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Where is the loyalty?

01 July, 2004
Page 18 
This question was posed by Asif Kassam, who runs KP Hill Service Station in Manchester, and who was royally ticked off with PayZone because the company had just installed a competing terminal next door to his own.
A few years ago I used to get bitter complaints from retailers who couldn’t get certain services or goods into their shops because of post-code exclusion zones imposed by suppliers.You couldn’t get newspapers if a store nearby was ‘adequately serving the community’. You couldn’t get an offie if the magistrates didn’t think there was a ‘need’ for it, and you sure as shooting couldn’t get one if you sold petrol. You certainly couldn’t get the National Lottery if you didn’t fit Camelot’s post-coded map, let alone its other secret criteria. And you couldn’t get PayPoint or PayZone terminals if you weren’t in a part of the country handy to the two companies’ national rollout programmes.Now I get the opposite sort of complaints. The free market is not a companionable thing in the average shopping parade or local market. In Asif’s case, the off licence’s offering next door is now cutting into his sales – and it’s quite a big business for him: he does £12/£13K a week in electricity top-ups alone.PayZone has said to him, well, you sell Mars Bars and Walker’s Crisps. “The rep said it wouldn’t make any difference to my sales,” says Asif, “but it has. I’ve got records for the past three years. And PayZone is now also charging for the phone line so there are no profits in it. I do it for the footfall.”Asif wondered whether I had had similar complaints. The answer is not quite, but almost. No two complaints are ever the same but I have had many, many complaints over the years about these multi-functional terminals from both companies, ranging from the crap commission (a very popular complaint) to billing methods and machine faults. But there is another twist to this story. Asif also has a PayPoint terminal in his store for historical reasons. It dates back to 15 years ago when he used to sell Norweb electricity through his previous store. Norweb shifted to Alphyra which became PayZone. But when it was still Norweb there was no facility to offer gas top-up sales. In order to offer that service he signed up with PayPoint.Why does he keep both terminals? Because it keeps the queues moving quicker.As I pointed out to him though, if I put his loyalty question to PayZone now they might just lob it back at me. At least he still has a choice.