South Woodford Waitrose and a £25 car parking ticket

I guess you probably think Waitrose is a classy store. Your call, I guess – but the following example of (non-)customer service has left me changing my perceptions of the highly rated retailer.

Shopping at Waitrose is normally great. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, it offers a smashing range of products, is better priced than most people believe and is connected to the brilliant online shopping specialist Ocado.

Unfortunately, a recent experience has left me to conclude that Waitrose is also the kind of retailer that allows an outsourced firm to charge a family (one Dad, a pregnant Mum and a three-year-old daughter) £25 to park for more than two hours in their car park as they spend more than £100 on a weekly shop. Thanks Waitrose.

Rather than drone on like a demented consumer champion (any of my neighbours in Wanstead will tell you that I have already bored them senseless about the incident), have a look at the following droning letter of complaint I sent to Waitrose HQ. And get bored by that instead:

To whom it may concern

I am writing to complain about an incident during a recent visit to the Waitrose store in South Woodford, London. As a regular customer that has received many years of quality customer service from the Partnership, I was dismayed to see the following incident occur.

My heavily pregnant wife, my three-year-old daughter and myself parked in a family bay and shopped as normal in the store. We completed our shop and, on returning to our vehicle, found a £25 parking ticket because our car had been parked in the same place for more than two hours.

First, and as can be seen by the included receipt, we completed quite a large shop. Buying food during a busy weekend is always a time-consuming process and is likely to take a considerable period of time.

Second, your web site refers to the friendliness of the Partnership experience. We met three groups of friends and spent time talking to your affable till attendant. We would not, however, have opted for the friendly experience if we knew there was a chance it would cost us £25.

Third, my three-year-old daughter had to be changed in the toilet. Again, this incident took a considerable period of time. My daughter also likes to look at the children’s books and magazines. While we appreciate the distraction, we would not have dallied if we had known it would cost us money.

In short, I can understand that your company might find a requirement to charge people that chose to stay in your car park and not shop in the store. But when a family spends £100, I think it is reasonable to expect that they will not be charged £25 for the experience.

Best regards

Mark Samuels

So, that letter was sent a few weeks ago. What do you think happened? Well, they wrote back quickly – which was nice. And was there a big apology? Er, not exactly:

Dear Mr Samuels

I was sorry to learn that you were unhappy with the car park charges at our South Woodford branch and would like to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for these changes.

OK. Apology – good start. But look closely; they’re sorry that I am unhappy – not sorry the incident occured. Not looking so good now, especially when they say they’re going to explain their reasoning for the charges (also worth noting that there’s an extra space before South Woodford on my copy of the letter. The more cynical might suggest that the name ‘South Woodford’ has been simply copied and pasted into a standard letter; that’s what the more cynical might suggest…).

Whenever it can Waitrose is keen to provide unlimited free parking. Unfortunately, this is not always possible especially in areas where we must conform with local restrictions or the car park is under the control of the local authority.

Fair enough, they have limited spaces and I guess some people park and don’t buy stuff in the shop. But what’s this…?

At South Woodford there is a very high demand for the number of spaces, and to ensure there is a continual turnover of spaces so all of our customers can find a space during peak periods, Britannia Parking Limited control the car park by introducing a charge after a reasonable period of time. You would therefore need to contact Britania direct.

Woah! So to ensure shoppers can find a space, they fine you after a couple of hours. What? I spent £100 in your store – what on earth has ‘reasonable period of time’ got to do with justifying a turnover of spaces when you’re actually spending cash? If they want to keep spaces free for customers, fine – but surely not by charging people that are in the store shopping. And while I’m on the matter, what is ‘reasonable’? Does it not include spending cash, looking after your kid and having a chat with people? Clearly not.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to attention.

Fine, it’s given me an opportunity to moan and some free content for my blog. So, thanks to you, too.

I appreciate that whilst what I have written will not have been what you wanted to learn, I am glad to have had an opportunity to clarify our position.

Good for you. And you’re right; it isn’t what I wanted to hear – or, more importantly, what I expected.

I can assure you of our continued commitment to providing you with the service and merchandise you espect when shopping at Waitrose and hope this unfortunate incident will not deter you from shopping with us again in the future.

You’ve already failed to meet my expectations regarding service, Waitrose. But why would it deter me from shopping with you again? I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face; I like your shops. But I tell you what it will do – it will make me angry and push me to write a load of stuff on my blog about how disappointed I am. And I’ll tell everyone I know about how you left me feeling rubbish. Shame, really. I expected better.

Moral of the story? Don’t park in a mother and baby spot, and spend too long spending £100 in a Waitrose store. If you do, you’ll be charged an extra £25 for the experience.

20 thoughts on “South Woodford Waitrose and a £25 car parking ticket

  1. Dave

    Try using ocado, its a seperate company to JLP, and will save you two hours of hell in a Waitrose store a week. I think thier prices are also cheeper than Waitrose as they do internet prices. Way less hassle less cost and much better customer service.

  2. mark Post author

    Hi Dave – thanks for the comment. Agreed, Ocado provide a great service. Like I said above, I’m not going to stop using Waitrose services, whether they’re directly related to JLP or not. But it does change my perceptions. We usually shop online and only shopped in-store because we didn’t have any food left. I guess we need to spend more time planning in-advance…

  3. Richard

    I wrote a letter to Waitrose a few weeks back and received a similar apathetic response. Expected way more. JLP’s shine is certainly fading..

  4. Bettershopper

    Our Waitrose has a sign that clearly states the 2 hr limit, so I’m surprised yours doesn’t. If it doesn’t have a clear sign, you’d have grounds to complain.

    The problem is that a lot of mean non-supermarket shoppers can’t be bothered to pay to park, so supermarkets have no choice but to charge. (I’d have thought that 2 hours was long enough to do a weekly shop to be honest. We rarely take as long as one hour.)If our Waitrose didn’t set a 2 hr limit, the car park would be permanently full of day shoppers and office workers, so we would never be able to park to do a shop.

  5. mark Post author

    To be honest, Bettershopper – I don’t know. I’m sure it does. If I had noticed the sign, would it have made any difference? Again, I don’t know.

    I guess I kind of think the timing issue is of little concern. If I spend £100 in a supermarket, I don’t expect to be fined for overstaying my welcome. If I do, I’d expect the refund process to be simple. Especially from the John Lewis Partnership. Unreasonable?

    Once again, I don’t know – but I do know that another local Waitrose charges customers to park and gives them three hours free parking if they spend more than £10. Surely that’s a better solution than outsourcing the management – and annoying your customers?

  6. Tony

    Hi Mark. Ocado is no better. My neighbour asked their driver to deliver from the road, not our shared driveway. He ignored them, drove into our driveway, got stuck in the turning area, and hit my car. Long story short he denied it, even though I saw him and took the registration. Ocado wouldn’t deal with me directly and kept pushing it to their insurer. The loss adjuster wouldn’t pay out without an independent witness. So I made to feel like a liar and had no compensation for a damaged car (which I had owned only 4 days!) … I HAVE cut my nose off to spite my face and won’t use Ocado as a result.

  7. mark Post author

    Blimey, Tony – I think your nose-less face is more than justified… Sorry to hear about the car – what a farce.

  8. Pingback: Parking dispute becomes a row. Almost. | Wansteadium

  9. Andrew

    Suggest you keep up the pressure. Write again explaining your disatisfaction with their response. Escalate to someone more senior ( have you contacted your local store manager). Eventually, they will get fed up and refund you. If it was me I would cut off my nose to spite my face although most supermarkets are in my bad books (except for Waitrose and Ocado) so might be reduced to increased visits to the corner shop. Finally, whether or not 2 hour warning sign is displayed is irrelevant. Sometimes it legitimatly takes more than 2 hours.

  10. mark Post author

    Good comments, Andrew. Thanks for the advice. Good to see you recognise the timing issue, too. I guess the issue now is about how much time it takes to keep writing and moaning.

    And Karl, I agree – we do need to speed up…

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  12. HappyShopper

    I know the South Woodford store very well as I know someone who works there – it isn’t that big so how on earth can it take anyone over 2 hours to do a shop?! I know for a fact parking is difficult around that area and people abuse the Waitrose carpark thinking they can go in there and get free parking whilst shopping elsewhere – 2 hours should be more than enough time. During the peak times even most managers aren’t allowed to park in there so there’s more room for customers – think yourself lucky you don’t have to pay £5 parking like the staff do. I very rarely use Waitrose myself as I don’t have one near me but whenever I visit one the staff are always friendly, quality of food is great and usually the parking is free for 2 hours which in my opinion is a bonus. My local Tesco charge 80p an hour, maybe if you’re thinking of spending over 2 hours food shopping you’d prefer to pay that every time?

  13. fred

    i work for britannia parking all i say google it and our tickets aint worth a shit THERE JUST INVOICES AND THEY BULLIE YOU TO PAY JUST GOOGLE IT AND YOU ALL SEE

  14. Sybs

    Most supermarkets only allow 2 hours free parking, so whats your problem, organise yourself better and spend less time in a supermarket, or do the shopping and let you wife and child stay home

  15. Martin Kelly

    Why should you get special treatment. You didn’t pay attention. You got caught. Take it like a man. Anyway, it’s Britannia parking not Waitrose.

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