Of saints, sinners and supermarkets

Last updated 10:53 26/12/2013

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OPINION: Editorial: Christmas brings out the good people, the people of kindness and generosity who give selflessly of their time and energy and wallets to bring joy to others. Unfortunately, Christmas also brings out the scum.

That category certainly encompasses the thieves of Nith St, who stole the backpacks and gear of a pair of European tourists on the eve of the holidays.

But some use Christmas to take advantage of others within the law.

On the same day and page as the Times reported those possible scammers, we reported the outrage, hurt and humiliation of people who had signed up with Christmas savings company Hampsta, expecting to use their accumulated credit for the big Christmas grocery shop, only to find at the checkout that they couldn't.

Hampsta dropped Countdown from its list of partners in late September, saying they had failed to agree on commercial terms. Unaccountably, Hamsta failed to inform customers of this, until someone tipped off the news media.

But even then, it seems, Hampsta kept quiet, and customers who didn't read the newspaper have now been caught out.

But why? Surely we are talking about a pretty simple transaction here. The customer presents the card, Hampsta pays the bill. What was there for Hampsta and Countdown to disagree about? And if terms had not been agreed, why was Countdown put on the list in the first place?

Instead Hampsta substituted Supermarket Online - an online-only retailer of dry and tinned goods.

A quick look at the retailer's website is revealing: Watties canned fruit sells there for $2.49. They were four for $5 at Countdown this week. Just Juice orange juice 3L was $6.99. Price at Countdown: $3.99. Nestle reduced cream $3.39. Countdown price $2.99. And as for the Christmas ham, the cherries, strawberries, sausages, cheese, salad greens, frozen peas and ice cream: Sorry, you're out of luck.

On top of that Supermarket Online charges $29.99 to deliver 25kg of groceries to Invercargill. It will take up to four days for the goods to arrive, or seven for a rural district.

Hampsta says that few people have complained. But all retailers know that if 10 people complain about something there will be at least a hundred more fuming silently.

They are not the only save-for-Christmas businesses.

Chrisco offers fixed-content hampers for which you save up through weekly contributions.

The reality is you often pay 30-50 per cent more for the Chrisco products than you would at your local shop. It currently offers a 5kg pack of pork loin chops for $104. You could buy the same at Countdown today for $89.95, for $74.95 at The Mad Butcher, or $69.95 at Woodlands Butchery.

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Two years ago Chrisco was fined $175,000 in the Manukau District Court for breaching the Fair Trading Act over its cancellation policy, under which you may only have received half your money back.

And then there is Mrs Christmas - which collapsed in 2009 leaving creditors owed $6 million, leaving 3500 customers in the lurch.

These services may be convenient for some. But in most cases they are a rip-off. And Christmas Eve surprises like that delivered by Hampsta are not the sort Santa would drop down your chimney.

Our advice: go to your bank and set up a dedicated savings account fed by an automatic payment. You will get paid interest on the money you put aside, instead of being charged a fee. And you can choose exactly how and where to spend the money come Christmas time.

- The Southland Times

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