Dec 17, 2008

Personal Observation : A Better Railway Service in England

A3 Speech, Rebecca Chou

Traveling by train probably is a common experience we all had before, and we all knew the origin of this transportation started from England because of the industrial revolution. As our railway company suffers from big losses, it would be a good idea to learn something from other countries. Since I have stayed in England for a while, I’d like to share my observation with you and hopefully provide another option to improve our service.


Besides the difference of territory and population, the Railway UK has three unique marketing strategies to attract customers.


First, they provide special offers to different groups of people. People aged over 60 are free to take any trains. For young people from 16 to 26 or full time students, there is a youth railcard for them. Once they spend 20 pounds for this card, they can buy tickets with only one third of the original price at anytime within a year. With a group of four people, the price will be paid for only two when you buy the round-way/return tickets. Traveling at off-peak time can save you money if you don’t belong to any of the above groups.


The best part is that if you buy tickets in advance, you can pay less. Early-bird discount is beyond your expectation. I decided to go to London last Christmas and the price of return ticket went up from 32 pounds to 59 pounds within one week. Of course I paid 59 so I learnt how to save money for following journeys. Normally the price is 24 pounds but when it’s bank or national holiday, the price will be higher because cheaper tickets are longer available. Because of this system, the railway company can make sure the capacity beforehand and make the best arrangement for all passengers especially when the number is increasing, more cars will be needed. This assures the efficiency of their service and reduces unnecessary cost, such as, ticket refund.


Second, they have online booking service accessible for everyone. You can book ticket at anytime you want. Our system is scheduled for two-week term and is opened only from 6am to 9pm everyday but they can buy tickets within six weeks from today at anytime, anywhere because the system will send the ticket to their houses. But we have to book the return ticket separately. They have to pay online but with one booking procedure, they can get return ticket. Let’s see the website now and I’ll show you how easy it works to book tickets online.

Choose your location and destination and then the preferred date and time. Don’t forget to book your ticket earlier to enjoy discount. Make sure the station names are correct otherwise you will go to somewhere you don’t want to go. For example, there are six zones in London so it’s better to find the closer one to save your time. After that, you will see different routes showing you can take direct train or take two or more than two transitions. It depends on your time allowance. Sometimes you will wait more than one hour for the next train. If you don’t want to be late, you need to check it very carefully.


Then, press a button “check fares” and it will show you the price. The more the transition stops, the less you have to pay. Press another one “go” and it leads you to the purchasing page. Log in your email address and password or register as a newcomer and give them your postcode and search for your address and it’s done. Just give them your credit card number then you can wait for your mail.


Third, they have strategic alliance with different industry offering a whole package of service. The Plusbus project gives you a chance to buy the railway tickets with an extra little money for the day pass bus ticket. If you go to London with a person, you can show the tickets and spend less for museum admission fee, delicious meal or theater ticket.


Taiwan Railway Company is facing strong competition with HSR and other public transportation; however, learning from other countries may be another solution. I don’t take trains very often in Taiwan but I definitely want to have more special offers as a customer. Therefore, it’s time for them to re-consider the pricing, booking system and promotional strategy.

Dec 2, 2008

Charity Shop: A New Shopping Paradise

A2 Speech, Rebecca Chou

Have you thought about shopping can help others? In Britain, there are different charity organizations opening its own shops to collect donations which are things people don’t need anymore and sell them to those who don’t want to spend that much money or to those who are willing to help others because most of the revenue goes to support their specific purposes but they all have the same motive, that is, to provide others a better life. I like shopping in charity shops because I will never know what I will get and I can help different people with my own little money.

Charity shops are a type of social enterprise. They usually sell mainly second-hand goods donated by the public, and are often staffed by volunteers. Because the items for sale are free, and business costs are low, the items can be sold at very low prices. After costs are paid, all remaining income from the sales is used for the organization's stated charitable purpose. Costs include maintenance, municipal service fees, water, electricity, telephone, limited advertising and the rent or mortgage.

Based on the time limit, I will focus on the benefits of charity shops and if you are interested in more details, you may take a look of the handout with the most popular charity shops. Below you will see some pictures of them.

......Charity shops can provide three benefits.

First, it is a good way of fundraising for social welfare organizations. They sell second hand things from books, clothing, CDs, to furniture, footwear, cookware, toys…Almost everything you need in daily life. So the shops do not have problem of cost and they can sell them in very low price to attract people who don’t want to spend too much. They have their target consumers and when it’s the credit crunch now, more and more people will be interested in used goods. According to an article of the Guardian on July 13, they said “charity shops benefit from crisis”. What I wear today is all from charity shops. And guess what? It’s just about 10 pounds only!! You can find good quality things with little money. We may find excuses for ourselves not donate money to the social welfare organizations but we can’t resist the stimulation of shopping. It’s human nature.


Charity shops benefit from crisis

Middle-class shoppers are pouncing on bargains in charity shops and searching for savings in value supermarkets as the credit crunch bites.

Oxfam reports a sharp rise in browsers in its 729 stores. 'We have had an improvement in footfall and sales in the last quarter, if not a little bit longer,' said its deputy trading director, Barney Tallack. He said that just as in the 1991 recession, customer numbers are increasing - but it is sometimes hard to get the stock, as hard-pressed consumers hang on to their old clothes for a little longer.

In another sign of tightening belts, Asda reports this weekend that a quarter of its sales growth in the past year has come from 'AB' shoppers - those in the top social classes. Chief executive Andy Bond said 'a tough economic climate means that more and more people are shopping for value'.

Tesco corporate and legal affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe said rising energy and food prices were also leading customers to stock up on home insulation, composters and gardening equipment, while sales of energy-saving light bulbs have quadrupled, with over 10 million sold.

Second, they build up a specific social network for customers and their staffs. They recruit volunteers to be the shop assistants and most of them are elderly or unemployed people, students or housewives. They have plenty of time to decorate the shop, arrange the donations, and the most important is to socialize with people. It’s a great opportunity for them to talk to people, get in touch with others and get feedbacks from the customers to build up their confidence or release the emptiness. Sometimes they can also help customers who are normally disadvantaged families or elderly people because some of them will come to the shop buying nothing but be very happy to talk to them as they don’t have anyone to listen to them. All the volunteers are very friendly saying “Morning, sweet heart” and actually sometimes they do become friends of customers.

The last, it helps to reduce and recycle the waste. People used to throw away things they don’t need anymore; however, some may create different value of those unwanted things. If you want to donate old furniture, they can collect it for free. So why not give them away to charity shops? You can make profit for the charity and help others and make the garbage disappear at the same time. Take myself as an example. Before going back home, I brought a single quilt, a bed sheet and a pair of boots to the shops in Barnstaple and let others to re-use them with a very low price without any waste or I would be worried about how to empty the garbage bin in the shared house.

It’s probably not easy for us to have this kind of shops in Taiwan as we already have flea markets. But at least it’s another option for our government to improve the distribution of social resource and for all the social welfare organizations to attain their annual target with more ease. Moreover, being a volunteer is also a kind of citizenship education. With fundraising ability and an opportunity to help ourselves and others and to reduce garbage, charity shops are somewhere you can’t miss and have the potential to be a new shopping paradise.