Shopping: Enough is Enough!Posted: February 9, 2012
The mega retailers which dominate our leisure hours and fill the airwaves with clever jingles – the familiar “every little helps” from Tesco, “live well for less” from Sainsbury’s, “saving you money every day” from ASDA – must surely be offering us a good deal or their superstore car parks would be empty? Or are we merely responding to expensive advertising?
Superstores can be stressful places, with their excess of choice, their queues and the rush to pack the groceries while the next in line fidgets, waiting for you to move on. They are not public space, but private places from which you can be ejected at any time. You have no right to be there, unless you have money and are spending it.
The jingles try to convince us that superstores are there entirely for our convenience, that they are dedicated to our quest for household thrift. Superstores are there for their owners, of course. In the case of the Co-operative stores, that’s all of us who are members. For the food chain Waitrose, it is its own staff and those of parent retailer John Lewis, which is a worker-owned partnership. Who owns J Sainsbury, though? Qatar Holding LLC, investment arm of the super-rich Gulf state, controls more than a quarter, 25.99%, of shareholders’ equity. At Tesco, more than an eighth of the equity is in the hands of three institutional investors: BlackRock Inc (USA), Legal & General Group (UK) and Berkshire Hathaway Inc (USA). BlackRock Inc is also the leading investor in Wm Morrison Supermarkets, holding over 10% of equity. In excess of 26% more is in the hands of six institutional investors. ASDA is wholly owned by the American giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer, which counts numerous financial institutions among its shareholders.
For the institutional shareholders, profits are more important than the impact superstores have on local economies, and we know that superstore saturation has a deeply damaging impact on small local retailers and their suppliers, and that they do not increase the total number of jobs, merely substitute some mainly part-time jobs for those lost in the businesses forced to downsize or close. And do we want to become a nation of shelf-stackers? That won’t worry the superstore shareholders, as long as the profits roll in.
Perhaps we should be asking, loudly, exactly how superstores benefit our culture , society and economy, and if we don’t like the answers, we can work out what to do about it.