Wilson Parking catches the ‘From’ virus

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Why must Wilson Parking employ silly tactics? Do the managers at Wilson not find it embarrassing to engage in childish promotions? Does its Board of Directors knowingly allow these types of slimy offers that shout ‘From $3’ when in fact this offer is not strictly within marketing decency?

Wilson Parking is over 40 years old, with more than 700 stations across Asia, including 208 stations Australia wide. The website boasts that the senior executive team has ‘a combined experience in the parking industry of more than 100 years!’. The company claims to park more than 240,000 vehicles every day, saying, ‘…so it’s no surprise that we are the market leader with a strength and reputation visible right across Australia.’

If this company is so professional, how can it allow this junior-style of offer to exist. You see, the offer that one can park ‘From $3’ is not plain and simple. Why was it extended in the first place? ‘Intent’ is sometimes more important than the ‘deed’. So, we must wonder if the executives convened a meeting whose minutes would reflect something along these lines: ‘I hereby call the meeting to order. I understand that our product manager has collaborated with the marketing manager to present us with some market research.’ To which the product manager would respond, ‘Yes Mr Chairman. We have been concerned about the public. Our research shows that people are annoyed about the city council which has failed to provide sufficient public parking. The city is a place where people must visit to transact. They need to visit banks and institutions to conduct their business, and they dread coming into the city because they cannot find parking. So the CEO and I, along with the marketing manager, propose that we take a dip in profit and reduce our parking rates in relation to the first thirty minutes.’

At this point, perhaps directors tapped the table and said, ‘Hear, hear, we concur. Let us fix this unfortunate lack of public parking by taking a dive. Let’s slash our parking fees for the first thirty minutes so that decent citizens can drive into town and go about their civic duties, safe in the knowledge that their cars will be well-looked after by our sophisticated security systems. We agree with your sentiments and we wish to grant you permission to be good corporate and community citizens. Hang the expenses. Just go do it and make Mr Wilson proud.’

Somehow I doubt that the sentiments were towards making parking affordable. I suspect that the meeting started with the question, ‘How can we lure people into our parking stations? How can we make it appear that we are affordable? How can we get people to assume that parking is cheap? And then, slug them for as much money as we can.’

I dare say that the ‘From $3’ offer was designed to attract people on the correctly-arrived-at assumption that no errand in town can be transacted in under thirty minutes, and that once people realise this and are delayed, their parking fee jumps from $3 to $16.

Why am I being hard on Wilson Parking? Because their prices start at $3, and then jump to $16. And that’s cool if that’s how they lure the flies to the honey. But they don’t do it that way. They say, ‘From $3’ which seems to suggest that people can park at $3. Although technically this is true, I doubt its practicality. One second over, and the customer is up for $16. That’s more than FIVE times the intended. A customer thinks, ‘Oh, yes, I can afford three bucks. Cool, I think this is great, fantastic, reasonable…’ The $3 evokes all sorts of positive emotions. The $3 is a brilliant idea because it lures the customer and generates all the positive feelings. Perfect. Except that it jumps five-fold if someone goes one second over. Dear Wilson Parking, can you please let me know how many people, out of the 240,000 vehicles you park in Australia each day, in fact are lucky enough to pay $3? And while we are at it, of all your stations around the world, how many people park for under 30 minutes? And where is it the done thing to increase a price of something (the exact same thing) by over 433%? It’s not like upgrading a silver pen to a gold pen, or a small meal to a large meal, or going from economy class to first class. This is the same parking spot. What happens after 30 minutes that increases your costs to such a degree? Or are you saying that you would ‘prefer’ it if people left in under 30 minutes? Do you want a high turn over? I would have thought that more people moving about is not profitable for you? All those tickets and credit card transactions and boom gates bopping up and down and all that wear and tear… It seems to me that you do not want so much traffic, as is evidenced by your early-bird parking policy which totally rewards people for staying-put between busy periods. I am utterly confused. And that’s just dandy. It seems that you and mobile phone companies love to dish out indecipherable plans to completely confuse the market. At this point, you might say that I should pull my head in, because it is clear that I do not know what I am taking about, having just admitted to you that I am at a loss. How true. All the more reason I protest as a client and as a social and corporate warrior.

As a marketing professional with 30 years in sales and marketing, I have to say that, in my humble opinion, it is totally unacceptable to suggest that someone can park from $3. I say this because your prices are not in $3 increments. This means that the $3 was not designed to help the customer, but to lure the customer. This means that the price was a ploy/tactic to suit you. And indeed, you have every right to charge $30000000000000 per hour. It’s not up to me to comment on how much your should charge. But the moment that you say $3 and then the next second it becomes $16, we are talking about marketing tactics. And please note that I, as a marketer, cannot let that pass without comments, because it is an indictment on the marketing profession that you should use such sales tactics. A well-establish company like yours ought to have better scruples. It just is not the way the game ought to be played.

Casual wilsonWilson Parking either loves or hates the casual parker. Which is it? The pricing model is polarised. On the one hand, it says, in lights, come all ye drivers and park from $3, yet on the other hand, the price-list says, ‘If you wish to park here for one second over two hours, you will pay $47. If you wish to park for three hours, or four hours, or ten hours, or twenty three hours and 59 seconds, the price is still $47.’ This is strange. On the one hand they say ‘come to us’. Then they say, ‘Hey are you sure you want to come to us, because if you wish to park for two hours and one second, we will charge you the FULL day’s rate.’ This is bizarre. Whatever do they mean? How can it be helpful to lure people with a $3 offer, then say that anyone who wishes to stay for one second over two hours, will be charged the 24-hour rate? These extremes are daunting. So which is it? Are casual parkers welcome or are they not? If they are welcome, why can’t they park for three hours or four hours at a reasonable price? Why must they be forced to pay for 24 hours? So Wilson Parking must love the casual parker, considering the profit margin per hour. They love them so much, that their sign outside is focussed on luring them in. They are so important to this company, that the ticker-tape sign is dedicated to them.

Can you see the sneaky thinking here? If you are in the city, and you need to run some errands, and you stay for two hours and one second, you must pay for 24 hours. Note well:  you cannot take that 24 hours home with you. You cannot save it up for another time. You cannot derive the full benefit. You will not sit in your car for 24 hours just so that you do not feel ripped off. You will go home, paying for a service that you cannot use, thereby relinquishing the parking spot for someone else to use and who will go through the same motions. It’s not like a candy store that says you can only purchase a $3 block of chocolate, or a $47 block of chocolate. If that were the case, you might go for the larger bar, and what you cannot eat can be taken home in a doggie bag. But with this parking arrangement, you cannot take anything home. You pay for something you cannot use.

Will Wilson Parking allow you to go out, pick up the kids, and return an hour later to park in the slot for which you had paid? No. Once you exit, you cannot return. Can you see why I am making a fuss here? My mind races so fast, that I just cannot let things like this go without a comment. They offer early-bird parking and night-parking, and that’s lovely. But they are focusing on the casual parker, and so am I.

Then again, I am not the only one who notices things. The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) took exception to another one of Wilson Parking’s policies, as noted in their media release of 8 October 2009, under the heading: ‘ACCC institutes proceedings against Wilson Parking…’ The media release says, ‘The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Wilson Parking Australia… alleging that Wilson misrepresented the number of mobile security patrol inspection services it had provided to certain customers. The ACCC alleges that between October 2007 and September 2008, Wilson issued monthly invoices to those customers representing that the contracted security inspections had been made but did not inform them that Wilson had missed making a number of inspections. The ACCC alleges that Wilson did not reduce the invoiced amounts nor did it provide refunds, rebates or credits for missed inspections. The ACCC alleges that the conduct breaches ss52 and 53(aa) of the Trade Practices Act 1974 and is seeking declarations, injunctions, costs and orders that Wilson inform all affected customers of these proceedings and implements a trade practices law compliance program. A directions hearing has been set down for 21 October in the Federal Court, Perth before Justice Barker.’

I shall be interested in the outcome.

P.S. Secure Parking is another company whose tactics leave a lot to be desired.

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