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Online presence boosts companies, survey finds

Category : Business

Two-thirds of online businesses questioned said they were optimistic about their growth prospects for the coming year

Companies with a strong online presence are performing substantially better than the overall economy despite the current difficult consumer environment.

In a survey of more than 300 online businesses conducted for Barclays, the average business reported 11.4% compound annual growth over the past three years. During the same period the UK economy grew by just 0.2%, said the bank.

Given this strong growth, it is unsurprising that nearly two-thirds of the businesses questioned said they were optimistic about their growth prospects for the coming year. Perhaps not so obviously, 48% were positive about the UK economy in general.

Sean Duffy, managing director and head of technology, media and telecoms at Barclays, said: “Online businesses have bucked the trend over the last three years and experienced success in spite of the stagnant economic conditions. The next challenge for companies operating online is sustaining this level of growth and ensuring that they take advantage of new and rising trends. We are advising our online clients to become mobile-ready, as it’s a significant opportunity, particularly with the imminent roll out of 4G networks across the UK due to make mobile browsing easier for more and more consumers.”

But many companies do not yet appear to have a mobile strategy. The survey showed 89% of online businesses had not yet developed their website for mobile devices.

Meanwhile the continuing rise of internet shopping has helped John Lewis reach £1bn of online sales a year ahead of schedule, and the retailer has invested nearly £40m in designing a new website to help boost future growth.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: “With sales up over 40% for in 2012, we are seeing an unprecedented pace of online growth and customers are making more demands on our website, than ever before.”

The news comes as a report from marketing group Tradedoubler suggested that footfall – the number of people entering shops – was no longer a reliable measure of retail business. It said 60% of customers used smartphones while out shopping, with three-quarters looking up information on products in the store, 70% checking for a better price elsewhere and 60% going home to buy the product on line.

Customers are increasingly seeking out loyalty and reward schemes, as well as voucher codes and coupons, said Tradedoubler.

Car hire firms criticised over costs

Category : Business, World News

Consumer association Which? says many car hire companies are confusing their customers with “sneaky charges”.

Continued here: Car hire firms criticised over costs

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Santander might compensate 30,000

Category : Business, World News

Santander, the country’s second biggest mortgage provider, says 30,000 former Abbey customers may be due compensation, after errors made in 2008.

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Clearer phone charges ‘on the way’

Category : World News

Customers who use phone numbers beginning with 08, 09 or 118 should in future have a much clearer idea of how much their calls will cost, Ofcom says.

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Lloyds online banking hits problems

Category : Business, World News

Customers of Lloyds Banking Group have been facing problems logging on to online banking, but the bank says the issue is now resolved.

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VIDEO: Supermarket brands ‘causing confusion’

Category : Business

Some supermarket own-brands are so similar in looks to some household names, they are confusing customers, according to consumer group Which?

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VIDEO: Banks ‘not handling complaints well’

Category : Business

One-fifth of complaints to banks about current accounts are not being cleared up to the satisfaction of customers, according to consumer group Which?

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Bank complaint handling criticised

Category : Business

One-fifth of complaints to banks about current accounts are not being cleared up to the satisfaction of customers, according to consumer group Which?

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Post Office to launch ‘value for money’ current account

Category : Business

It’s a surprise move, but what will this new account offer customers?

The battle for your current account is set to heat up after Post Office announced plans to enter the market over the coming weeks. No details of the account are available yet, but it stressed it would be offering “value for money”.

Nick Kennett, director of financial services at Post Office, said: “We have carried out extensive research and the findings tell us that customers want simplicity, transparency and good value for money.

“With more than 11,500 branches, which is more than all the UK banks combined, we can provide this through the most convenient and accessible retail network in the UK.”

The account will initially be launched in a small number of branches, before a wider roll-out next year, and would-be customers can register their interest online at

The move is a return to current account banking by Post Office, which was the home of the state-owned Girobank for two decades until its sale to Alliance & Leicester building society in 1990.

At its peak, Girobank received one in every three pounds deposited in cash at British banks, and at the time of its sale it was the sixth biggest provider of current accounts in the UK. The Girobank name was eventually phased out in 2003, by which time Alliance & Leicester had demutualised.

Since then, Post Office has allowed other high street banks to operate services through its counters. A spokesman for Post Office said: “We have a very good working relationship with our partner banks and we have notified them of our intention to launch a current account. We don’t anticipate any changes.”

Kevin Mountford, head of banking at comparison website MoneySupermarket, said the announcement had taken the industry by surprise, with most people expecting either Tesco or Virgin Money to be the next big player to enter the market.

Mountford said the timing was good for Post Office, as anti-bank sentiment is creating an appetite for challenger brands, while the introduction of seven-day switching later in the year will give people more confidence about moving their accounts.

“The question is, what product will it go for? Will it be rate led with high in-credit interest or low overdraft interest; service led like Metro bank, for example; or will it offer some kind of incentive like £100 to switch?” asks Mountford.

It is also unclear whether it will be a paid-for account. Mountford suggests Post Office could go down that path, offering enhanced deals on some of its existing services in return, for example, for better rates on savings or foreign currency exchange.

Andrew Hagger of MoneyComms says there was a lot of excitement last year when Marks & Spencer said it was launching current accounts, but enthusiasm waned when it emerged it would charge £15 or £20 a month.

However, competition is growing in the market, in the run up to the changes in September which will force providers to complete switches within seven days, and offer a guarantee that customers will not suffer if there are any errors.

This week, Nationwide building society has been heavily promoting its current accounts, with huge adverts for FlexDirect in many newspapers. The account offers 5% AER on in-credit balances up to £2,500, payable for a year, and is one of three separate deals offered by the society as it attempts to win 10% of the current account market.

Santander has enhanced its 123 Current Account in recent weeks by giving holders access to a cash Isa paying 3%, while First Direct is still offering switchers £100, and Halifax has a £50 incentive and fee-free overdraft deal.

The eventual arrival of Tesco and Virgin Money is likely to shake things up further. Asked about the timing of its launch, a spokesman for Tesco Bank says: “As we have said for some time, we will develop the right current account proposition for Tesco customers and will enter the market once the seven-day switching service is established.”