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Friday, 23 November 2012

I Fought the System and Won 8-)

Apologies for the length of this blog, but all will become clear as you read on.

I have recently heard good reports about the German Supermarket chain Aldi  in the media, from friends and understand that they have been awarded the accolade of “Best Supermarket 2012” by the consumer magazine Which? My interest was increased by their television advertising campaign.

Therefore on Sunday 14th October Mrs T-E and I decided to visit our nearest store in East Grinstead, West Sussex. In fact the visit to the store was the sole reason for making the trip to East Grinstead, which is approximately 9 miles from our home.

On our arrival at the store we spent a little time waiting for a parking space but it was nothing excessive, perhaps about 3 minutes. A cursory glance around the car park indicated that it was a private car park for the use of customers of the store only, which is quite fair and as there were no signs to indicate that it was anything other than free to customers, we entered the store.

The store itself seemed quite logically laid out and it being our first visit, we took our time to carefully evaluate the extensive product range. From our knowledge of rival supermarket chains we tried our best to make comparisons on price, quantity and quality of the various products that were on offer. We noted that with careful selection it was possible to plan entire meals for the following week and make considerable savings over similar products from other well known supermarkets that we would usually visit. After we spent quite a while browsing and carefully selecting what we wanted, we were very pleased with the overall cost of the products at the till.

Once we had tried the various food stuffs that we had purchased we were very impressed with the overall quality and enjoyed the significant savings we had made. Despite the 18 mile or so round trip to East Grinstead, we had decided that it would make financial sense to make regular return visits to the store. We had planned to return there in early November to make a more substantial purchase, which would keep us suitably stocked up for the month.

On 24th October 2012 I unexpectedly received a “Parking Charge Notice” from a company called Parking Eye, who appear to be employed by Aldi on a contract basis to manage their East Grinstead stores car park. They claim that our car was parked in their car park for 1 hour & 43 minutes on Sunday 14th October 2012, The letter went on to say that I was only entitle to use the car park for 1 hour & 30 minutes and Demanded that I pay a fee of £70 for the extra 13 minutes of parking. This equates to £5.38 per minute. Quite frankly I was absolutely livid about this outrageous charge. It is quite usual for supermarkets to apply a 2 hour limit for parking at their stores, some even charge for this at about £1. However, I feel that 1 hour & 30 minutes is just not long enough to properly shop for the items that we may require.

I kind of lost my cool at that point and vowed to complain in the strongest terms and this is exactly what I did. I wrote a long drawn out letter of complaint to Aldi’s head office in Warwickshire and the manager of the store concerned. In it I pointed out just how annoyed and disappointed I was with being treated like this. In addition to those letters I also wrote to Which? Magazine, BBC Watchdog, my MP and the MP for Mid-Sussex. I was going to write to the local press, but in the end I didn’t get time.

In the meantime I decided it would be wise to pay the reduced fee that they offered me. That way I could take as long as I liked to give them as much grief as possible.

Last Friday I had a response from Aldi’s Parking Eye Assist in Swindon. He apologised for my misfortune and told me that he had “Instructed” Parking Eye to give me a full refund. The following day I had a letter Direct from Parking Eye confirming that and yesterday my refund cheque arrived. What a result.

I was totally shocked by just how easily and quick this whole process was. However, I truly believe that if Parking Eye hadn’t been told to give me a refund by Aldi, I would probably still be fighting with them next June!

The morale of this story is that a reasoned, polite and targeted letter of complaint could well get a swift resolution to such problems. I am now very glad that I didn’t just take it on the chin and roll over. In fact it has spurred me on to be more forceful and stand up against injustice in the future.

Tomorrow I shall be writing to Shimon Peres of Israel and Ismail Haneya of Hamas to arrange a peace deal between the two.


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