Sunday, April 13, 2008

Purse Power

A big fish eating little fish. Lots of little fish eating a big fish When I saw this cartoon over at Ruscombe Green it reminded me of a piece written by one of our members for a Newsletter prior to this blog being started, so I thought I’d resurrect it. Here it is:

The next time you hear that a major retail chain has announced profits of several billion pounds, remind yourself that this money has come from all of us. Every pound of profit has gone through their tills. The retailer then uses its purchasing power to get what it wants from its suppliers.

In the face of these huge sums of money we may feel powerless, that the giant chains can have it all their own way. This is true while we all continue to spend our money as they want us to – in their stores on products supplied by them.

However, we are not quite as powerless as we may think. Some years ago, when the French government refused to allow British beef into their markets in spite of the fact that it had been declared free of BSE, the Daily Mail urged its readers to boycott French products in the supermarkets. Within a few weeks apple growers in Normandy were going out of business. Whatever you think of the Daily Mail’s approach to the problem, there is no doubt that it provided a superb example of Purse Power.

Many people mourn the loss of independent and specialist traders in our High Streets, and lay the blame at the door of the supermarkets. This is false reasoning. The supermarkets are doing what they set out to do – increase the amount and range of goods they sell to maximise their profits. Bread, meat, newspapers, patent medicines and toiletries, stamps, cigarettes, chocolate, ice cream, and now clothes, cookware and electrical goods. And that is where we go to buy them. It is not the supermarkets that have destroyed the small traders, it is us. We have chosen to withdraw our Purse Power from them and give it to the retail giants. The reason no new specialist traders are prepared to set up in our High Streets is not just that they cannot compete with the big players; they no longer trust us to support them.

Everyone understands that, for a working family with little leisure time, the one-stop weekly shop offered by the supermarkets is invaluable. For those on small or limited incomes the low prices offered by the major chains are irresistible. But those of us with time and a little more cash could exercise our Purse Power to lessen the grip of the giants. We could make the effort to buy some of the goods we need elsewhere than from the major chains. If we have the time, we could seek out Farmers’ Markets and buy our meat and vegetables there, if only two or three times a year. Many independent suppliers advertise in magazines and deliver direct to your door.

It is true that one family spending £100 a week has very little power. But thousands of families diverting a tenth of their weekly spending in a new direction have enormous power. Every time you take out your purse to pay for a purchase, remember that you are unleashing Purse Power. The future of retailing in this country is not only in our hands; it is in our purses.

Patsy Whiteside

See also the Compassionate Shopping Guide
from Compassion in World Farming


  1. This was predicted over thirty years ago, there is no chance of turning the clock back, mass consumer power rules, even if that consumer power base is built on with each individual consumer relativly poor.

    Allow a buyer to 'invest in suppliers' gives the buyer a monopoly and they will squeeze suppliers, by comparing prices across all ranges / countries.(regardless of Govenment 'intervention')

    Inevitably prices drop (which is good for consumers) but bad for local retailers who cannot compete.

    The monopoly grows larger, as more local suppliers and small businesses go bust,

    The monopoly have then needed to expand profits, moveed into other markets, (Clothing, Electrical Goods Car Products)

    Which inevitably lead to monopilisation and higher prices, I gave £1.09 for a loaf that last year cost £0.49. (don't believe the 'wholesale cost' argument)

    It's the markets, we listeneed to the "Economist's,and Policy Makers" over thirty years ago.

    Our High Streets and satelite shops are now reaping the rewards.

    It's easy to see the decline in our high streets (fast food outlets, £1 shops etc).

    How do we halt the decline?

    A mass reduction in car parking restrictions would help, boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea, Barnet, and Royal Berkshire & Windsor are removing traffic restrictions (Yellow LInes, Pay & Display.

    If I was a landlord, shop property would be sold, shops are costly, everything can now be bought online, I would not want to be holding property with the tenant wishing to conduct his buisness in another more lucrative customer friendly way.

    Purse power? it's already happened,as our high streets, satelite shops will testify!

  2. The retailer has to adapt to the times, so much as we may mourn the shopping style we remember from the 50's and 60's (or even earlier!), life moves on.

    I believe there is a place for the High Street, Anytown, but small retailers have to be imaginative. There are classes of products and service that are not available at supermarkets that could be provided. Yes, we are talking about the upper end of the market, but how nice it would be for us Barkingsiders to get the staples cheap at Tesco, Sainsbury and Somerfield, and then see a smart, attractive High Street attracting the affluent from Repton Park and maybe Chigwell.

    Does anyone remember when what is now Clintons on the corner of Fremantle Rd was a shoe shop called Ellens? I used to come over from another part of Redbridge especially to shop there, because it sold quality product.

    And, the eternal complaint, charity shops generate yet more charity shops, and whilst Barnardos looks smart, some of the others do themselves no favours, let alone the atmosphere of the High St. Yes, I do mean you, St Francis - wonderful cause, godawful premises.

  3. A shoe shop called Ellens? I even remember (as might Dougal) when it was Montague Burton's!!

    Barkingside High Street is very worrying indeed. Last September the council discussed a report about the "regeneration" of the High Street. Weasel words - for they have failed to find the money to start the process. Given the creeping shop closures, and the crawling traffic brought about by the ridiculous "traffic calming" measures brought in during the last few weeks, and Barkingside is not so much a story of regeneration, but of DEgeneration.

    So, thanks to Redbridge Council in general (for nothing), and to the Area 3 muppet show in particular (for the stupid traffic scheme).