Monday, April 18, 2011

Bright and not so beautiful

The existence of the BrightHouse chain of stores goes some way to explaining why we're in so much trouble as a nation. The company describes itself as "the leading UK rent-to-own retailer, providing quality branded household goods on affordable weekly payments". What this means is that you can have your consumer durables now as long as you don't mind spending the next few years of your life paying through the nose for them. Let's take as our example a mid-range flat-screen television such as this Philips 32" LED set. If you have the cash or a credit card with the headroom to buy it, you can have it for a shade under £760. Or you can pay over 3 years at £7.01 a week, and it'll cost you a total of £1093.56. However, there's every chance that the item in question will be broken by the time you've finished paying for it, so, of course, you pay the extra 'optional service cover', which takes the total cost of that telly to nearly £1700.

The key phrase above is "if you have the cash or a credit card with the headroom". Nobody with either would go to BrightHouse (Obviously they're not loan sharks. Their name contains the reassuring words 'Bright' and 'House'. Shiny. Shiny. Nice. Not at all sharky.) unless they like pissing money up a wall. The company's whole business model is based on preying on the acquisitive poor, who are likely to get poorer and poorer if they keep supporting companies like BrightHouse. Interestingly, the company is an offshoot of what used to be known as Radio Rentals, from whom my grandparents rented a Baird TV (and later VCR) for about 30 years. In those days when TV sets were, by necessity, massive items of expenditure and the cathode ray tubes were notoriously capricious, renting made sense even if you were the sort of person who didn't hold with 'easy terms' for anything. Then is not now, though.

If you can get on without that state-of-the-art flat-screen set (and let's be clear, this is a case of want not need), you can have a lovely telly for 2/10 of sod all. There's Freecycle/Freegle for starters. Also, about 200 yards up the street here in Lowestoft, there's a giant British Heart Foundation charity shop selling second-hand furniture and electronics. They have a wall of widescreen CRT sets, all with 28" screens, for £45 a throw. Not £45 a month over 3 years. A perfectly serviceable TV for 15 pints of beer (or 10 at London prices), and you'll be saving a lot of plastic, metal and glass from going to landfill. OK, your spanking new flat-screen TV will be HD-capable, but how many HD programmes will you be watching on it? Even if you think that flat-panel TVs are better than CRTs (and the jury's out on that as far as I'm concerned), is the set in question 24.3 times better than the second-hand set from the charity shop? And even if you can make that leap of perception, is it really worth enslaving yourself to the likes of BrightHouse for years on end? If you can make the leaps of logic required to answer yes, you're buggered, and you deserve to be.


Nick said...

The APRs at Brighthouse seem less vicious that those of Mutual, which was my parents' weekly pay-at-home loan shark of choice when I was smaller, and still squats in town centre with its unimaginably ugly logo.

Of course back then even a widescreen CRT TV was a madman's dream, and I suppose Mutual was the place you went when you wanted to exchange the shame of accepting hand-me-downs for a different kind of more expensive shame. Although I suspect, looking back, that the burden of shame was lightened by the fact that the collection lady visited every house in the street on a Tuesday night and came away empty-handed from at least half.

Having just checked up on them (Mutual, not my parents - I checked up on them back in January), I was interested to find the following on their FAQ page:

"Q: Have you searched for Lones, Loanes or loaens?
A: Loanes, Lones, Loaens or even Loans. It doesn’t matter to us how you spell it. We can offer you credit."

And lo, on their Jobs page:

"Agents are trained to look for sales opportunities to develop their round, be it by selling a new plasma screen TV or issuing a loan for a customer to go away on holiday with."

I propose that Mutual and Brighthouse should be state-owned, and be the only legal method of purchasing luxury goods for anyone earning £50k plus.

King of Scurf said...

I was off sick recently and lucky enough to be watching daytime TV (oh for the golden years) when I came across the advert from Messrs. QuickQuid. Check out the APR at the bottome of the advert...

Yes, it really does say 2278%

Louis Barfe said...

Yes, that seems fairly typical of those payday advance companies. Of course, the APRs should be notional as nobody would use such outfits for long-term borrowing. Would they?

Matthew Rudd said...

That Quick Quid woman must be so embarrassed at that advert.

Louis Barfe said...

Yep. When I watched it and she started speaking, my first thought was 'Jesus, the lot who have a problem with the Radio Halifax ads ain't seen nothin' yet'.

Ian Fryer said...

Oh God I hate those cynical bastards at Brighthouse. Daytime TV used to be filled with one of their ads, promising 'No scarey forms to fill in'.

No, just scarey bills which you might not be able to afford, if Brighthouse don't bother with credit checks.

Westengland said...

"The company's whole business model is based on preying on the acquisitive poor". There's nothing new under the sun - are you old enough to know about HP (Hire Purcahse), especially in the days before serious consumer protection laws for everybody, including the poor, acquisitive or otherwise?

As you say, there are now, in most places, even down to ones like the small market town where I live, enough charity/ cheap shops or schemes that can provide most consumer goods that people can *reasonably* consider necessary. Some people can't use them properly because of the health reasons that make them poor but as for the other extreme: "You're buggered and you deserve to be", I'd rather not consider any form of sexual congress with those of my fellow paupers, thanks all the same.