Sunday, September 06, 2009

Rebels Against The Future

Clameur de Haro was torn between whether to laugh or cry yesterday on reading in the Jersey Evening [sic] Post about the sputtering outrage of local retailers, echoed by David Warr of the Chamber of Commerce, at Jersey Post’s initiative to inflict on deliver to every home in Jersey a copy of the Argos catalogue.
[Although one does so hope that it will be only one copy – according to the report’s author, Carly Lockhart, “thousands of Argos catalogues are being delivered to every Island household” – er, that’s rather a lot of catalogues]. CdeH’s, whether just the one or the threatened promised thousands, will be going straight into the bin, but that’s beside the point.
The grounds for protest attributed to Mr Warr and Barry Jenkins of Fotosound really are risible.
At the basic level, anyone can access Argos’ product ranges on-line, and can obtain a catalogue anyway by merely phoning and asking for it, so even though Jersey Post’s initiative does look a little superfluous for those and other reasons (CdeH has no trouble finding online retailers who deliver to the C.I. at only modest additional cost - and deduct the VAT in full as well) the criticism of it by Mr Warr and Mr Jenkins completely (but predictably) misses the point.
Although, and as CdeH blogged only a couple of days ago, if Jersey Post was to be fully privatised and have its connections with the public sector severed completely, the line of attack that a States’ organisation is threatening local retailers would become untenable.
Mr Jenkins and Mr Warr also betray a telling reluctance to appreciate, or acknowledge, that previous retailing and distribution business models have irreversibly changed, and that they are on the wrong side of the argument. Jersey has suffered for far too many years from the unhealthy predominance of producer interests – whether public sector unions, or retailers comfortably insulated from competition and free trade – and transition to a situation where consumer interests are paramount is to be welcomed.
Just a modicum of research reveals how uncompetitive local retailers can be. A quick Clameur de Haro glance into the window of Mr Jenkins’ Charing Cross emporium reveals some rather vague pricing labels generally, but specifically a Samsung VPMX20 Camcorder at £149.99 and a Sanyo CE32LD90 television at £329.99. The Camcorder is available online at anything from £135 (and approximately £125 ex-VAT at Amazon), while the TV is retailed online from £292.95 ex-VAT. Can Mr Jenkins or Mr Warr provide any kind of convincing reason as to why prospective purchasers should not take advantage of these savings?
Clameur de Haro doubts it. Their grievance is, fundamentally, a Luddite argument: presumably in former times they would have been found protesting that their horse-drawn carters’ businesses should be protected from the competition posed by motor-lorries, or perhaps whinging that this new-fangled electricity thing was killing off their candlestick shops. Messrs Jenkins, Warr et al may bleat as long as they like that the high rents, rates and overheads they are forced to pay choose to endure inhibit them from matching internet retailers on price. But that, although arguably a problem for them, is not one for their prospective customers.
Jersey retailers also typically appear to hold low stock inventories, leading to either restricted choice of product or unacceptably long delivery times, and obtaining spares is often well-nigh impossible, with more than a few shop staff showing little interest in providing a service capable of fulfilling customers’ requirements. Mr Warr moreover is on record in the past as saying that consumers’ expressed preferences for lower prices are not really that at all.
Consumers are proving him wrong with every mouse-click. Competition, choice, and free trade – long may they flourish.
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