am detecting?
Fresh fruit and vegetable pack price premium beggars belief. Park charge 29.25 GBP for what can be bought in Tesco for less than a tenner!!!! And that assumes an organic onion and potatoes at £1 /kg.
What about presents? A box of Lord of the Rings DVD's (not clear if it's going to be still unreleased extended edition or available now theatre edition) costs 55.50. The still unreleased extended edition will cost 44 GBP on Amazon, the currently available simple one is 19 quid. Another randomly selected item: Groovy Chick airbed with a sleeping bag: 34.99 at Park, 29.99 GBP in your local Argos. Samsara 30 ml EdT - 22.50 GBP from Park; available for 12-15 GBP on line. Little Tikes Police Car - 59.99 GBP from Park, available for less than 50 GBP all over the web, and undoubtedly in shops as well.
As I checked the prices, I have been getting more and more astounded: I expected it to be non-competitive, but didn't realise how shockingly bad value it was. I decided to face the check on one of the grocery hampers - they are large, and the one I picked was the smallest one called 'Senior Selection'. This consists of the following goods:
Ambrosia Creamed Rice 1x425g
Assorted Chocolate Liqueurs 1x150g
Australian Gold Pear Quarters in Syrup 1x220g
Bakers Delight Sticky Ginger Cake 1x200g
Bird's Instant Custard 1x75g
Bird's Whisk & Serve Brandy Sauce 1x74g
Cadbury's Golden Creams 1x125g
Carnation Evaporated Milk 1x170g
Crosse & Blackwell Garden Peas 1x300g
Crosse & Blackwell New Potatoes 1x300g
Crosse & Blackwell Whole Carrots 1x300g
Duerr's Fine Cut Marmalade 1x454g
Elkes Malted Milk Biscuits 1x200g
Elkes Vanilla Cream Biscuits 1x150g
Hartley's Best Strawberry Jam 1x340g
Hartley's Prunes in Syrup 1x210g
Haywards Pickled Onions 1x270g
Haywards Traditional Pickle 1x270g
Heinz Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce 1x200g
Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup 1x290g
Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup 1x300g
Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce 1x200g
Holmfield Mince Pies pack of 4
Iced Christmas Cake 1x400g
Jacob's Cream Crackers 1x200g
Jamesons Chocolate Raisins 1x300g
John West Sardines in Tomato Sauce 1x120g
Mathew Walker Christmas Pudding 1x100g
Nescafe Instant Coffee 1x50g
Premier Gold Mandarins in Syrup 1x312g
Princes Cheese & Ham & Leek Potato Bake 1x430g
Princes Corned Beef 1x200g
Princes Pink Salmon 1x105g
Princes Salmon Paste 1x75g
Princes Tuna Chunks in Brine 1x85g
Pringles Salt & Vinegar Crisps 1x50g
Simpson's Chicken & Mushroom Pudding 1x140g
Simpson's Chocolate Sponge Pudding 1x115g
Simpson's Steak & Kidney Pudding 1x140g
Simpson's Syrup Sponge Pudding 1x115g
Smash Cheddar & Onion 1x107g
Sun Valley Salted Peanuts 1x150g
Terrys York Fruits 1x200g
Tetley Tea Bags 1x125g
Uncle Joe's Mint Balls 1x75g
Walkers Luxury Shortbread Fingers 1x250g
Ye Olde Oak Round Ham 1x200g
It was rather hard work, trying to check all the prices, as not all of the items listed were available in Tesco.com I used for all my previous food and drink checks. Where a suitable branded substitute existed, I substituted (for example Branston for Haywards pickle). If the package size available was larger (this happened many times - this particular hamper contains a lot of half-size tins), I used the price of the larger item reduced by about 30%. For unbranded items (Assorted Chocolate Liqueurs, Iced Cake) I used Tesco Finest prices (though I somehow doubt that that is the quality of items that would be provided). I failed to find any resemblance of "Simpson's chicken and mushroom pudding" and charged 65p to that item on the basis of an estimated price for Steak and Kidney one. In cases where only Tesco own brand items were available I added 50% mark-up. And still, with all these allowances, the cost of buying the listed items in retail would be about 41 GBP while Park charge 45 GBP (starting the money collection 45 weeks in advance).
On top of the above, the customer obviously has no choice over the selection of goods (so one gets Smash and canned carrots regarding of one's attitude to such abominations); and of course included are standard branded goods (apart from normally more costly items, it seems, which are often no-name); so you pay a premium for the fact that there is no own-brand or cheaper alternatives. But these are all secondary. Park charge prices a company that gives credit might charge (for example an expensive store card at 30% APR), but they deliver the goods only after the balance is paid off.
***BE AN AGENT AND GET YOUR CUT?***
You can also, of course become an agent for Park - recruit enough people to buy stuff from them and you will get commission: 1GBP per year of service, 1 GBP per customer plus a percentage discount depending on what type of article is being bought and the total turnover. This varies between the maximum of 25% that can be achieved on hampers (that includes packaged groceries, and fresh and frozen meat) provided the value of orders is over 2250 GBP; and the minimum of NIL (voucher sales below 675 GBP). Drink packages (the ones I tested were, as you might remember, over 20% above retail price) generate 5% commission. All of the above is, of courses, only achieved if you find several people foolish or desperate to place orders and you feel OK about ripping them off.
Another option would be to have a kind of syndicate and assume that the commission is shared between all 'customers' and not just for the agent. This is the only one that might generate anything resembling reasonable saving; assuming enough people would be found and assuming the orders would be only for general grocery hampers and not other goods. However, you would be still left with a big pile of mid-market brands and product selection made by somebody else, while savings would relatively small. Overall, commission rates on hampers seem reasonably attractive, but considering how very overpriced many of them are (meat, veg) and the level of sales that is required for the maximum, it just seems not worth it.
Have I bought from them? You bet I haven't.
Does it entitle me to write a review? I don't know. The experience made me very angry and outraged and thus I did the checks and wrote the piece. Park claim to have 400 000 customers and perhaps they know something I don't know; but I certainly know how to check prices and add them up.... as I said, if you feel that lack of personal experience disqualifies this review feel free to rate SU or NU.
My recommendation is, however, to keep as far as possible from Park. It seems to be an organisation set up to prey on people who are less than financially comfortable and thus unable to cover the Christmas expense in one go from their current resources. It works by presenting itself as a scheme devoted to saving and counts on people not checking the value of the goods they provide.
If you are amongst those who cannot afford to bear the financial burden of Christmas in one month (I can't!) while not wanting to get credit and be lumbered with interest (I don't!), use other means of regular saving (even those supermarket stamps!) or even a piggy bank - at least you will have a freedom of choosing either cheaper, own brand products OR going for luxury or ethical/organic versions. The other option is to have a frugal(er) Christmas, of course; but I am not sure how well this idea would go down in my own household.... or many others.
Summary: A overpriced rip-off operation preying on those that have to save for Christmas