Currys Law: how everything that can go wrong, will go wrong (& why Amazon will rule the world)
This is a boring blog. You can jump a few paragraphs down to the punchline if you like (and the latest update, from October 2021). It's about the remarkable, indeed baffling, inefficiency of some big organisations, in this case Currys PC World. As a customer or passenger I can't help but notice how systems are organised - so this piece is about how even the most basic things can be got wrong and how they could be put right.
It's about very trivial problems by comparison with pandemics, disease and unemployment. But I suspect we all sometimes find that very trivial things take up a ridiculous amount of time and even emotional energy, crowding out the more important things we would rather have to think about. So this - a story about my failure to buy a cooker, and the larger failure of parts of British business to run themselves well - is in part personal therapy to get it off my chest.
Here goes. I bought a Rangemaster cooker from Currys/Dixons in mid-June 2020, to replace a similar older model which was broken. I also opted for installation and removal of the old cooker in the order. The delivery date, initially promised for 29th June, was repeatedly postponed, but eventually was fixed for August 15th. When the team arrived it turned out there was no gas installer with them and so no delivery was made. Another date was made for 12 September. This time the (different) team determined on arrival that a specialised electric circuit was needed, and this was beyond their qualifications. At each stage it transpired that the various teams were not allowed to communicate with each other. When I asked to be emailed the exact specifications needed for an electrician I was told that they were not able to email or text.
I organised an electric circuit and a new delivery date of October 17th was arranged. This was due between 9am and 1pm. At 1.40 I was called to be informed that the driver had just been told by his office that he couldn’t carry the item down the steps and therefore couldn’t make the delivery. I said that I could arrange for the carrying to be done if it was beyond the capability of Team Knowhow. I was promised a callback but this didn’t materialise.
A month later, having heard nothing from the company (who still had my money) I called on 16 November. The file had the item down as ‘delivered’ but the person I spoke to said he could see this hadn’t happened, and promised me that within 48 hours I would be told of a new delivery option. No call came. I called again on Monday 23rd and discovered that the file still had the delivery as completed. Eventually after multiple calls I was given a new delivery date – but after 7 March 2021 – and it was clear that no information about the previous visits had been recorded. I asked if there was anyone I could speak to so that the next visit would be more successful. I was told there wasn’t.
Then, later in November, I was informed of a new delivery date of 9 March. I spoke to Team Knowhow both in November and again in February and said I wanted to ensure that when they next delivered they wouldn’t once again say that my steps were too steep. I had lined up three neighbours to help carry the cooker. But I was assured this wouldn’t be necessary.
The week before the delivery was due I received a phone message to tell me it wouldn’t happen. A long call on 8 March revealed no one could provide me any more information, and the file did not have any information on it. Another date was set – for 20th March. The day before the company called – to discuss delivery of my fridge. Two calls later they realised it was a cooker. On the day multiple phone calls eventually elicited the information that it wouldn’t happen (on their website the number they had sent me wasn’t recognised, and then in a chat it was down as ‘refused’).
On 23rd March the delivery lorry arrived, for the fifth time. As I had feared they said they could not deliver because of the steps. I told them I had offered to organise carriers but had been told this wasn’t necessary. They told me to take this up with customer services. Eventually I got through to them – to be told that the order had been cancelled, by them.
…There are many striking things about this experience. I have set it out tediously because it is tedious. Obviously it’s annoying as a customer and has wasted many hours of my life. It's become a running joke in my family (hence the suggestion that Murphys Law should be replaced by Currys Law).
I've been surprised that noone in the company ever felt that they should apologise, explain or try to fix things - as if they see my experiences as entirely normal.
But if anything I am even more struck by how inefficient and wasteful their internal processes are. Many many hours of their staff's time has been wasted because of basic inefficiencies. Internal communications was clearly very poor; each team lacked the information from the previous team.
Some of the many (junior) people I spoke to did try to be helpful. But they could not get anyone more senior to sort out the problems and the systems were clearly very poor (several implied that the company was very hierarchical). The culture was clearly disfunctional. Noone wanted to take responsiblity. Each team blamed others. Management was invisible. You had no sense of any shared purpose or commitment.
Very simple processes would have avoided all the errors: on making the order I should have been asked to send a picture of the access route (since it is quite heavy), and taken through a simple questionnaire to ensure the right electric and gas connections. Basic shared data would have helped. Empowering the teams on the ground to fix problems would have too.
Currys have on their board a former government minister – Lord Livingston – and a senior government adviser, Eileen Burbidge. I've no idea if they feel any sense of responsibility for the company, or whether they are competent as individuals.
But I did find myself hoping that Curry’s inefficiencies don’t pollute important public services (its not that long ago that ministers were asking people like NatWest's Fred Goodwin to advise on how to improve public services).
I also found myself grateful for efficient companies like Amazon – which, for all their aggressive might, at least have systems that work.
Currys is the most incompetent organisation I've come across for quite a while, and quite a good case study of how not to run customer services.
Luckily we are all still alive and thriving. These problems are annoying but not serious. They're about shopping, not about life and death. But life is definitely enhanced by systems that actually work, and I will never get back the many hours I've wasted trying to secure a simple item from this company.
Update, 5 June: More than two months after Currys cancelled my order I have received no replies to my many messages, no apology and no refund of the money they have now had for a year.
Update 25 October 2021: Having given up with Currys I did a new order with John Lewis. They did everything right: a questionnaire in advance, good email communication, and then the cooker was delivered with no problems in October (by Kaboodle), whose staff were pleasant to deal with and efficient. As a company John Lewis are going through their own challenges but it was good to be reminded that at least some parts of UK business are competent.