Shopkeeper defends position in ‘non locals’ row

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Customers using an Oban convenience store to top-up their electricity say they have been refused service because they are ‘not from Dunollie’.

People have complained to The Oban Times about experiences at Dunollie Stores in Corran Brae.

However, shop owner Richard MacDougall insist the issue is a result of a massive surge in customers using the shop’s PayPoint service to top-up.

He said the facility resulted in charges to the business every time it is used so he had tried to restrict usage.

Customer Wilma McIntosh, 60, tried to get a £50 top-up at the independently-owned Premier outlet which is two minutes from her home on nearby Lismore Crescent.

Mrs McIntosh said a staff member told her she could not because ‘she was not from Dunollie’.

Mrs McIntosh, who has lived there 12 years, said when she raised it with the shop owner, she was told that he did not make money from those who only topped up electricity.

Mrs McIntosh, who is high risk and shielding, said she was forced to go into town the next day to top-up and said she was now ‘barred’ from Dunollie Stores.

Mrs McIntosh said: ‘When he said that I can’t use it, I laughed and thought “you can’t say that to people!”. The worst thing about it is I needed the electricity and you can only get it in a few places.’

Grand-daughter Sophie Green, 20, of Dunbeg, said it was ‘ridiculous’ and that the encounter had left her grandmother speechless.

When Sophie alerted people on Facebook, she said around half a dozen people messaged her with similar experiences – including reports of an 85-year-old woman also being refused.

Answering the critics, Mr MacDougall said he inherited the PayPoint facility six years ago when he took over the shop. It had worked well up until last summer when other local retailers withdrew PayPoint from their shops which led to demand at his shop rising ‘tenfold’ from people across Oban.

Mr MacDougall explained: ‘There was four or five stores in the town that had it and then all of a sudden there’s just myself and McColls.’

‘It’s the volume of people using it that’s the problem. Any small business is going to struggle with [the costs] of that amount of people using it.’

He said the facility made ‘no money’ yet demand was now ‘unsustainable’ for the business due to the extra costs it generated from banking charges.

Mr MacDougall said rather than have the facility taken out – which would punish his local customers in Dunollie that relied on it – he had to restrict usage to those who support the shop.

He said: ‘Customers are not taking it out on me but they are taking it out on the staff and they don’t understand the problem. They don’t understand why I just want to keep the service for Dunollie.’

Mr MacDougall said the shortage of places in Oban to top-up electricity could be solved if larger retailers introduced PayPoint, as they would better able to absorb the costs.

‘But they can’t find anyone else who will take it on – because of the terms,’ said Mr MacDougall.

Another family from Oban, who have a daughter who lives in Dunollie, told The Oban Times they were passing and popped in to buy £10 of electricity and a lottery ticket.

They were turned down and said it amounted to a form of discrimination and tantamount to choosing ‘who can or cannot have heating’.

The family, wh0 asked not to be named, confirmed there were only a small number of outlets to purchase top-up electricity in Oban. They said some closed earlier than others leaving people with little choice in where they could top-up.

The ‘Premier’ brand of stores is owned by Booker Ltd, but all shops are ‘independently owned and operated’. Booker has ‘no managerial oversight or control of their activities’.

PayPoint says its service, which is live in more than 16,500 shops, provides instant top-ups for electricity cards and keys, and SIM cards.

A PayPoint spokesperson said: ‘PayPoint has been directly in touch with the retailer and we’ve reached a conclusion that both parties are happy with.

‘PayPoint does not charge a fee for retailers offering an electricity top-up service. Retailers only have to bank the exact amount for the transactions processed. For example, if a customer requests £10 electricity top up, the retailer is debited £10 three days later by PayPoint to allow the retailer to bank the funds received.’