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Monday, 18 August 2014

Carphone warehouse, new PAYG handsets and topups to new SIM cards

[ Short link to this article if you need it - - or retweet me ]

I wrote this article some time ago, but delayed posting it due to having an open issue regarding this with the ASA, which has now completed. In the normal style of this blog I'm posting the transcripts of my discussions with the company. A link to the ASA's ruling is available at the end of the article.

A few months ago I looked at upgrading a pay-as-you-go handset on Vodafone. I'd had the SIM
card for several years and never taken advantage of an upgrade. I saw a handset at a good price on the same network via Carphone Warehouse and decided it might be worth taking advantage of it. Despite being with the network for a long time I didn't top up regularly enough to qualify for an "upgrade" (fair enough) so I was looking at buying a new handset on the network. Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out as expected.

The image on the right shows that when you buy a handset you have to spend an extra £10 to buy a top-up along with the base price. That's pretty clear. The problem arose when I tried to buy the handset and a £10 topup on my existing SIM card. Apparently that's not possible. It's also not at all clear to me from the wording on the image (the same as in-story) that this restriction applies. Normally it's also not possible to port your number from one SIM to another in the same network, so in order to retain my own number it would actually make more sense for me to move to a different network. On that basis this policy doesn't seem to make sense to me or the network, so who's enforcing it? I contacted Vodafone who said they do not enforce such a policy so that left me with Carphone Warehouse. Surely they could explain it? Let's see how that interaction went.

I didn't get a reply to my initial email  and received a confirmation email from them on February 1st and received (I don't have a copy of it - I think it was submitted on a web form so I didn't have a record of it) and after waiting a month I chased it up a and they claimed they'd sent a reply. Given that I use gmail there is pretty much zero chance of an email getting lost as I'd be able to have found it if it had be trapped as spam etc. So I redrafted the email and sent it again. Here's how the conversation went:

SXA> Hi,
SXA> There is no record of any reply in my inbox. Since I used gmail I would have been 
SXA> able to find it even if it had been classed as spam (I was checking periodically for 
SXA> a reply from you since I sent it). Regardless of that, if your web form is losing 
SXA> data that's submitted I strongly suggest you advise your technical team in case you 
SXA> have an SQL injection vulnerability or similar on your server.
SXA> Unfortunately I cannot find the text of my original message to you so I'm going to 
SXA> have to redraft it - I am not an existing customer of yours (despite me trying to 
SXA> be) therefore the details you've asked for are irrelevant:
SXA> My issue was regarding a visit I had to one of your stores (since the policy appears 
SXA> generic across stores it doesn't really matter which) where I was looking at 
SXA> replacing a PAYG mobile which I have on Vodafone with a newer model. I've had the 
SXA> SIM card for several years now and never gone through a formal upgrade process. 
SXA> Regardless of this, I did not qualify for an "upgrade" because (I believe) I fall 
SXA> foul of the regular top up requirement.
SXA> Because of this I started looking at a straight PAYG handset purchase with the 
SXA> intention of putting my existing SIM card into it. However because it's not an 
SXA> official "upgrade" I have to buy a £10 topup. That's fair enough, I'll buy a 
SXA> Vodafone handset and put £10 on my existing SIM card.
SXA> But it seems I cannot do that - you insist on the £10 going on a new SIM. Worse, if 
SXA> I do that and buy a Vodafone SIM I cannot port my number across. This left me with 
SXA> four options if I want to upgrade through your company:
SXA> 1) Put £10 on a new Vodafone SIM and throw it away, and continue to use my old SIM 
SXA>    card and its number. That seems a waste of credit
SXA> 2) Use my existing credit til it's empty and change my number. Inconvenient
SXA> 3) Buy a phone on another network and port the number across
SXA> 4) Go ahead with it and try and convince someone to buy a new SIM with £10 credit on 
SXA>    it from me
SXA> Option 1 just seems ridiculous. Option 2 seems like a ludicrous bureaucratic 
SXA> requirement to be able to replace my handset. Option 3 seems very counter-loyalty 
SXA> from the network' perspective, and in fact a tweet I got from Vodafone after 
SXA> querying this made it clear that this wasn't something that they enforced. Their 
SXA> response was clear in saying that it wasn't something the network enforced on new 
SXA> PAYG handset purchases:
SXA>    "Third party stores may require this. Have you been into a Vodafone store?"
SXA> So the problem appears to be with something you are doing and not something Vodafone 
SXA> are forcing you into. Thinking about this objectively and not just from my 
SXA> perspective:
SXA> a) It doesn't appear to be sensible from a network loyalty perspective (i.e. not 
SXA> good for the network because the most sensible option is for me to move to another 
SXA> one)
SXA> b) I can't see any business benefit to Carphone Warehouse to enforce this 
SXA> (particularly in light of the fact your handsets are supplied unlocked). Any 
SXA> suggestion it's because of a network subsidy seems somewhat suspect as I would 
SXA> expect such a subsidy to mandate it to be locked to their network)
SXA> In fact your sales wording is actively misleading by saying the price is "Plus £10 
SXA> topup" which I don't think any reasonable person would interpret as "Plus a new SIM 
SXA> including £10 credit". I'm (reasonably) happy to pay £10 topup, I'm not happy 
SXA> requiring a new SIM card.
SXA> Can you justify why you have such a seemingly ridiculous policy on PAYG handsets 
SXA> that seems to discourage switching? You've lost a sale to me because of this, I 
SXA> wasted the transport costs visiting your store, and because of this I now currently 
SXA> have a negative view of your company (and losing my initial complaint did not help 
SXA> matters).

So I tried to raise all the issues in a concise manner and explained why it made little business sense to any party to enforce this. How did they reply? Well the first few paragraphs spoke about the upgrade I didn't qualify for (to be honest, that didn't bother me too much - I was happy to buy a new phone) then they looked at addressing the issues:

CPW> Dear Stewart,
CPW> Thank you for replying to our email with your original enquiry.
CPW> Firstly, I am really sorry that it's taken longer than expected for us to 
CPW> respond and for that I do apologise. Looking into your query that we have 
CPW> now received as we have no details for you I can only provide generic
CPW> information however there are a small amount of cases when we are unable 
CPW> to process deals for customers.
CPW> You have advised that you don't qualify for an upgrade as you don't meet 
CPW> the regular top up requirement. In rare circumstances such as this when we 
CPW> can't upgrade a customer we can look into alternatives which you've 
CPW> mentioned would include buying an alternative handset on the same network.
CPW> As you've mentioned that it's been a while since you upgraded it may be 
CPW> the case that with the new handset you would need to get a new SIM 
CPW> regardless of whether we can upgrade you or not. If this is the case then 
CPW> you may be able to transfer your existing number onto the new SIM and the 
CPW>k credit may remain also. If it doesn't then it is something we can 
CPW> certainly look into further for you.
CPW> Whilst the third option you've mentioned isn't one recommended by the 
CPW> network it is still an option and if it was one you wished to take then 
CPW> you could look into porting your number back to Vodafone. I understand
CPW> how inconvenient it may seem but it is an option that you may wish to take.
CPW> I understand that you may feel that the wording in regards to Pay As You 
CPW> Go phones may be misleading however we do try to make it clear to our 
CPW> customers of the difference. You can also purchase the phone SIM free so 
CPW> that you don't need to purchase a replacement SIM.
CPW> I'm sorry that you're unhappy with the service provided and we're happy to 
CPW> help with any queries you may have. I have also logged a complaint to 
CPW> address your comments internally through the appropriate channels. You 
CPW> unique reference is DTP0867656 and I'm sorry for the inconvenience caused.
CPW> If you've any other questions please don't hesitate in replying to this 
CPW> email. Alternatively you can call us [...]

So you've suggested that in order to get around the problem a further option is to port the number away (requiring me to use all my existing credit to avoid losing it, as porting will close the existing account) and then do the same to port it back again. That would of course, like all the other options, cause me to lose my existing tarrif. I do also take issue with "we do try to make it clear to our customers of the difference". Not based on that screen shot, which doesn't indicate any [*] or similar to lead to to the small print. I'm happy to buy a top up. I'm not happy losing my existing details. Let's try again:

SXA> Hi [Colleague name withheld in this blog]  (Ref: DTP0867656),
SXA> You don't appear to have actually answered my real question - although you have
SXA> added a rather undesirable fourth option of "port the number away and back again".
SXA> I'll ask the question simply and I trust you can given an appropriate answer: Why, 
SXA> when there appears to be no benefit to you, the customer, or the network, does 
SXA> CarphoneWarehouse enforce the top-up being on a new SIM when it's not a network-
SXA> enforced restriction? Who does it benefit unless you're hoping that many people in 
SXA> my situation will choose to "lose" the credit via one of the options?
SXA> Despite your response, I still feel the "Plus £10 top up" wording on your website is 
SXA> highly misleading.

To which they replied:

CPW> Dear Stewart,
CPW> Thank you for replying to my email.
CPW> I'm sorry if you're unhappy with the fourth option I mentioned and I'm 
CPW> happy to help in regards to your original query. When customers purchase a 
CPW> phone on Pay-as-you-go the cost is cheaper than purchasing the item 
CPW> outright. In which case the extra is subsidised by the network and these 
CPW> are sold with the intention that they are used with the SIM card provided. 
CPW> This amount is dependent on the network and I hope that helps answer your 
CPW> query.
CPW> If you've any other questions then please feel free to reply to this email 
CPW> or you can call my department [...] 

Now that reads to me as though carphone warehouse's insistance on the topup being applied to a new SIM is because the handset is subsidised to the network who enforces it because of that, although the "intention that they are used with" phrasing is disappointingly vague. So I figured I'd clarify with the network again, who seemed more than keen to give a straight answer:

That, to me, is about as clear as it can be - they do not mandate the required top-up to be on a new SIM card, even when the phone is supplied on a deal through them via a third party retailer such as Carphone Warehouse.. Someone is not being honest with me here, so I sent this screenshot back to Carphone Warehouse:

SXA> I'm curious as to your phrasing of the response as "extra is subsidised by the 
SXA> network and these are sold with the intention they are used with the SIM card 
SXA> provided".
SXA> Your use of "the intention" is quite vague and does not denote any specific 
SXA> requirement, or who is enforcing it, but it does suggest that you are suggesting 
SXA> it's down to the network. I put this to Vodafone today and their response was public 
SXA> and very explcit on a direct question as to whether a third party retailer's (e.g. 
SXA> yourself) required it to be on a new top-up:
SXA> The information from our previous tweets hasn't changed. It's a
SXA> top up on a new or existing Payg SIM SXA> SXA> (See attached screenshot from twitter for this quote) SXA> SXA> Can you explain why Vodafone are saying this, while you are suggesting that's not SXA> the case. I feel one of the two of you is lying to me, or at best misleading me.

At the time of writing this was the last communication - which is nonsense since the screen shot I sent them was 31Kb in size:

CPW> Dear Stewart,
CPW> Thank you for replying to my email.
CPW> I'm afraid that the screenshot you've attached is too large to view as we're only
CPW> able to accept emails and attachments that are less than 10MB in size. Also, as
CPW> Vodafone are a separate company to ourselves I'm
CPW> unable to comment on their
CPW> response and that for that I do apologise.
CPW> I'm sorry if I'm unable to provide you with any specific information and we're only
CPW> able to provide generic information. To contact my department then please feel free
CPW> to reply to this email. You can also call my department on [...]

Clearly, this is getting me nowhere and although Vodafone have been quite open, Carphone appear unwilling to clearly explain where this is coming from, so my only option left is to post the transcript in this blog and hopefully one of them will make an effort to resolve this issue. I've had friends that have effectively lost money by being forced to load up a card they won't use, so the "£10 topup" is purely an extra £10 on their handset cost, where they've continued to use their existing SIM card. I also suspect that the lack of clear information about the new SIM requirement is in almost certainly in violation of reasonable advertising standards. Carphone Warehouse, you've lost any business from me in the future.

As mentioned at the start, instead of posting this article and hoping they would sort it out, I subsequently raised this with the UK Advertising Standards Associaion (ASA) and they agreed with me (you can read the ruling here) and in fact they spotted another issue (not including the top-up in the base price is a violation of advertising practice) Hopefully they will fix both issues soon. I still couldn't get a response to why they insisted on the top-up being applied to a new SIM though, so I've bought a SIM-free handset from an alternative supplier. I shall be sending carphone a link to this blog.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

nPower, refunds, and misreading their own bill

[Short link to this article if you need it - - or retweet me!]

I initially moved to nPower for my gas supply because they came out cheapest on the comparison sites for my relatively low usage. I'd heard some bad stories about their customer service, but there were enough "good intentions" that I decided to see if they were turning things around. Unfortunately some changes (possibly due to the changes in energy standing charges) meant that my bills became dominated by the standing charges and I subsequently left (I'm now with Ebico who have a zero standing charge and my bills dropped by a factor of 4). Prior to switching away my direct debit was also a little too high and so I contacted them about trying to get a refund. They didn't seem keen, but more worryingly the way they responded to me (giving information which suggests they can't read their own bills) is almost unbelievable. Here's the first response I got when asking for a refund:

21 February

NP> Judith Taylortand that you want some clarification about the refund. We do a mid term reassessment to ensure your 
NP> payments are covering your predicted usage. If needed, your payments will be adjusted after this review to cover your 
NP> usage based on the last 6 months and also to recover any balance that may have built up on your account. If you're 
NP> paying too much we'll lower your payments and also automatically refund any credit balance over £60 back into your 
NP> bank account. Just to let you know, the amount of £114.62 was not refunded as it was not a credit but it is a total of the 
NP> Direct Debit payments, you've made since your last bill.
NP> Mr Addison, your Direct Debit is set at £39.00 per month and the amount of £238.38 is not a credit and it is a total of the 
NP> Direct Debit payments, you've made since your last bill. This amount will be added to the charges on your next bill, 
NP> which is due to be issued on 22 June 2014.
NP> From the explanation provided and the actions I have taken, I am confident that I have been able to put things right for 
NP> you. If, however, you have any further queries about this issue, or any of the agreed actions are not completed in the 
NP> times promised, please call our Complaints team on 0800 316 9328. They are available from 8am to 6pm Monday to 
NP> Friday and 8am to 2pm Saturday. This number is usually free from any landline, or if you are calling from your mobile, 
NP> you can use 0330 100 8628, which is normally included within your free minutes or charged at the same rates as 
NP> numbers beginning with '01 and 02'.
NP> I trust this information has been helpful to you, Mr Addison.

So £114.52 is not a credit balance, but a total of all my direct debut payments? Really? This is from my bill at the time:

I don't see how anyone can read that the way my reply from nPower interpreted it - so I queried it again (bear in mind that the following communication was after a subsequent bill was sent so the numbers given were different from those listed above)

24th Feb
SXA> Your reply has the following two statements which appear to be in conflict:
SXA>  the amount of £114.62 was not refunded as it was not a credit but it is a total of the Direct Debit payments, you've
SXA>    made since your last bill.
SXA>  the amount of £238.38 is not a credit and it is a total of the Direct Debit payments, you've made since your last bill. 
SXA> i.e. two different figures which are "a total of the Direct Debits since the last bill
SXA> On that basis, I don't believe you've provided much clarity, especially given that you didn't include the message I
SXA> sent you in your reply.
18th March
NP> Thank you for contacting us about your final bill.
NP> I understand you have contacted us on numerous occasions to clarify the bill. i am sorry to learn that online bill history 
NP> section appears more useful than what appears on the bill.. We care about what you think and want to understand what 
NP> we are doing right and where we need to improve things. That is why we read every piece of feedback that we receive. 
NP> As you will understand, sometimes change can take time in a large company like ours, but that does not mean we are
NP> not working to improve things based on what you say. In fact, we recently introduced freephone telephone numbers,
NP> so now you can call us free from a landline or mobile phone. Our customers told us this was important, we listened,
NP> and then we made the change.
NP> Mr Addison, I see that the Gas accounts is closed on 08 March 2014. Currently £221.06 is the total of the Direct Debit 
NP> payments you have made so far and it will be adjusted towards your final bill. Just to let you know, we do need to allow 
NP> your new supplier up to 28 working days to provide us with the meter readings to finalise your account. This is to
NP> ensure that we both use the same information to bill you. It can take further 7 to 10 working days for you to receive 
NP> your final invoice. Rest assured, any remaining credit after generating the final bill will be refunded to you.
NP> For more information, you can call our Leavers team on 0800 316 3375, this number is usually free from any landline
NP> or if you are calling from your mobile, you can use 0330 100 8674. They are open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and
NP> Saturday 8am to 6pm.
NP> As you have had to contact us again about this issue I have taken the opportunity to raise a complaint on your behalf. 
NP> Each complaint is allocated a unique reference number, yours is 99709178. This will remain open for 10 days allowing 
NP> you the time to receive my reply and consider the response. I am confident through the explanation I have provided and 
NP> the actions I have taken I have now been able to resolve things for you.
NP> If, however, this is not the case and you remain unhappy please contact our Complaints team within 10 days. You can 
NP> reach them by telephone on 0800 3169328, they are available from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday or 8am to 2pm 
NP> Saturday. This number is usually free from any landline or if you are calling from your mobile, you can use 0330 
NP> 3168628, which is normally included within your free minutes or charged at the same rates as numbers beginning with 
NP> '01 and 02'. If you prefer, you can email If we do not hear from you within 10 days we will 
NP> take it your query is resolved and close the complaint for you.
NP> Mr Addison, I trust this helps move things forward for you.
So £221.06 is the new total of direct debit payments is it? Here is the bill that has that figure on it:

The total of direct debit payments is £392.00 and I don't see how the "You are in credit by" figure of £221.06 could be misinterpreted as a direct debit total. Anyone else see how? On that basis I contacted them again:

21st March

SXA> You have just seemingly made EXACTLY the same error I mentioned in my last message
SXA> to you by saying:
SXA>  "£221.06 is the total of the Direct Debit payments you have made so far"
SXA> My bill clearly states that in the "Payments since the last statement" section that
SXA> I have paid 41+9*39=£392 - that is the total of the DD payments made so far. £221.06
SXA> is actually the amount I'm currently in credit by taking the DD payments into account
SXA> Can you explain why you've said what you have in any words that do not equate to
SXA> "NPower are unable to read it's own bills" please?
SXA> I will also say that it is EXTREMELY frustrating to not be able to see the history
SXA> of our conversation anywhere.

May 1

NP> Thank you for contacting us about the refund.
NP> I'm sorry for the delay in processing the refund, Mr Addison. I understand that you've
NP> left us in March 2014 and wish to receive the refund of your credit. Having checked
NP> your account, I confirm that the gas contract was closed on 08 March NP> 2014 and the
NP>  final bill was generated on 19 March 2014 with a credit of £165.16. I'm unable to
NP> process the refund to your bank account as the Direct Debit has been cancelled. I've
NP> processed the refund on 22 April 2014 and you'll be receiving the cheque within 10 to
NP> 14 working days through the post. I assure that you'll receive the refund within the 
NP> given timescale. Further to your query, if your new supplier doesn't meet your
NP> expectations, rest assured you're more than welcome to discuss your energy supply with
NP> us again in the future. If this is something that doesn't interest you at present, I
NP> fully understand this and would like to wish you all the best.
NP> From the explanation provided and the actions I've taken, I'm confident that I've
NP> been able to put things right for you.If, however, you have any further queries about
NP> this issue, or any of the agreed actions are not completed in the times promised,
NP> please call our Complaints team on [...]
NP> I trust the information I've provided has been helpful, Mr Addison.

At least this time they read the next bill properly and said the final balance was £165.16:

So finally some good news. They said something that was correct. But now they have to send me a cheque because  the direct debit has been canceled. Superficially makes sense, except that at the time they generated that bill (Wednesday 19th) the direct debit was still active - I was notificed about it being canceled four days later (Sunday). Wouldn't it have made sense to do the refund via direct debit before canceling it? Or at the very least actively getting in touch with me to arrange a refund? Neither of those happened and I'm sure nPower would have happily held onto my balance without getting in touch had I not chased them, despite nPower claiming

"It is often said that energy companies keep large direct debit balances from their customers. In npower's case, this simply isn't true"

and nPower failing to attempt to refund me until I chase them would suggest otherwise. So I contacted their complaints address again:

SXA> Hi, 
SXA> The Direct Debit payment was canceled on the 23rd of March. If you generated the 
SXA> final bill on the 19th March as you say why did you 
SXA>  (a) Not credit it immediately during the four days that the DD was still active 
SXA>  (b) Not actively contact me to arrange a refund and even waited two whole weeks 
SXA> after I contacted you to reply (especially if it was processed over a week ago on 
SXA> April 22nd) to arrange a cheque to be sent out (which will therefore arrive close
SXA> to 2 months after the final bill was generated) 
SXA> What was the reason for the delay other than to hold onto my money in the meantime?
SXA> Your page at
SXA> says "It is often said that energy companies keep large direct debit balances from
SXA> their customers. In npower’s case, this simply isn’t true." yet that does not match
SXA> my experience
SXA> I noticed you still did not appear to manage to explain a query from another email
SXA> I sent on March 21st (complaint ref 99709178) asking for an explanation of why you
SXA> appeared to give incorrect information to me surrounding some figures on my bill. 
SXA> I would be interested in hearing about your reasons on the above, but bearing all of 
SXA> the above in mind, regardless of what my new energy supplier does in terms of
SXA> "meeting my expectations" it is almost inconceivable that they would be worse than
SXA> you in terms of customer service. 
Note that the page referenced in that last email has been removed from their site. A cached version is abailable here. I have had no response to this at the time of posting (May 29), however I did receieve the cheque from them on May 6th. They never did attempt to explain why their information on the bills was misleading or why they did not make a refund prior to them actively canceling the direct debit. I get the feeling OfGem wouldn't be impressed by this. [EDIT: After posting this someone pointed me at this BBC article talking about the chaos of nPower's billing].

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Google + Nexus = Not the technical excellence I expected

[Short link to this article if you need it -  - or retweet me]

I bought a Nexus10 tablet - brilliant hardware for the money (especially that screen, although AMOLED would've been nicer but pushed up the price a lot I suspect). Good news right? Well I thought so except for two issues I started having with it (Google+ links included which in turn have links into forum threads from others talking about each issue)

  1. It crashed roughly once a day
  2. The notification LED on it seemed to stop working.

The background

At this time I couldn't be sure if both were happening with the "out of the box" Android 4.2 - it updated over the air (OTA) to 4.2.1 within 24 hours of using it 

In an effort to diagnose the problem I tried changing the applications I was using on it, but it didn't appear to make a lot of difference. I then decided it was worth having a shot at a factory reset... Which appeared to fix the LED notification issue. Great problem solved I thought. Until either the first or second crash/reboot when it stopped working again. Subsequently this has happened a few times - if I reflash/reset then the LED works until one of the first few reboots. Therefore that issue appears software related.

February 6th - calling Google

Here was a page I got to while looking up the contact details - with their own browser it doesn't seem like they want to provide any contact options!

So I called up Google to discuss these. The American lady on the end of the phone seemed very sympathetic. Almost too sympathetic. "I know how frustrating it can be ..." seemed to be her favorite phrase, empathising with me on the subject of hardware not just working as it should, and offered me a replacement device. Now bear in mind that the LED was clearly not broken, and many others had similar faults, it was hard to believe that it was a hardware issue. At the same time the issues appeared specific to the Nexus devices - particularly the 10 - which suggested it was in some way related to the hardware on there.

But what the heck - they're going to send out another one, put a "pending" charge on my account for it until I return the old one (within 21 days of receiving the replacement)

The second device

So I got the second unit, and decided to leave it at standard out-of-the-box 4.2 and not allow the OTA update. It appeared that the LED worked fine, and it took a while for the first crash to occur, but it eventually did.
Now at this point I still had the original Nexus. And while there wasn't an OTA 4.2.2 available to me yet (it was a staged roll out) there was a version of 4.2.2 which could be downloaded and installed. Since I had the other device, on February 13th I decided to give it a shot and pulled it up to 4.2.2. Once again the LED worked., but once again it stopped after a couple of reboots/crashes. I then followed a process to reset it it back to 4.2. Same happened - LED stopped working after a couple of reboots. So the second device appears to consistently fail with the LED, but the replacement - still on 4.2 - appeared not to have that problem, but still crashed. Here's a couple of screenshots from "Bootlog Uptime":

So the old one on 4.2.2 (on the right) seems more stable, but then I wasn't using it as much during that period. The original one on 4.2 was still crashing. For the next few days I used the 4.2.2 one and it started crashing slightly more regularly.

21st February - Contacting google again - via email

I thought I'd try to reason with Google at this point. After all, they're a major technology company who I have a lot of respect for, so surely they'll respond to their customers on a technical issue ...


I'm ready to return one of the devices back to you know (I've been running some more experiments on both before returning it) but I wanted to report the current situation.

My original device has been updated to 4.2.2. Every time an OS upgrade happens on it the notification LED appears to work correctly until the first - or occasionally second - restart (which,of course, happens in under a week because of the crashing issue)

The new second device you sent me appears to have no problems with the LED so far, but I've declined to perform any OS upgrade on it - it's still at 4.2. However it still crashes regularly - there is a screenshot of a log from the "Bootlog uptime" app at showing how regularly each of the two devices has been crashing so far. As per the comment in there, the 4.2.2 one is showing less crashes,but that's because I've been mostly using the new one to detect any problems.

The bottom line is that the crashing issues is still present on the replacement device. I do not know if the LED issue would be present if I allowed the system update to 4.2.1 or 4.2.2 to proceed, but I am reluctant to try it in case it doesn't work and I can't get the LED working reliably again.

Can you let me know whether there is any outlook on getting a fix for these issues, and what you suggest I do, because it seems reasonably clear that these devices have faults. The LED issue is common to many people (See ) and likewise for the crashing (See!topic/mobile/VFYnt7uN9d0%5B1-25-true%5D ) I would really like Google to acknowledge and provide a tracking mechanism/outlook for these issues as any self-respecting software development company would (I work for one myself) Despite the suggestions of some, the reboots are not specific to when Chrome is being used as the foregound application, although it is possible it has been started and in the task switcher in each case.

One of your other emails said "Thanks for using Google Play and we look forward to your feedback!" so there it is. Please advise how to proceed in order to get these significant issues resolved - I've been along time big supporter of google, but this is seriously damaging your reputation in  imy eyes. I would be delighted to work with you to resolve them, as a customer service of "Oh we'll just replace it" probably isn't going to appease your users if the fault is a software one.

Which gave this response, which did not give me confidence that the person on the end had any technical ability whatsoever - it was just another sales/marketing response:

Hello Stewart,

Thank you for contacting Google Play. I understand you had concerns regarding your Nexus 10. I understand how important this is to you. I'm happy to assist you with that today. Please let us know as soon as possible if you wish to return your Nexus 10 for a refund as you only have 2 more days of your buyers remorse. We appreciate your suggestions about Google Play. We frequently share customer feedback with our development team and will be sure to pass along your input. 

Thanks for your interest in our Nexus 10's..

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to reply directly to this email. Also, you may visit us at:

A generous offer, but I wanted to work with them if possible to try and get a resolution to the issues. I sent this back to them:

Thank you for the offer. However can you offer any suggestion as to the issues I mentioned? By seemingly not giving any acknowledgement of an issue or any suggestion that there will ever be a fix then you are doing your customers a disservice by keeping the device on sale. I would go as far as to say you are misadvising it as having a notification LED which doesn't work in any useful manner. I've offered all the info I have, I'd run diagnostics if it would help, but if all you can do is replace/refund (i.e. such issues are being hidden by sales teams rather than being addressed by the passionate developers I know you have working for you - I've considered joining you myself) rather than show any interest in such flaws then I'm staggered ... A vague promise of passing it along is useless.

I love the device. My choice would be not to get a refund if possible, but I need some assurance that the problems, which are not limited to just me, are being worked on. Can you give any reassurance in any of these areas, or can you find someone who can?

And got absolutely no response whatsoever. I guess they didn't want to provide any such reassurances. My respect for Google has now dropped significantly. They're not interested in dealing with resolving technical customer problems with their devices. I find myself thinking "Apple would probably have done this better" but as most people know I'm just not an Apple person. I figured I'd get the original unit packed up and sent back to google was within the 21 day period, but I'm keeping the second one. The screen's just too nice, and I need some sort of device ...

Where am I now?

So I did indeed keep the device despite the problems. On the plus side, the LED on the replacement unit was ultimately reliable - it's now running 4.4 (KitKat) of course. But it still crashes on average over once a week (78 times since I got it) So ultimately it worked, but it seems strange that they had what appears to have been a software issue that wasn't acknowledged by the staff.
Do I regret buying it? I had serious reservations after the above interactions with google, and I still think I'd still rather have had a 2nd gen Surface it it had been available at the time, but ultimately the Nexus10 has had plenty of use and was worth the money.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Blackcircles tyres and admin of "MOT for a fiver" promotion

[Short link to this blog if you need it - - or retweet me]

Last year the vehicle tyre supplier was running the offer of an MOT for £5 (via rebate) for anyone who bought particular types of tyre from them. As a result of this offer I felt it was worth giving them a shot as a supplier, as the offer seemed pretty good. I bought two tyres for a total cost of £416.86 (Yes that really is a reasonable price for what they were!) for fitting at a local centre. 

All good so far. I had the tyres fitted and then booked the MOT expecting to receive the appropriate documentation for the MOT voucher immediately afterwards. Unfortunately this didn't happen.

SXA> I had my tyres fited on Wednesday., According to your page at
SXA> the MOT voucher code will "be sent 1 working day after your fitting
SXA> has been completed or delivery has been received" 
SXA> Given that it is now Friday, and I've got the MOT booked for Monday
SXA> (based on the timescales in those T&Cs), can you clarify when I
SXA> can get my code please?

BC> Thank you for your email.
BC> Please confirm your Blackcircles Order number and we will look into this for you.

I gave them the number, and ultimately I ended up having a phone conversation with them where it became apparent that the order had gone through without the MOT offer being applied. Not a good start, and I had definately selected that open when putting the order in - I remember it being on the web form and given that this is why I was choosing to use them I was careful about applying it, so my attempt to take advantage of the MOT offer had got mysteriously lost.. They then put it through the system again with a different order number (same as my original with an 'A' suffix) and my offer voucher came through. Fortunately despite the assistant on the phone being unable to give any assurances that it would or that they'd be able to help if it got delayed, it did come through in time for the MOT.

Not the best start to my first dealings with BlackCircles, but we're back on track. It's worth pointing out that during the time between me getting the MOT done and sending in the documentation I recommended BlackCircles to a colleague and they also had exactly the same problem as I had above with the order not going through correctly with the MOT offer and had to make the same phone call I did. So something in their system seemed already keen to catch you out... Plus the initial requirement to register the voucher before the MOT also appears to have caught some people out too:

I got the MOT done, and then made the mistake for a number of reasons of delaying before I sent in the documentation. I thought it was within four weeks but on submission it appears not.

BC> Thank you for your claim in our MOT for £5 promotion. 
BC> Unfortunately we are unable to process it for the following reason: 
BC>    - Your claim was received later than 28 days from the MOT date.
BC> May we take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in our offer.
BC> For further information or questions regarding this promotion please email

Now I have to believe that they did receive it later, but let's bear something in mind here. This was my first order with BlackCircles. The offer was valid for an MOT up to a year after the promotion started and therefore the money for the offer would have been pre-allocated for those who took advantage of it (subject to anyone who didn't object to their order not going through properly in the first place as I described above). This experience defines my view of the company, and logically that artificial limitation didn't make a lot of sense. On that basis I tried to reason with them with a bit of common sense.

SXA> I think this is a very disappointing response to have received. I made the decision
SXA> to try BlackCircles over the other providers in part because of the MOT offer (and
SXA> from some other recommendations) and a decision to enforce an entirely arbitrary
SXA> 28-day limit (I thought I had sent it back within that timeframe, but perhaps not)
SXA> appears to be purely for the purpose of trying to give any excuse not to honour the
SXA> offer. This feeling is backed up by the fact that the MOT offer got missed from my
SXA> original order. I definitely selected it, and a colleague subsequently had EXACTLY
SXA> the same problem when placing an order after I recommended you to them - both of
SXA> us had the order resubmitted with an 'A' suffix on the number after calling up to
SXA> complain. As mentioned this feels like it is an attempt to avoid honouring the offer
SXA> because it required both of us to call to complain about it. I almost missed getting
SXA> the email with the redemption details before my MOT was due because of this
SXA> delay - fortunately it came through on the day the MOT was booked for.
SXA> Regardless of whether this offer was administered by BlackCircles or (as it seems)
SXA> a third party, this decision to use various unnecessary tactics in order to provide
SXA> reasons not to fulfil an offer reflects badly on BlackCircles as a service provider.
SXA> As someone who works on a site with around 3000 people I was hoping to
SXA> recommend BlackCircles and the local fitter to send more business your way but I
SXA> can no longer do that, and will have no reasonable choice but to returning to an
SXA> alternative supplier for my subsequent tyre needs based on the service I have
SXA> received regarding this offer.

That email sent to their address at bounced:

> This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
> Delivery to the following recipients failed.

I forwarded it to another address, let them know it had bounced  and got this reply:

BC> Thank you for your email regarding the ‘MOT For a Fiver’ promotion.
BC> While we understand your frustration the terms and conditions are set out so
BC> that the promotion is fair to everyone. There has to be a cut off date so that
BC>  the promotion doesn’t run indefinitely, we believe that 28 days is sufficient
BC> time for a consumer to send in the documents requested.
BC> As you your MOT receipt is dated 22/04/2013 you would have had until
BC> 20/05/2013 to make your claim.
BC> Unfortunately we didn’t receive your claim 29/05/2013 and as such the claim
BC> has been deemed invalid.
BC> We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

So they're sticking to the T&Cs although their assertion that "There has to be a cut off date" makes little sense - there is a one year cut off date for the offer already so this restriction is artificial other than to catch people out.

SXA> Your logic surprises me. While I completely understand the need to have an end date
SXA> on the promotion "to ensure that it does not run indefinitely", the same doesn't really
SXA> apply to the date from the MOT taking place. It should make no difference to you when
SXA> the MOT takes place, only that it is redeemed within a year (Or a year + 28 days). In
SXA> fact since the redemption money has presumable been reserved in advance, it is
SXA> actually better for you if people delay the claim as you can sit on the interest in the
SXA> time before redemption.
SXA> By enforcing this seemingly pointless clause within your agreement with BlackCircles,
SXA> as well as failing to put the offer on the original order despite it being selected, you
SXA> have damaged the company's reputation in my eyes and ensured I will not deal with
SXA> BlackCircles again.

So there you have it - unmoving adherence to a pointless condition and trying to "miss out" on including the offer on the initial order for both myself and the first (and last) friend I recommended them to earns BlackCircles a place in my customer experience hall of shame. I'm sure there are people who would say "It's your own fault for not sticking to the T&C" and that's technically true. But I object to T&Cs which service no real purpose other than to catch their customers out - how does that help the company? Are they really getting more benefit from new customers who come in and manage to use the offer than the negativity from people who have my experience? Has it been positive for their business overall?

During the above exchange I received an email outside the thread acknowledging the initial problems with the offer:

BC> Dear Stewart
BC> Thank you for your e-mail –I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with our recent promotion.
BC> Whilst we did experience some teething problems with the offer being applied to some 
BC> orders; there was never any intention not to honour the claims.
BC> You are correct in that the promotion was being run by an independent team and we did try 
BC> to ensure that our customers were fully aware of the conditions under which the offer 
BC> could be redeemed prior to placing their order (please see attached). As these conditions 
BC> were set out as part of a business agreement between Blackcircles and the promotions 
BC> company – I am afraid that I have no way to circumvent these.
BC> I would hope that you may feel able to consider us for your future needs despite this 
BC> issue and I would ask that you let me know if I can offer any further help.

Summary: I had to push for them to honour the offer initially, and I took advantage of it within the year - a reasonable condition. But trying to pretend that the 28 day condition is something that "There has to be" is nonsense, so they've lost any future business from me. It doesn't matter if the promotion is "administered by a third party" - I made the order through BlackCircles, and any problems with it reflect badly on them, and no-one else, from a customer perspective. I wonder if BlackCirtcles will reveal how many people in total who tried to take advantage of the offer ultimately weren't able to because of all the trip wires in the process?

Coincidentally last week I received an email asking for customer feedback. I shall be replying to them with the address of this blog. I hope they take note.