How cheap can we get?

I’m not the person to ask about retail therapy. I don’t shop. I make an exception for second hand bookshops, but then so does every other civilised person.
But I am beginning to ask myself whether we’re trapped in a downward spiral. We’ve been here before. Food had to be cheap. Quality didn’t matter. Back in the 1980s I remember hearing a supermarket buyer talking to a group of farmers and I asked him about quality and flavour. His reply was ‘Just produce meat. We’ll add the flavour cheaper during manufacturing.’ That was the road that led to the horsemeat scandal.
I was asked about buying shoes. Look. I’m the chap who has no hair on the back of his calves because I spend so much time in Wellingtons. I’ve also got broad feet which means that I just walk into the shop, find the pair that fits, buy them and leave. Choice is for other people. Anyway, I’ve got a pair of black shoes to go with the suit. (I think they’re about ten years old but they aren’t worn every year). I’ve a pair of walking trainers that I will wear out within a year. I’ve a pair of elderly sandals which I use as slippers around the house and I’ve got myself a pair of light weight walking books (or perhaps they’re slightly heavier trainers) so see if they’ll last better.
For me the joy of new footwear is that it doesn’t leak.
But I was listening to a discussion about shopping. Someone had been into the shop, tried on the garments, then had gone to a coffee shop, got out the tablet, and had purchased the same garments on line. I guess the saving would more than pay for the coffee and the bus fare into town.
There’s a lot of it about. I remember a radio interview with a camera shop in this country that now point blank refused to give advice over the phone. They knew that it was never going to bring them trade; they’d never see the person walk though the door of the shop and buy anything. Indeed they were thinking of making a charge for advice.
An Australian shop is actually doing that. A speciality food store in Brisbane is charging visitors a $5 AUD ‘just looking’ fee. Buy anything; you get the $5 knocked off the bill. Now obviously you might say you wouldn’t go into such a shop, but should they be bothered? What is the custom worth of someone who doesn’t actually intend to buy anything?

But what really drove this home to me was a piece in the paper about ‘Pets at home’ Store group intending to expand their vets business across the UK. They’ll have a vet in the store.
The vet will probably be cheap and convenient, but it worries me. OK I’m used to large animal vets where you pick up the phone at 3am and the vet is in the yard by 3:30am. But when old Jess got caught by a hit and run driver, the vet kept her in overnight. When she had to have her operation she went in the evening before so they could have her quiet and relaxed for the operation in the morning.
Is a supermarket going to want to have staff available to do this? Given the way they’ve been driving costs and staff out of the system I wonder. Mind you, let’s not beat about the bush, one reason they have to get cost out of the system is that people wander in, get the advice and then see if they can buy cheaper on-line.

So the question that I think we all have to ask is really, ‘How cheap are we willing to go?’ Are we going to accept that we have to pay a browsing fee or are we going to just lose the service?
Because someone has to pay for it; if we’re not willing to pay then the service won’t be offered.

What do I know?

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11 thoughts on “How cheap can we get?

  1. M T McGuire August 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm Reply

    I so agree. It’s time we understood that stuff costs and that we have to learn to make do with less stuff for what it actually costs to produce. I used to buy paperback books for £12 on a regular basis when I had a job back in 2002. Now they’re supposed to be £7.99 max or “no-one will buy them”.

    Ho hum…

  2. jwebster2 August 3, 2013 at 6:32 am Reply

    I’ve been trying to work out how we’ve got into this position. After all the Fair Trade movement has had some success in ensuring that decent prices are paid for some products.They want those who produce something to get a decent standard of living for the worth they do.
    Some of it seems to be a lack of proportion, should a book cost less than a couple of cups of coffee?

  3. M T McGuire August 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm Reply

    I think people are generally treated fairly by employers and most of the people doing the selling at the end of the chain are ’employers’. We have this perception of selling something as almost vulgar and I think the middle men take advantage of it. I remember being bloody irritated when I discovered, a few years ago, that while lamb was £7 a lb in Tesco’s the farmers were getting £1 per whole animal in the markets up near you. Long time ago… late 1990s I’d think.

    Fair trade is all about protecting people who might be a little naive as to the ways of business abroad but it doesn’t seem to be doing much to help the people who are just plain desperate at home. It’s as if the fact they’re aware of the shit they’re in means it’s OK to leave them there.

    Ho hum….



  4. jwebster2 August 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm Reply

    Oldest daughter commented on FB. She worked on the check outs at one shed chain. What got her was that she was treated like dirt by both management and customers. She saw a memo where her boss was saying he was keeping his labour costs down by employing staff on 4 hr contracts, and asking them to work full time hrs. I’ve a mate who worked for another company, he was kept on contracts too short to allow him to get any benefits but he was working over thirty hours a week and was the one who had to cash up and lock up on a night.
    And we go into these places and spend money!
    The supermarkets and lamb is a scam. They’ve been trying to get red meat into the same place they’ve got pork, but luckily so far they’ve failed.

  5. keirarts August 5, 2013 at 6:52 am Reply

    As you know Jim. I’ve been on the tail end of this most of my working life. I even pointed this out on one occasion to a bloke who worked in the yard who told me he bought all his blu-rays online…

    “eventually then i’ll be out of a job, if everyone goes down this path a lot of people will also find themselves unemployed. That’s people on welfare not paying taxes, this means less money in the pot. If the governments broke, how the hell are they going to pay for the submarines your building? Then you will be out of work too”

    Truthfully it’s so bloody hard to find a job these days i’m probably going to finally accept I might as well work for myself selling stuff on the websites that put me on the dole!

  6. keirarts August 5, 2013 at 6:52 am Reply

    I should also add the bloke who worked in the yard was saving about a quid on each film….

  7. jwebster2 August 5, 2013 at 8:33 am Reply

    Hi Keir, I had you in mind while I was writing. I wonder if Government (or the state or whatever) is part of the problem. Its got so greedy with taxes on bricks and mortar (which struggle to escape) that it has not merely opened the door to the websites, it’s given the ‘real’ world a damn good kicking so they cannot compete. Cut business rates, especially on the high street where they suffer from higher rates on frontage than do the sheds. Then see what happens.

  8. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 6, 2021 at 7:50 pm Reply

    I’d be embarrassed to get advice in a shop and then buy online. I buy online – that means I DON’T get to touch things, see the exact color, or try them on. I DO sometimes get a lower price, but mostly I get the convenience.

    I was brought up with a conscience. It would bother me.

    • jwebster2 August 6, 2021 at 10:42 pm Reply

      It would bother me as well

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 6, 2021 at 11:21 pm

        Not trying to be holier than thou, but even though I support the idea of stores (I used to be able to shop, though never enjoyed it), it seems unfair competition BECAUSE of the implied contract between stores and customers who browse: “you let me look at the merchandise, touch it, try it on – I will seriously consider purchasing it from you before I leave your store.”

        If I buy online, until Amazon comes up with “True Color” and “Real Touch,” I will accept the limitations of online purchasing in exchange for the convenience of shopping from home and having the merchandise delivered. And not abuse the return policy.

        I’m probably being terribly naive.

      • jwebster2 August 7, 2021 at 4:53 am

        Like you I don’t particularly like shopping, but I think that as a potential customer you have a responsibility to the vendor. You don’t abuse the returns policy, with a shop you don’t waste their time picking their brains and then buy online.
        But you expect similar commitment from the vendor
        I do very little online shopping that isn’t books

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