Friday, February 09, 2007

Careers, critsits and kitchens

I've had a rather hectic start to the new year.

Firstly, I've started a new role in IBM. I am now a Technical Sales Specialist for IBM WebSphere, with a focus on Financial Services companies in the UK.

I had been looking for an opportunity to reduce my international travel, build longer-term relationships with clients (my previous role saw me seeing lots of clients typically for short periods of time) and specialise in an industry area.  The FSS Tech Sales role looked like a good fit. So I've now made the jump from consultancy and am furiously trying to get my head around what it is I'm supposed to be doing and how to do it :-)

One of my short term objectives upon joining the new team was to get to know as many of them as possible (both my direct colleagues and my sales counterparts). I needn't have worried: within days of starting the role, I was asked to assist with a problem a client was having.

After an unbroken stretch of about ten days, consisting of three calls a day with the client and even more with IBMers in between the client ones, I think I succeeded in my aim of getting to know a lot of people... 

I'm still keeping an eye on the situation but, so far, things appear to be moving in the right direction.

And if that's not enough excuses for failing to update my blog, there has been the extra-curricular activity of getting a kitchen designed and scheduled. Between calls with plumbers, letters to building control, requests to the management company and legal discussions to confirm paying for some of it on credit card will mean Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act* will give us some protection if the kitchen provider screws us around, I'm surprised I've had time to sleep...

* It's a fantastic piece of legislation (when viewed in isolation and when you don't worry about the chilling effect it must have overall!): if the supplier breaches the contract, the credit card company shares liability for the full purchase price even if you only paid for part of it on the credit card. The economist in me worries that the scope of this law may well be why things cost so much in Britain - the law is almost like an insurance policy... and insurance costs money - but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth: I hope I will not need to rely on it but, when spending so much money on a new kitchen, knowing that this protection is there is comforting.

9 comments:

GEB said...

Glad to hear your kitchen plans are continuing apace.Let's see how it will all look sometime.

Andrew Ferrier said...

My feeling about the Credit Act is exactly the same as you; it's great as a consumer (and is the main reason I spend on credit card), but I do worry it inflates prices. The strict liberal in me doesn't like it, the pragmatic me does :)

Richard Brown said...

Thanks Andrew.

On the inflation point, it's very interesting: would the law's effect on inflation be dependent on the degree to which retailers were aware of it and its implications?

Whenever I've used it (and the Sale of Goods act - e.g. to get a repair done for free outside of the "warranty" period), the staff have been sufficiently unaware of the rules to make me think not many people (either retailer or consumer) know about them.

In which case, it may well be the case that goods are mispriced (i.e. are too cheap) because retailers are failing to account for the costs that such laws really impose on them...

Ben said...

why things cost so much in Britain

I wonder how much this is caused by the pound sterling being more valuable than most other currencies, in particular the US dollar and the euro; in theory this shouldn't make any difference but I can imagine an effect from various conversions being rounded up (not in the consumer's favour).

I expect there are other factors such as high fuel and property prices.

It is clear that in at least one case there is no good reason why goods couldn't be sold cheaper by importing. See Tesco v Levi: there are several apropriate uses for trademark laws but price fixing should not be one of them.

In which case, it may well be the case that goods are mispriced (i.e. are too cheap) because retailers are failing to account for the costs that such laws really impose on them...

If people don't know about the Sale of Goods Act, they won't claim against it. Perhaps the law imposes a lower cost than it potentially could; so the goods may not be mispriced, but the prices would go up if people started to use it much more.

Richard Brown said...

Would a strong pound not make things cheaper? (i.e. a pound buys more units of foreign currency when strong and we therefore have to give foreign companies fewer pounds in exchange for their goods?)

Ben said...

I'm ignoring the variation in currency over time and just considering the effect of the exchange rates themselves. Traders are notorious for practices such as "let's just change the dollar sign to a pound sign" or "that conversion is messy so let's round up in our favour" (e.g., Eurozone conversion, when there were fixed exchange rates and complaints about unfair pricing). Since a pound is relatively large, I would suggest that this effect is likely to make a bigger difference than for a smaller currency (e.g., Canadian dollar).

But if you consider variable exchange rates, the pound getting stronger might also make things worse for the consumer. If this happens, a vendor is unlikely to lower the price of something they just imported (which is reasonable because the pound might get weaker again, or they might have paid the manufacturer in sterling); so they make a greater profit at the expense of the manufacturer and/or the consumer (depending on why the exchange rate changed and how you look at it, but the consumer doesn't benefit in either case).

Richard Brown said...

"But if you consider variable exchange rates, the pound getting stronger might also make things worse for the consumer. If this happens, a vendor is unlikely to lower the price of something they just imported (which is reasonable because the pound might get weaker again, or they might have paid the manufacturer in sterling); so they make a greater profit at the expense of the manufacturer and/or the consumer (depending on why the exchange rate changed and how you look at it, but the consumer doesn't benefit in either case)."

But does that not ignore the effect of competition. If a vendor could get away with charging a higher price when exchange rates change, what stops them from getting away with it more generally?

Ben said...

Vendors will only lower their prices through competition if they have to, which might take time. Remember, it took something like ten years for CD prices to come down, and only then after a regulatory investigation and competition from supermarkets and web sites (rather than between the high street music stores).

If the manufacturer can set the prices for a region (again, Levi or Microsoft in the UK) or restrict supply then there may be no real competition.

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