A Complaint to Maplin

I’ve not blogged much lately. It’s because in the last couple of months me and my girlfriend have moved house. And even though there’s nothing majorly wrong with the house we’ve moved into, there are more niggles than I’d expected.

When we moved in, there was no Internet (or phone line). We couldn’t just reconnect the cable broadband that was here already, because we were half way through a contract with another provider. So we had to wait while a whole new line was installed and our old service transferred, or else pay a nearly-£100 disconnection fee. There isn’t a room in the building where we could get a reliable radio (DAB or FM) reception, so after a lot of mucking about, we gave up and just listen online (once the Internet was back on).

And then there was the issue with TV. The previous people who lived here had cable TV in the living room. Because of that, there wasn’t a TV aerial point anywhere downstairs. But there was an aerial in the loft, connected to the upstairs rooms. Easy fix, no? Just run a longer cable downstairs, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you. But with no Internet access, I was forced to use physical shops for my purchases. So here goes. This is the email I’ve just sent to Maplin, that I thought I’d share with you.

“Dear Maplin,

I recently moved house. And in doing so, needed some coax cable to go between a TV aerial and my Freeview recorder. About 18m worth.
I had tried running a spare piece I had, which seemed to pick up interference en route and lose enough signal that the picture wasn’t watchable (a shorter, different cable was fine).

As I had no broadband or phone line installed, I broke with my usual tradition, and went to an actual shop to try and buy some of better quality.
I tried Argos, and they had a very poor quality aerial extension kit. They had no other coax options that suited my requirements.

So then I came to you. Maplin is after all, supposed to be a specialist of sorts.
I asked for help in your store, to be shown a 25m aerial extension kit (this one: http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/tvfm-extension-kit-25m-tb77j ). I declined this, as the product is way overpriced. It is identical to the rubbish that is currently for sale in Argos. It’s very thin cable, with very cheap plastic connectors. You charge 21.99, Argos charge 9.99 (see: http://www.argos.co.uk/static/Product/partNumber/1083514.htm ).

There were other kits, including ones designed for satellite TV. I enquired about these (more expensive) kits, but was told they would not work with Freeview.

I was then shown cut cable options. There was a choice, one of which was described as “low-loss” coax cable, priced at 1.19/metre, and I was advised, good for TV.
I asked about the others but was told anything described as digital or satellite, would not work with Freeview.
I was told you sell the low-loss coax regularly, even to TV installers, and nobody has ever complained.
So just so you have one on record, this is me complaining.
This cable is not only poor quality, but it’s also just as overpriced as your extension kits.
I bought 20 metres of this cable, and after connecting it up, discovered it had the same problem with interference and loss of signal as my original rubbish cable.

I tried to return the cable, but was told you won’t refund cut-cable, even if your own staff have given poor advice to encourage me to buy it in the first place.

I went to a cafe to use their Internet and do some proper research, and here are my findings:

  1. Low-loss coax is rubbish. It’s not recommended, by anyone, for anything more technically complicated than being used as a washing line. It’s some of the worst coax you can buy. You are selling this for 1.19/metre, but it’s essentially the same as what Wilkinson were selling in their stores for 29p/metre, and is available online even cheaper.
  2. Every website dedicated to TV, satellite, or radio signals, recommends that satellite-grade cable is the best. For everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re connecting it to Freeview, satellite, or using it for FM radio. It’s designed for satellite which has the highest requirements in terms of quality, so is very suitable with Freeview. You might want to train your staff about this.
  3. As a specific quality standard of cable, pretty much every website recommends something called Webro WF100 for TV or satellite installations. This is what I bought from somewhere else, connected up, and it works fine. This is something you sell on your website for 49p/metre (see: http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/webro-foam-100-wf100-coax-cable-black-priced-per-metre-a42ra ) – less than half the price I paid for a worse quality of cable, because I was advised to, by a member of your staff. Why is Maplin selling (and recommending) that people pay more than twice the price for a worse product? I’d be less annoyed if you’d been charging 1.19/metre for the Webro. At least than I might have overpaid massively, but would have ended up with a solution to my problem at the end of it.

It’s for this reason that I won’t be shopping with you again. The only reason why anyone pays more to buy in a physical shop is because of things like convenience, customer service, or advice. But where’s the convenience if I have to google my problems afterwards anyway? And can I really trust your advice, given you’re quite willing to take my money and charge me more than 3x the going rate for a poor quality product? I might as well buy my things from Amazon/eBay at half the price if I have to take my chances on the quality.

Regards,

Ben”

(The bolding is for website emphasis only. It isn’t in the email I sent.)

Whether they will reply with anything other than a diplomatic apology remains to be seen. I’ll see what they say. I’ve not named the advisor who ‘helped’ me because it is unlikely to be their fault. If they’ve been trained that satellite cable won’t work with Freeview, or to sell a more expensive yet worse quality of cable, then it’s hardly their fault.

What the hell are Maplin playing at though? Why do they even sell low-loss coax? And why at such a higher price than the better quality cable.

When I could beg, borrow or steal an Internet connection (and had overran my mobile monthly allowance, topped it up, overran it again), the two most helpful sites regarding TV and radio signals were:

http://www.satcure.co.uk – predominantly about satellite, but covers some other things.

and

http://www.aerialsandtv.com – great all-rounder, about TV and aerials. Also covers some FM radio/DAB stuff.

They also cover things like how to improve a low quality signal, and whether those aerial amplifier things are a good idea (often not). I have since bought from both of these companies, and can’t fault either. Great quality products from both.

Update: 13 Nov 2014 – 15:28.

About an hour after I sent the email, I had a very prompt reply from Maplin, to say this:

“Dear Mr Park

Thank you for contacting Maplin Electronics.

I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the service you have received in one of our stores.

Unfortunately you have been incorrectly advised and you are correct in believing that satellite cable will work with Free-view. Please can you advise me which shop you went to and I will feed your complaint back to the regional manager for the area.

I am unable to comment on the prices as these are set by our product managers and they have to take into account various factors when setting prices.

Please can you supply me with your receipt and I will be happy to refund the original cable that you bought as this should have been accepted by the store.

I am sorry for any inconvenience this has caused to you.

Regards,

[Their name]”

Now me being a geek, and somewhat interested in consumer affairs, not only have I kept the receipt, but when I attempted to return the cable originally, I actually recorded the whole thing on a hidden microphone. Here’s the transcript from that conversation:

“Me: Hello.. umm..I bought this cable yesterday, err..from here. And I’m not very happy with it.
Them: OK
Me: Umm..so my problem is. That all I’ve done is..so, it’s a length of cable. All I’ve done is put a plug on each end. The quality at one end, if I plug that end straight into like, a Freeview box, I get, like, nearly 100%. In the 90’s. When it gets to the other end of the cable, it’s sort-of..50-something.
Them: Yeah it’s cause of the length of the cable.
Me: But I did ask, I said I was running…I asked your advice..not YOUR advice, but I asked your *gestures to colleagues in general* – I asked your advice yesterday and I said I’m running it – this is going to be one continuous length of cable. Umm, I was offered err..an extension kit you had down there *points*, and I said it wasn’t really working. I had a cable like that, but it was getting interference, umm, so..
Them: OK, so the only issue we’ve got is obviously it’s low-loss cable anyway, our coax is low-loss, so opposed to getting some really cheap cable from elsewhere, which will have, no signal, umm it also means that what signal you’re currently getting….so obviously you said you got about 100% one end, where it goes through..
Me: Not quite 100, but you know what I mean. High, very high.
Them: So it will start to get lost through the length of the cable. The only way around it is to get a booster, unfortunately.
Me: See, I don’t think it’s THAT long a cable. I did some googling, and it’s not that long. Like even across the sort of lengths that I’ve seen. People suggest that after about 30 metres, you get like, half. Umm, but I’m sort-of losing that, sort of..
Then: Yeah, well it all depends on your original signal, though, so when people say like, “oh yeah I didn’t lose any signal” or “I lost loads”, that’s all their personal experiences unfortunately. That’s why they make systems involving amplifiers and everything else because not everyone’s aerial’s the same, because we’re all living in different ranges.
Me: Yeah
Them: It’s fine to have the best aerial in the world, but if you live in Barton Hill, you’re going to have as much reception as what you’ve got at the end of a little basic aerial.
Me: *laughs* Well I’m really close to the transmitter as well, so..what would be my options at this point? I don’t really want a booster.
Them: Yep. Umm. There’s not really another way round it unfortunately, you know, it is low-loss cable, so it is the higher quality. You can get even higher quality, but it’s something that’s very expensive. I don’t think, with the length of the cable you’ve got there, you’re really going to see the benefit. You’d HAVE to get a booster. Or ignore your aerial altogether and get an indoor aerial, and try that..
Me: I’ve tried it. They’re useless. I’ve never had any luck with those. Umm. In which case, can I have a refund on the cable?
Them: We don’t unfortunately because it’s cut cable.
Me: So you can’t do refunds on cut cable?
Them: No, cause it’s umm..
Me: In which case, can I have an address to make a complaint to?
Them: Yes, of course you can sir……….would you like the email address as well sir?
Me: Yeah, why not.
Them: So thats the contact number for them. you might be better off going through the email rather than the po box, cause you never know with the response time on there.
Me: Alright, OK. Thank you.”

A few things to note regarding that conversation:

  • Yes I umm and err a bit when I’m nervous. I do not like complaining in person.
  • I am less than 2 miles from the TV transmitter. I can see it clearly from any of the windows at the back of my house. I am not living in Barton Hill, and have no knowledge of what the TV signal for Barton Hill’s residents might be like.
  • Internal aerials are ALWAYS shit. The only time I’ve got any signal on one at all was when I lived at the top of a hill, and it was tied to the curtain pole near the ceiling. And then, the signal was..average, but just about watchable.
  • If my reading of information online is correct, those boosters are designed to go the other end of the cable, to boost a signal you are redistributing elsewhere. If you put it the other end now, which has a shit signal, you’ve still got a shit signal. If I put it the end with the aerial, I’ve got a good signal, boosted to…a good signal? I don’t think it would solve my problem, but radio/TV transmissions are slightly a dark art, so you never know. In some cases they actually make the problem worse, if you read the information on those two links I provided above.
  • It is not worth trusting the reading on Freeview boxes. I can tell you that different brands, makes, etc. give different figures, for the same aerial and cable. Regardless, the TV was watchable at the aerial end (balanced underneath the loft hatch), and a lot of break up and cutting out at the other (in the living room). With the Webro WF100 cable, no such problems over the full length.
  • I don’t think Maplin’s customer service team have any more of an idea of what “low-loss coax” is, than I did at the time I bought it. They still think low-loss is a good thing, and that “really cheap” cable would be worse. It’s not. It’s exactly the same, as low-loss coax is the really cheap stuff. Marked up at three times the price it should be. Low-loss coax is coax not good enough to be given a quality standard.
  • 18-20m is not THAT long a cable length. Just think how far it is from your TV aerial (usually on the roof, possibly stuck on the top of a chimney), across the roof, down, and back into the living room. And that’s not a loosely-laid affair. It’s going round corners, being tacked along wall edges, to try and hide it. I’d be surprised if the average was much less. I say 18-20m because my current run is 20m of cable, then cut shorter. I probably did end up a couple of metres left over.

I replied to Maplin:

“Hi [their name],
The store I used was [store], Bristol. I’ve attached the receipt for the purchase.

I did try and get a refund the day after I bought it, but was told that there would be no refunds on cut cable.

First they blamed the length of the cable (I did explain I was using it as one continuous length at the time of purchase, so I’m not sure that’s an excuse, whether it’s true or not), then they reiterated several times that it was already “low-loss”.
They said: “it is low-loss cable, so it is the higher quality, you can get even higher quality, but it’s something that’s very expensive. I don’t think, with the length of the cable you’ve got there, you’re really going to see the benefit. You’d HAVE to get a booster” and then gestured me towards some of your signal amplifiers.

I don’t think the staff in that store have any more of an idea of what “low loss coax” is than I did at the time of purchase. It sounds good, doesn’t it. But low = lower than what? As you don’t sell a high-loss coax, there’s no measurable way to prove it’s any good at all. Low-loss, in cable terms, might well be the highest loss coax there is, but less than if there was, say, a break in the middle of it.
I’m still confused as to why higher quality cable (sold by you) is actually cheaper than the worse stuff. And in fact, why you sell the low-loss coax at all. Why not sell just the higher quality stuff? Is there really anyone who wouldn’t want the highest quality?

When I said I didn’t want a booster (which, if my knowledge garnered from this subject online is correct, would have made no difference whatsoever anyway, as it’s designed for redistributing a signal..it’s meant to go the other end (where I already had minimal signal), not the end with the aerial (which did have good signal anyway)).
And then they said the only other option would be an internal aerial. And let’s be honest – have those things ever worked? I’ve never had any luck with any of them, except when I lived on the top of a hill and connected it to the ceiling. And even then, the signal was poor compared to the roof aerial.

Thanks for your prompt reply,

Ben”

Update – 18:21

“Dear Mr Park

I have passed your complaint onto the regional manager and asked him to investigate this for you then let me have his feed back. Once I get a reply I will be in contact again with his findings.”

to which I replied:

“Thanks. I will be intrigued to hear the results.”

to which they replied:

“Dear Mr Park

Thank you for the details, I have refunded the cable back to your [credit card] and it should show up in 3-5 working days. Please dispose of the cable as you wish as we don’t need it returning.

I will be back in touch soon.”

Gladly.

I’ll add an update if I get any regarding this. At least they’ve admitted the advice they gave was wrong, and given me a refund, despite telling me in store they wouldn’t. I probably still won’t shop there again though, unless I definitely know exactly what product I want AND I’m in too much of a hurry to wait for the Internet to deliver it.

A lot of the products are still very expensive for what they are, especially considering a lot of the things they sell are unbranded/unknown-branded products, where you have to take a punt on the quality.

Update – 19 November 2014 – 10:53

“Dear Mr Park

I have had a reply from the regional manager regarding your complaint. He wishes me to pass on his apologies for the bad customer service that you have received in store. He has assured me that he has had words with the store staff and has advised me that training on our procedures will take place.

I am sorry for any inconvenience this has caused to you and thank you for your patience.”

It’s nice to see a company admit when it’s wrong and apologise. I don’t seriously think one complaint is going to result in them retraining their staff and I still think it’s ludicrous they’re making very little profit on the good quality cable (similar to online costs) and selling the cheap stuff at a ludicrously high markup, but there you go. At least I got my refund.

  • Basiclife1

    I’ve just ordered enough monitors and cabling to kit out 6 machines with 3 monitors each online. I realised I was missing 2 Display port to HDMI converters and decided that instead of waiting on a delivery, I’d try going into Maplin.

    They wanted to charge me £20.99 for a converter I can buy at kenable online for £1.49. To top it off, they only had one so offered me a DisplayPort-DVI and DVI-HDMI converter (Total price ~£35).

    The markup is ridiculous and the staff had very little knowledge about the tech involved.

    Will not be going back, which is a shame – I remember when I used to get all my electronics from Maplin (and RS)

    • You’re right. I remember a time when they were all about these sort of connectors/adapters and components. Now they seem to only be competitive on select branded items, and the unusual stuff is marked up to the quite insane levels you’ve illustrated.