WH Smith scraps 'honesty boxes' because of misuse

WH Smith figures

Newsagent WH Smith is getting rid of a third of its honesty boxes, saying the British public simply isn't honest enough.

Following the lead of the US, where newspapers are frequently sold from vending machines, the company installed the boxes in around 60 railway stations and airports. In an earlier trial at two locations, the company had found that the honesty boxes shortened queues and increased sales - with no increase in theft.

Now, though, the company is removing a third of the boxes, complaining that customers have been filling them with rubbish, chewing gum and foreign coins instead of the correct money. One sales assistant told the Sunday People: "They are more like dishonesty boxes."

Research shows that there's huge variation in the public response to honesty boxes. In 2006, a team from Newcastle University found that people put in nearly three times as much money for their tea and coffee when the box featured a picture of a pair of eyes, as opposed to a picture of flowers.

"I was really surprised by how big the effect was as we were expecting it to be quite subtle, but the statistics show that the eyes had a strong effect on our tea and coffee drinkers," commented lead researcher Dr Melissa Bateson.

"Our findings suggest that people are less likely to be selfish if they feel they are being watched, which has huge implications for real life."

Similarly, an experiment carried out for Ikea last year found that people paid 20 percent more for a cuddly toy if they thought they were being watched. Unsurprisingly, people gave more when told that part of the proceeds went to charity; but they were also more generous at the end of the day, paying almost 40 percent more than in the morning.

It's a principle that's been adopted by several police forces, which use cardboard cut-outs of police officers in supermarkets and shopping centres in an effort to cut shoplifting.

WH Smith, too, believes that people may be more honest if they believe they're being watched, and says it is considering reinstating the honesty boxes in "a more visible area of the store".

10 consumer rights you should know
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WH Smith scraps 'honesty boxes' because of misuse

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.


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