More Musings on the Story of Stuff – Branding & Marketing

As I said yesterday, I’m currently reading this book:

Today, in the chapter on distribution I struck upon something horrifying. I guess I sort of knew this already, but seeing it in black and white is even more shocking. I’m sure we all know that most companies out there don’t actually make the stuff they sell, but they buy it in and have unknown manufacturers make it for them. We’ve seen this so much in the clothing industry where brands like H&M and Primark have clothes made up in India and take no responsibility for the working practices of those in their supply chain. This is all part of these companies plans to cut costs, basically by abdicating responsibility.

This efficiency driven, cost-cutting is pervasive. Companies don’t make the stuff they sell, they simply brand it. Apple don’t make computers, but they sure as heck have created a brand that people crave. H&M don’t make clothes, Nike doesn’t make trainers. They all simply buy the garments and items from producers, or the parts to assemble them and often not even from the same factory, but from multiple producers. It’s quite possible that one factory churns out the exact same product for multiple retailers.

So really, let’s face it – it’s often not the item we are buying, but we’ve been sold on the brand. The founder of Nike even admitted that the company once saw themselves as production oriented, but that they now understand their most important function is to market the product. So guess where they put all their money? Advertising. And often this advertising isn’t even for a specific product, it’s all about the image they want to associate with their brand. Nike aren’t selling your trainers, they are selling you a fashion statement that in this climate will probably be outdated in a mere 2 weeks!

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How to make gift cards work hard for you

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So, what do you do with all these gift cards you’ve been earning on Swagbucks or given for Christmas? Today I’m here to explain how to make them work harder for you. It’s tempting to hit the sales with them immediately after Christmas and before New Year, when the shops are pushing the fact that they have a sale big time. And whilst, if you really want a certain thing (especially something that’s bound to be popular) and want to be sure you don’t miss out, then that’s a good idea. Generally, it’s not – by this point in January most retailers are getting desperate to shift their old stock. We all know from the news, that retailers in the UK are generally having a very tough time out there and so, most of them have shed loads of stuff still left to shift.

By waiting until this point, and picking your day – you can hit retailers when they mark things down to 70%-75% off (or greater if you’re prepared to wait another week or so). This is when stuff becomes as cheap, or cheaper than buying it second hand in charity shops. So, take that stash of gift cards and hit the shops (but only if there’s stuff you really want or need).

Marks and Spencer went to 70% off in-store and online yesterday. I shopped both methods and found that the discounts were greater (nearer 80% in store, where they have shed loads of stock) and slightly less online (usually differing by between £1-£2). Mothercare have gone down to 75% off. Debenhams and H&M are at 70% off. You get the gist of it, most retailers will be dropping their prices now, on the stock that’s left. Just be aware that you have more rights when purchasing online, as they still have to give you 14 days to change your mind, under the distance selling regulations. Whereas, if you buy these items in-store – you’ll likely be told they’re non-returnable (unless faulty). This is certainly the case in M&S. So try things on, if they’re clothing or take the sizes you need with you, or a tape measure!

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Shop Around for Insurance!

I’ve written before about shopping around for insurance, and it’s that time of year for me again. There’s a part of me that hates it, well it is a bit of a chore. But the other part of me relishes the opportunity to save money! (Of course! Ha).

This year I couldn’t actually find any cheaper quotes for car insurance, but that didn’t stop me ringing up my current insurer and asking whether or not there would be any movement on my renewal price. I already knew their quote was £50 cheaper than anyone else, but they knocked a further £35 off! It just shows if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

So this is just a short post to encourage you to always ask for a better deal.

Lush Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

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I realised that in all my Lush posts, I didn’t actually have a picture of their solid shampoo and conditioner bars. So here they are – now you know what they actually look like. I find one of these lasts about a month for me, but I have very long, thick hair. My husband has short hair and I think he can make them last more like 6 months which is pretty awesome value! Pictured are the ones I use – Montelbano (the yellow shampoo bar) and Jungle (the green conditioner bar). Montelbano is full of lemons to add shine and Jungle has an exotic scent; also it is a very light conditioner so ideal for greasy hair. My husband uses Soak & Float which contains Cade Oil – designed to help with psoriasis,  dandruff and eczema. I also LOVE their BIG solid conditioner, which makes my hair seriously soft and shiny.

Lush now make the conditioner bars in an oval shape, so you can tell which is which, without looking. You can also buy little tins to transport them in, if you are travelling. I only have the round tins, as I bought them before they changed the shape. I cut down the conditioner to take it with me, as I don’t want to buy more. You should always allow them to air dry however, or they will go soggy. They do have a tendency to stick to the tin, so at home I store them on a wire soap rack.

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If you want to read more about ingredients and how to use them, you can go to the Lush website and they even have a video. We will never go back to buying shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles! These work so well, take up less space in our bathroom and  are fantastically compact for travelling. Plus, you can avoid any rules about taking liquids onboard.

Care to share your experiences with solid toiletries?

UK Shoppers Spend One Billion Pounds Less on Clothing

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Minimalism is hitting the UK, with Millennials spending in excess of One Billion Pounds less on clothing last year. With firms such as M&S, French Connection failing to turn a profit and High Street stalwart Jaegar going into administration – it really seems that the tide is beginning to turn. Fashion is just not in fashion any longer!

So what exactly are UK shoppers spending their money on instead? The answer is experiences. The High Street chains are now getting in on the act aiming to flood you with a choice of ‘shopping experiences’; with nail bars popping up in Superdrug. Mintel reports that people are spending much more money on going out and eating out. Retailers are looking for ways to encourage people to come into their physical stores, since the explosion of online shopping. Each is looking to create a unique shopping environment, to encourage you to part with your cash.

Next are planning to incorporate florists within their stores, along with upmarket restaurants and a Prosecco Bar. River Island has a style studio, complete with a personal shopper. They will whisk you into a VIP area, ply you with Prosecco and then you’ll get to try on lots of personally recommended products. Trainer retailer Superga has introduced artists into store, so that you can select a trainer and have the artist paint it for you. Topshop have employed virtual reality in their stores, to take things to a whole new dimension. Their Oxford Street store has recently had a virtual water slide installed which includes a virtual whale – the experience is called ‘Splash’! Along with pumping the smell of suncream into the air. It’s all to promote their swimwear range.

Oasis have ‘Saucer and Spritz’ cafes in some stores now; offering cake, champagne, cocktails, afternoon tea and Unicorn Toast (no I don’t know what that is either!?!) Activewear brand Sweaty Betty offers free in-store exercise classes. Beware though – obviously these brands still want to actually sell you stuff. These exercise classes will not only take place in-store, so everywhere you look, you will be exposed to temptation. But the instructors will not only be looking svelte and toned; they will of course be clad from head to toe in Sweaty Betty! These are the new lifestyle ambassadors, also put forward through online associations with lifestyle bloggers. All in a bid to help push their stuff.

What do you think of this change? I have mixed feelings about it because I know there is an underlying motive. However, it does at least encourage people to acquire less (in part anyway, depending on the store). I guess I’d just rather see people using their spare cash to more profitable ends, like building community and helping those in need.

Are you a Home Bargains shopper?

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No? You should be! My shopping habits have been revolutionised since they opened up a store near me. They sell everything from stationary, to groceries, toiletries, toys, cleaning products, hardware, home furnishings, pets and more!

One of regular purchases here is 4 packs of John West tuna chunks. They sell 3 varieties – in brine, in sunflower oil and in spring water. All are £2.79 for a 4 pack, that’s 67p per tin! The next cheapest I could buy is an economy, supermarket brand at around 80p per tin, although the price has come down recently and you can buy Asda Smartprice or Tesco Value for 65p per tin. However I don’t think the quality compares, as economy brands are usually grey mush and barely resemble a tuna steak. I rarely see John West for less than £4 in the supermarkets. The tuna is pink and meaty, definitely top quality!

I use a lot of mailing bags and tissue paper for sending eBay items. I used to buy my mailing bags at Wilko, as I found them the cheapest. Their A4 mailer bags x5 are £1.50 are and A3 x5 are £1.75. The same at Home Bargains are 49p for 6x A4 and 89p for 6x A3. They sell 10 large sheets of tissue paper in a rainbow of colours for 49p, the next cheapest I can find is at a local bargain store for 99p. There’s just no contest is there? You can see how the savings start to add up!

I regularly buy sweets and chocolate here, as they are so much cheaper than the High Street. They have a HUGE range! I also love my oatcakes and I can buy them for 65p per box here. Compare that even to Poundland, where surprise, surprise – they cost £1 a box! They have a huge range of cheap biscuits and top brands too. As someone who eats a gluten-free diet, I often spy gluten-free items in Home Bargains at a mere fraction of the supermarket cost. A while back they were selling Nutribix for 79p a box! They cost £3.79 a box in the supermarkets- they had a slightly shorter best before date of 1-2 months, but what does that matter when you’re going to eat it soon anyway?

I buy some of my toiletries here too, dental products are much cheaper than the high street and I always pick up big name toothpaste for £1 a tube, like Colgate, Sensodyne or Arm & Hammer. They often have bumper sized packs going for this price too.

Do you use Cif cream cleaner? They sell it here for £1 a bottle. You might find it for £2 in the supermarkets if you’re lucky and occasionally £1.50 a bottle at Wilko. But other than grabbing it from time to time, in Poundland – you won’t find it regularly, this cheap. They also sell Dri-Pak Soda Crystals at 65p for 1.5kg which is way cheaper than £1 a bag at Wilko. These have so many household uses and I’d never be without a bag.

In the pet section today, they had pet carriers for £20 and scratching towers for the same price. They are always cheaper for treats here, like Weebox sticks at 79p per pack, next cheapest is 99p in the supermarkets or Wilko.

I regularly pick up Sequin Art kits here for £6-£7 instead of the £15-£18 they are full price. I have had lovely hardback Disney notebooks for £1-£2. If you check out http://www.moneysavingexpert.com and look on the ‘Quick Grabbit’ forums, you will find a Home Bargains thread where members post the hottest deals. But I want to encourage you to go there anyway for your everyday basic items because they are much, much cheaper! Oh and be sure to come back and tell me what you’ve found 🙂

When being Zero Waste & Minimalist has to go out the window, temporarily.

I’ve experienced a sudden and unexpected period of ill-health this week and it is set to continue for a week or two more. I’ve suddenly encountered some of the pitfalls of the Zero Waste and Minimalist lifestyle.

  1. First up, although I cook everything from scratch – I instantly regretted the lack of more convenient meal options in my freezer. It’s not even that we would resort to ready-meals, but just a frozen pizza, or portions of Shepherd’s pie or similar would have been fantastic. OK, so often we would have portions of things stashed away. But it just so happened that we’d eaten things down since New Year, partly because I’d been ill then too and partly in preparation for our recent holiday. It had helped us save money too. My husband is not adept at cooking and unfortunately most of my recipes are kept in my head. I’ve been cooking from scratch for so long now, that I just know what to do, off by heart. A Minimalist freezer does not assist much in such circumstances!
  2. Thank goodness for internet shopping! This enabled me to get some easy-to cook options back in the freezer & cupboards quickly and without needing to rope in someone else to do my shopping. Downsides are that our shopping bill just about doubled, plus there’s the added expense of a delivery charge unless you’re going to spend a small fortune. Also a lot of these things are not just over-priced but also over-packaged. But, I am afraid needs must when it comes down to eating or not eating at all. Other annoyances include that despite requesting my shopping came with no bags, all the loose fruit & vegetables I’d chosen arrived in little plastic bags. Alongside all the meat items being individually enclosed in little plastic bags and then all the frozen items being put in a large carrier bag. I don’t understand why people do that! I mean, the containers they put meat in are pretty robust, I’ve never ever had one leak on me. And anyway, unfortunately everything else is also so well-packaged that’s there’s next to no reason to think anything would get contaminated. The frozen items wouldn’t have harmed anything else, if they had touched. It’s not as if a little wetness wouldn’t dry.  I had to rely on supermarket meat rather than a trip to a local butcher with my own containers. Supermarket meat is vastly inferior in taste and quality (and probably welfare too!)
  3. A family member kindly did buy us a few ready-meals as a very thoughtful gesture, seeing as they live too far away to help in person. I’m extremely grateful for them in my current situation, but it does generate a whole lot of plastic waste which we wouldn’t normally have.
  4. I’ve also had to buy medical supplies in an emergency which I had to send a family member to get. This meant that they ended up purchasing a plastic carrier bag because we really were caught out and they wanted to easily carry the items, plus maintain some privacy around the items that had to be purchased. Normally I’d always have a cloth bag to hand, but not when I’ve been rushed to A&E! Then I required a prescription which another family member went to get and it seems to be customary now to be handed your prescription in a little plastic carrier bag. I remember when they used to use paper! I’m sure they’ll say it’s for privacy reasons also. Cue – more unexpected expense, especially as you can’t always guarantee the best price when you’re buying things like this. But needs must!
  5. The medical supplies consequently generated more landfill waste as they are the type of disposable items, that involve some level of plastic and need to be changed and disposed of frequently.
  6. Currently, when I’d normally walk I’m having to take the car instead which also causes extra expense and pollution. I’m not able to do as much as I normally would which means my trips are also less efficient. But I know that all of this is only temporary and really, what else can you do in an unexpected, emergency situation? Life happens, but I still find it a little frustrating as it feels like all your best efforts can go out of the window so quickly.