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.