Ouch! It’s no fun to be on the receiving end of an attack by the Consumer Council or the South China Morning Post.25 Aug 2021
Hong Kong moving companies recently came under attack by the Consumer Council (CC). The SCMP quickly picked up the story and added fuel to the fire with their unflattering view of movers and the industry in general.
Their analysis was broad in scope, scant on depth, so difficult to contest. But there were some keen insights, such as movers’ terms and conditions are written to favour the mover. Who could have seen that coming?
But there were some areas where I do agree with the CC and the SCMP. The two that bother me the most, and I struggle to explain to our customers, are the wide range of quotes from company to company; and an even wider range of (door-to-door) transit times.
I wish these costs did not vary as much as they do. That said, imagine what the CC would say if the prices didn’t vary from company to company. We can’t win no matter the outcome.
All movers in HK work from a similar cost basis, same labour pool, same shipping lines, similar agents, or sister companies at the destination. If two quotes are genuinely apples to apples, then a price variance of more than a few thousand dollars would be unusual.
As far a transit times, those have hardly ever varied. 4-6 weeks to Europe or the USA has been unchanged for decades. However, as carefully chronicled in scores of SCMP articles over the past few months, the shipping industry is in full crisis mode. And yes, that crisis does flow over, and yes, it does affect the moving business. The critical shortage of containers is the current norm. Last-minute cancellations are commonplace, if a container can be had at all. Those shortages have resulted – predictably – in sudden (i.e., overnight) and breath-taking price spikes that eventually work their way back to our customers.
Our challenge is to explain, in advance, using as clear terms as humanly possible, that delays and price spikes are a reality, they are dramatic, they are highly unpredictable, and we hate them as much as the customer does.
No mover I know of likes the current market situation. Who wants to call a client, someone who has entrusted us with moving their belonging around the world, and tell them that the cost of the job has just increased by 50% over the quotation we gave them a month ago? Of course, they will assume we are dishonest. It just ain’t so.
I think the CC and SCMP did a bit of a disservice by identifying these issues, but then leaving these insinuations hanging in the air without trying to shed light on what has given rise to these issues, whether there are valid reasons (there are), and touch on some of those dynamics (they could have).
There are some times when you feel unfairly accused when you have to speak up. This is one of those times.