Friday, August 27, 2004

The trouble with supermarkets...

Editorial from The Scotsman on the evils of supermarkets:

Big supermarkets are comfortable, convenient and a cornerstone of modern life. The government ought to do something about them.

No, they are not being sarcastic. The argument seems to go that because lots of people like shopping in supermarkets, and therefore the supermarkets have become very powerful (in the economic sense), the government should do something. They bemoan the loss of independent butchers, the strong arm tactics of supermarkets...

However, one fairly fundamental point ought to be picked up. How did the supermarkets become so powerful? Most of the answer stems from the fact that they offer people what they want. They do not force people to buy stuff, they do not hypnotise people to buy stuff.... It is very safe to assume that people shop at supermarkets because they prefer them to the alternatives for whatever reason.
It is mainly because British food culture is so awful that price comes before quality. Supermarkets (like any evil multinational) would after all sell ice to the eskimos if it were profitable. That they do not sell good quality (however defined and debatable anyway) products is simply a function of the nature of consumer demand. The very fact that farmers' markets are increasing in popularity is evidence of the producer - consumer relationship.

If the demand for good quality stuff were sufficient, why wouldn't the supermarkets sell it? Theories such as the Scotsman's have to answer that supermarkets would rather lose money than sell good stuff. Which is a pretty stupid, on all accounts.

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