Thursday, August 20, 2009


Unless you live on a desert island that supplies all your needs, inevitably you’ll have to shop to survive. Here in the UK there has been a marked decline over the years in the number of stores selling essentials and luxury goods in our High Streets and Town Centres. With the ever increasing out-of-town facilities such as Bluewater in Kent and Lakeside in Essex, smaller local businesses have been hard-pressed to compete. Unless they specialise in commodities not generally available at mega-outlets, they have difficulty in making ends meet. During the economic downturn they are really up against it.

People will patronize stores where prices are low and where they can find value for money i.e., supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, or Morrisons. Furthermore, these superstores provide free car parking, often with their own filling stations, along with the convenience of being able to trolley bulky items to the boot of the car. Some offer a chance of social gathering at their restaurants or caf├ęs and most of them have toilets, including toddler facilities.

As firms like Wooworths fail, the supermarket giants are quick to claim their ground and set up complementary stores such as Tesco Extra. How can small businesses compete? We plebeians, the ordinary shoppers, have little option, other than to patronize the supermarket of our choice, and how loyal we are too! Even in these sparse times, few of us change our allegiance. We keep our loyalty cards and seek every opportunity of using them to gain points for discounts and money vouchers. The grip that our favourite supermarket has on us is quite astonishing. The marketing machine watches our every purchase, and we are sent offers through the post encouraging us to part with our money.

Today my wife and I did our weekly shopping, as usual at Tesco. It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but I was staggered at the bill. Just now we have relatives staying with us, which has meant an increase of more than £30 to the normal tally. I’m not grumbling, simply observing, and another observation is the origin of some of the commodities. The pears were grown in Argentina and the bananas came from Colombia – that’s just not global-friendly in terms of carbon footprints, and yet we bought them. Had the choice not have been there we would have been quite happy to purchase local products, but I grant you, bananas do not grow well in Essex! Maybe we could have done without the bananas and even the pears. On the other hand supermarkets should not shirk their responsibility of reducing the adverse affect of carbon emissions by choosing goods and suppliers that require less consumption of fossil fuels.

I believe people cherish the convenience of large malls and supermarkets, and they shop at them so habitually that buying commodities elsewhere is no longer considered an option. The clock cannot be turned back to the days of individual service at a variety of High Street stores. As the supermarkets become increasingly dominant they will gain more and more control over our lives, even offering financial services similar to banks and building societies. The more they control us, the more powerful they will become, and yet none of the anonymous highly paid magnates who manage them are elected or chosen by us. Shareholders are contented as they grow richer and richer, even in these times of restraint.

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