The technological age, which has brought ever-increasing options for vendors and made research easier, is giving increased power to consumers.
It’s the power to say no and it’s the freedom consumers have to take their business elsewhere if they feel they can get a better deal.
I was reminded of this recently when two giants of the communications world, Bell Canada and Rogers, competed aggressively for my business.
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For years I had received my television delivered by cable from Rogers while giving my Internet and telephone business to Bell.
Then, during a dinner-table conversation, friends told me how satisfied they were with Bell’s new Fibe TV, which comes into their home wirelessly.
I don’t care how my TV is delivered. What matters to me is picture quality, reliability and, of course, price. So I began thinking whether I could save money by switching from Rogers to Bell as my TV supplier.
It turned out I could quite literally save a bundle. That is, a bundle of three services – Internet, phone and TV – all supplied by Bell.
In my case, the savings are close to $40 a month. The combined monthly cost of the three services was about $190, taxes included, when I received TV from Rogers and got Internet and phone from Bell. With all three services from Bell, my monthly cost should be about $152, taxes included.
With Rogers and Bell, the choice of TV programs is about the same. I have what Bell calls its Better package, which recently advertised a monthly price of $72.95, before tax.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Bell’s prices – for bundles or individual Internet, TV or phone service – are lower than Rogers’ prices.
What I am saying is this:
1. You should be able to save money by getting all three services – Internet, TV and phone – from the same supplier.
2. You should be able to save even more money by shopping around and threatening to take your business from one supplier to another unless you get a good deal.
In my case, I didn’t want to move my Internet business from Bell to Rogers because it would have meant changing my e-mail address.
Telecommunications companies make it very difficult – almost impossible, I would say – to compare prices of one with another. There are so many variables, so many discounts for this and that. And so many extra fees – installation and equipment rental charges, for example.
Buying these telecommunications services is rather like buying a new or used car; you have to negotiate, and you are never going to be sure you got the best possible price.
My dealings with Bell, before I accepted the three-service package, were bizarre. There’s no other word for it.
My friends had heard from a friend about a sales representative who would make a house call to explain what Bell offered. A nice young man named Derek visited our home. He explained that in order to get a price quote from Bell, I must first telephone the Bell office to place an order for the service. He assured me I could always cancel the order later, without penalty.
The female voice of the person at Bell sounded like the dreadful stereotype of a company telephone operator on the old TV show Laugh-In, if you go back that far.
It’s against my better judgment to order a product without even knowing the price. But my wife wanted me to do so. And I figured this is Bell Canada, not someone offering a deal on swampland in Florida.
It wasn’t easy telling Rogers I was taking my business elsewhere. Rogers has what it calls a retention department, where charming and persistent salespeople bend over backwards to make their customers happy. Especially, it seems, customers who want to walk away.
I was already getting what I believed was a substantial discount on my Rogers TV. I was offered a further discount of $10 a month. But this couldn’t match the savings I’ll be getting on my Bell phone and Internet, now that I’m getting TV from Bell as well.
I told the nice lady on the phone at Rogers that I might be back with my tail between my legs, if things don’t work out with Bell TV.
“We’ll welcome you with open arms,” she said.
That’s nice to know.
Michael Prentice is the OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.