Shopping: Enough is Enough!

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.

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2 Comments on “Shopping: Enough is Enough!”

  1. chinapenguin says:

    The large predatory retailers offer good value on the surface but the truth is often different. In their ever-increasing desire for our cash, shops will do anything, say anything, promise anything. For example, I saw an appalling heart-shaped Valentine’s Day advert on the window of a jewellery shop in Falkirk this morning: “the more you love, the more you give”. The not-so-subtle message being, of course, the more one is willing to spend on a gift for a person reflects the level of love and commitment one has for them.
    They also have their producers and suppliers over a barrel when it comes to negotiating prices. We have seen this for UK suppliers of milk and vegetables, especially, with threats of “you give us this amount for this price or we’ll go elsewhere” meaning the farmer has little choice but to agree or face huge amounts of unsold or unprofitable produce.
    Another item that appeared in yesterday’s news is also pertinent to your post. It was that one in four shops in Paisley Town Centre is currently vacant. Meanwhile the huge out-of-town Braehead Shopping Centre just a few miles away had a very successful Christmas trading period. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on the large supermarkets per se but a further observation that our town centres and local shops are being forced out of business by large retailers. Rather than increasing choice in the items that people need, this trend compacts choice towards items that people are told, through advertising, that they ought to have. Rather than having a choice of butchers, florists, greengrocers or whatever people are herded into homogenised shopping malls that look the same everywhere from Aberdeen to Exeter, Newcastle to Cardiff.
    The only way to keep local shops in business is to use them. If that means paying a little extra and walking from one shop to another, rather than from aisle to aisle, then it’s a choice we all have to make or face the consequences.

    • I agree totally. Advertising does try and lead us to assume that expenditure on a person is commensurate with our concern for them. Re. where we shop, people say to me that they know they receive dividends from the Co-op, but they would rather buy cheaper products week-to-week, at a supermarket they perceive to be lower priced. The long supply chains don’t help because suppliers are so remote from customers. If shoppers knew that the cut-price cauliflowers they were buying, for example, were leading to bankruptcy for Mr Brown’s farm down the road, many would reconsider the quest for low, low prices, I think. Or I hope.


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