So much for our new found pandemic resolve to become more responsible, green and sustainable in our consumer behaviour. Black Friday brings out the worst of human nature: over-consumption, greed, covetousness, and aggressiveness, while retailers and providers of the most coveted of Christmas presents for little Johnny gouge prices, foster a panic buying atmosphere, encourage reckless spending and easy credit. My sympathies to any parent, who like me is desperately trying to source the elusive PS5 in time for Christmas. Heavily marketed and promoted but none to be had unless you willing to pay 4 times the price on ebay. Even if you lucky enough to get one, the demand is such that PS5 boxes have arrived apparently filled with cat food as workers in the delivery channels are more desperate to fulfil their children’s needs than customers.
This annual orgy of consumption leads into the Christmas holidays, which should represent the very antithesis of this – and especially this year as many of us learned the hard way that presence and not presents is what really matters. The objection is not so much moral outrage, it is more that we are duped by a marketing con which is leading to real and irreversible damage
For dedicated shoppers (I’m one of them!) who value a diverse town centre, the Black Friday con will hasten High Street demise, as independents have not the buying power, marketing muscle or liquidity to absorb 3 months trading in 24 hours. And even the multiples are now struggling as we seen this week with the demise of Debenhams and Arcadia – further carnage for the already beleaguered retail sector. According to The High Streets Task Force, 70% of UK retail sales in 1970 were generated by 29,000 retailers. By 2000, 70% of retail sales were generated by just 100 retailers and just 2% of the UK market is now independent. This has broader implications than choice in shopping, it also impacts liveability and tourism potential for towns and cities.
Amazon and its peers are the villains of the piece. They have had a very profitable pandemic, never experiencing any lockdowns or trading restrictions, while avoiding business rates and rent/staff overheads that the conventional retailers have to contend with while avoiding tax or making a derisory contribution in most countries where they operate. The UK is a world leader in online shopping whereas countries that have higher level of independent stores, notably Italy, are slower adopters. It was also pleasing to see the uprising of the French independent retail sector who managed to constrain the timing and conditions of Amazon’s Black Friday events to level the playing field for themselves. The sheer logistics of home delivery, white diesel vans and profligate cardboard boxes don’t augur well for our green and sustainable future.
Monopolisation rarely manifests choice, service and value - and the other big lesson of 2020 is that diversity, in all its forms, needs to be embraced. Independents bring diversity in the retail sector. No one can predict or plan for a Pandemic and the devastating consequences it will have on retail, jobs and consumption, however we could avoid the own goal of hyper capitalism and (lockdown restrictions permitting!!) buy local this Christmas.