My time abroad: Dublin tips

I’m actually writing this while “on vacation” in Italy (vacation being defined as in, I took days off work, but I’ve actually been writing thousands of words, between the blog, updates to Autotools Mythbuster and starting up a new project that will materialize in the future months), but I’ve been in Ireland for a few months already, and there are a few tips that I think might be useful for the next person moving to Dublin.

First of all, get a local SIM card. It’s easy and quick to get a prepay (top up) card. I actually ended up getting one from Three Ireland, for a very simple reason: their “Three like home” promotion allows me to use the card in Italy, the UK and a few more countries like if it was a local one. In particular, I’ve been using HSDPA connection with my Irish account while in Italy, without risking bankruptcy — the Three offer I got in Ireland is actually quite nice by itself: as long as I top up 20 euro per month, whether I spend it or keep it, they give me unlimited data (it shows up in my account as 2TB of data!). The same offer persists in Italy.

I’ve also found useful to get a pre-paid mobile hotspot device, for when guests happen to stop by: since it does not make sense for them to get an Irish SIM, I just hand them the small device and they connect their phone to that. When my sister came to visit, we were able to keep in touch via WhatsApp.. neither of us spent money with expensive international SMS, and she could use the maps even if I was not around. I decided to hedge my bets and I got a Vodafone hotspot; the device costed me €60, and came with a full month prepaid, I can then buy weekly packages when I get guests.

Technology-wise, I found that Dublin is surprisingly behind even compared to Italy: I could find no chainstores like Mediaworld or Mediamarkt, and I would suggest you avoid Maplin like a plague — I needed quickly two mickey-mouse cables with UK plugs, so I bought them there for a whopping €35 per cable… they are sold at €6 usually. I’ve been lucky at Peats (in Parnell Street) but it seems to be a very hit and miss on which employee is following you. Most of everything I ended up getting through Amazon — interestingly enough I got a mop (Mocio Vileda) through Amazon as well, because the local supermarkets in my area did no carry it, and the one I found it at (Dunnes in St Stephen Green) made it cumbersome to bring it back home; Amazon shipped it and I paid less for it.

Speaking of supermarkets, I got extremely lucky in my house hunting, and I live right in the middle of two EuroSpar — some of their prices are more similar to a convenience store than a supermarket, but they are not altogether too bad. I was able to find buckwheat flakes in their “healthy and gluten free” aisle, which I actually like (since I’m not a coeliac, I don’t usually try to eat gluten free — I just happen to dislike corn and rice flakes).

I also found out that ordering online at Tesco can actually save me money: it allows me to buy bigger boxes for things like detergents, as I don’t have to carry the heavy bags, and at the same time they tend to have enough offers to make up for the delivery charge of €4. Since they have a very neat mobile app (as well as website — they even ask you the level of JavaScript complexity you want to use, to switch to a more accessible website), I found that it’s convenient for me to prepare a basket over there, then drop by the EuroSpar to check for things that are cheaper over there (when I go there for coffee), and finally order it. For those who wonder why I still drop by the EuroSpar, as I said in a previous post they have an Insomnia coffee shop inside, which means I go there to have breakfast, or for a post-lunch coffee, whenever I’m not at work. Plus sometimes you need something right away and you don’t want to wait delivery, in which case I also go to there.

Anyway, more tips might follow at a later time, for the moment you have a few ideas of what I’m spending my time doing in Dublin…

My time abroad: loyalty cards part II — EuroSpar

My original post about loyalty cards missed the supermarkets that I’m actually using nowadays, because they are conveniently located just behind my building (for one) and right on the way back home from my office (for the other). Both of them are part of the EuroSpar chain and have the added convenience of being open respectively 247 and 7-22.

Mangled bill from EuroSpar

So, when I originally asked the store if they had any loyalty card, I was told they didn’t. I checked the website anyway and found the name of their loyalty program, which is “SuperEasy”, and the next time, I asked about it explicitly, and they gave me the card and a form to fill in; after filling almost all of it, I found that I could also do it online, so I trashed the paper form. They can’t get my name right anywhere here when I spell it.

On the website, strangely enough they even accept my surname as it should be, wow that’s a miracle, I thought… until I went to use the card at the shop and got back the bill that you see on the left. Yes that’s UTF-8 converted to some other 8-bit codepage which is not Latin-1. Indeed it reminds me of CP850 at the time of MS-DOS. Okay I give up, but the funniest part was getting the bill tonight, the one on the right.

The other mangled bill from EuroSpar

But beside them mangling my name in many different possible ways, is there anything that makes EuroSpar special enough for me to write a follow-up post on a topic that I don’t really care about or, honestly, have experience in? Yes of course. Compared with the various rewards I have been talking about last time, this seems to be mostly the same: one point per euro spent, and one cent per point redeemed.

The big difference here is that the points are accrued to the cent, rather than to the lower euro threshold! Not too shabby, considering that unlike Dunnes they do not round their prices to full euros most of the time. And the other one is that even though they have a single loyalty scheme for all the stores.. the cards are per-store, or so they proclaim. The two here are probably owned by the same person so they are actually linked and they work on each.

Another interesting point is that while both EuroSpar host an Insomnia café, neither accept Insomnia’s own loyalty card (ZapaTag) — instead they offer something similar in the sense that you get the 10th drink free. A similar offer is present at the regular Insomnia shops, but there, while you can combine the 10th drink offer with the ZapaTag points, you cannot combine it with other offers such as my usual coffee and brownie for €3,75 (the coffee alone is €3,25 while the brownie is €2,25)… at EuroSpar instead this is actually combinable, but of course if I use the free coffee while getting a brownie, I still have to pay almost as much as the coffee.. but sometimes I can skip on the pastry.

So yes, I think it was worth noting the differences about EuroSpar. And as a final note I’ll just say that even the pharmacy on the way to work has a loyalty card… and it’s the usual discount one, or as they call it “PayBack Card”. I have to see what Tesco does, but they somehow blacklisted my apartment in their delivery service.

My time abroad: loyalty cards

Compared to most people around me now, and probably most of the people who read my blog, my life is not that extraordinary, in the terms of travel and moving around. I’ve been, after all, scared of planes for years, and it wasn’t until last year that I got out of the continent — in an year, though, I more than doubled the number of flights I’ve been on, with 18 last year, and more than doubled the number of countries I’ve been to, counting Luxembourg even though I only landed there and got on a bus to get back to Brussels after Alitalia screwed up.

On the other hand, compared to most of the people I know in Italy, I’ve been going around quite a bit, as I spent a considerable amount of time last year in Los Angeles, and I’ve now moved to Dublin, Ireland. And there are quite a few differences between these places and Italy. I’ve already written a bit about the differences I found during my time in the USA but this time I want to focus on something which is quite a triviality, but still is a remarkable difference between the three countries I got to know up to now. As the title suggest I’m referring to stores’ loyalty cards.

Interestingly enough, there was just this week an article on the Irish Times about the “privacy invasion” of loyalty cards.. I honestly don’t see it as big a deal as many others. Yes, they do profile your shopping habits. Yes, if you do not keep private the kind of offers they sent you, they might tell others something about you as well — the newspaper actually brought up the example of a father who discovered the pregnancy of the daughter because of the kind of coupons the supermarket was sending, based on her change of spending habits; I’m sorry but I cannot really feel bad about it. After all, absolute privacy and relevant offers are kinda at the opposite sides of a range.. and I’m usually happy enough when companies are relevant to me.

So of course stores want to know the habits of a single person, or of a single household, and for that they give you loyalty cards… but for you to use them, they have to give you something in return, don’t they? This is where the big difference on this topic appears clearly, if you look at the three countries:

  • in both Italy and Ireland, you get “points” with your shopping; in the USA, instead, the card gives you immediate discounts; I’m pretty sure that this gives not-really-regular-shoppers a good reason to get the card as well: you can easily save a few dollars on a single grocery run by getting the loyalty card at the till;
  • in Italy you redeem the points to get prizes – this works not so differently than with airlines after all – sometimes by adding a contribution, sometimes for free; in my experience the contribution is never worth it, so either you get something for free or just forget about it;
  • in Ireland I still haven’t seen a single prize system; instead they work with coupons: you get a certain amount of points each euro you spend (usually, one point per euro), and then when you get to a certain amount of points, they get a value (usually, one cent per point), and a coupon redeemable for the value is sent you.

Of course, the “European” method (only by contrast with American, since I don’t know what other countries do), is a real loyalty scheme: you need a critical mass of points for them to be useful, which means that you’ll try to get on the same store as much as you can. This is true for airlines as well, after all. On the other hand, people who shop occasionally are less likely to request the card at all, so even if there is some kind of data to be found in their shopping trends, they will be completely ignored by this kind of scheme.

I’m honestly not sure which method I prefer, at this point I still have one or two loyalty cards from my time in Los Angeles, and I’m now collecting a number of loyalty cards here in Dublin. Some are definitely a good choice for me, like the Insomnia card (I love getting coffee at a decent place where I can spend time to read, in the weekends), others, like Dunnes, make me wonder.. the distance from the supermarket to where I’m going to live is most likely offsetting the usefulness of their coupons compared to the (otherwise quite more expensive) Spar at the corner.

At any rate, I just want to write my take on the topic, which is definitely not of interest to most of you…