Vacuum cleaning my home is not my idea of a fun. It's a view I'm sure I share with most people. But it is a chore which has to be done.
And vacuum cleaners are hardly exciting. There has been just one significant technological advance in the past 80 years – the advent of the Dyson bagless cleaner, which came to the UK exactly 20 years ago. Since then, there have been just small improvements.
Most machines are incredibly reliable, and can last for decades. So we rarely buy new ones and we never discuss them with our friends in the way we might talk about the merits of Apple against Android on our latest handheld device.
They are distress purchases – we buy them because we have to, not because we enjoy shopping for them. So given this background of durability and lack of innovation, why does anyone send me an email headed "Tony Test and keep a new Vax vacuum"?
Rewarded for your review
The email sender said my opinion was needed and I would be rewarded for it – I could keep the machine if I was selected and used the product for seven days, following that with a "thorough written review".
I am confused. All vacuum cleaners are thoroughly tested by manufacturers and by independent organisations such as Which? They examine how machines pick up various forms of dirt on different surfaces; they work out how portable a model might be; and they test motors and switches by clicking them on and off thousands of times.
Whereas individuals will probably only use their cleaner once or twice a week. And what am I supposed to write about my experience? That it worked? Or do I undertake a PhD thesis?
The particular model is hard to identity from the description and photo, but something similar retails around £140, making it one of the more expensive cleaners on the market. You can find an own-brand vacuum at Argos for as little as £19.99.
The email says I can register for free. But as far as the promoters go, that's where they expect "free" to end. I enter my email address and then I am directed to a page where I can answer a basic question such as "Who makes the Dyson cleaner – Dyson or Hoover" or, for a similar chance to "test" an Iphone, it's "who makes it – Apple or Samsung". There is also the same sort of thing for a MacBook.
Here comes the cost...
I have to click OK to accept the terms and conditions and enter a valid mobile phone number. That number is not, as you might think, so I can be contacted day and night on my vacuuming views, but – and this is in the small print – so I can be billed on my phone. It says: "Service costs £3 per question played and a £4.50 sign up fee. You will receive an additional £1.50 charge for a reminder message tomorrow."
I do not give my mobile number.
I do not want to pay a maximum £9.00 to be in with a chance of winning something that I don't really need or want and hardly costs a fortune.
What are my chances of winning? I have no idea. I don't know how many cleaners are on offer, let alone how many entrants there are. There is a computerised draw once a month.
So as soon as you enter your phone number, you are paying big money – unless you read the small print first. The promoters of this scheme obviously hope you just tick to say you have read everything, but do not work your way through the small print; which is what we mostly do.
Hidden free entry
These lottery schemes have to offer a form of no-cost entry. It is buried in the terms and conditions – you can send a free email to the promoters with your details, which I did not bother to do as I get enough of these messages anyway. Registration on the website is hidden behind a proxy service.
The website small print makes it clear that it has no connection whatsoever with any of the manufacturers (or importers or retailers) of the products on offer for "testing". So the manufacturers, that you would think they would want to be the first to know test results and problems, are totally out of this loop. As far as they are concerned, someone has bought one of their cleaners and is trying to sell it in a way and for a price far from the accepted high street model.