Tag Archives: consumers

Let’s hear it for hardworking customers

Emerging in the 1990s, one of the most vacuous phrases used by politicians is “hardworking families.” The brain-numbing emptiness of such clichés can usually be exposed by considering what the opposite might be. Is it lazy families? People who can’t get work? Millionaires cushioned by their wealth or tax avoidance/evasion? Or is it about making an effort to avoid being vaguely feckless?

The phrase is the Japanese knotwood of political press releases and it will take some eradication. I want to suggest a variation and highlight “hardworking customers.” The IT revolution offered us liberation from all sorts of drudgery, often living up to the promise, but when it comes to paying for goods and services new forms of enslavement have kicked in.

Some retailers have made self-service checkouts the norm, while retaining a minority of staffed tills. Some have made self-service checkouts obligatory but provide a customer assistant to help anyone experiencing difficulties. Last week I shared in a pantomime at our local branch of W H Smith as I tried to buy a newspaper. The passing assistant kindly helped me with a scanning operation and then vanished to do something more pressing, leaving me to pay. Unfortunately the machine insisted on giving me my money back. I hung around for 90 seconds and then absconded with my paper feeling not in the least guilty of shoplifting!

Many retailers proclaim the benefits of digital alternatives but they become discriminatory when they become compulsory rather than optional. In many parts of the country certain goods can only be obtained online from Amazon or relatively smaller competitors. It is still possible to buy a household shopping trolley but you will be fortunate indeed if you can find a shop to sell you it. The recent u-turn over the proposed closure of rail ticket offices may look like a victory for inclusivity but I suspect the issue will return once Conservative MPs are over the hurdle of defeat or re-election and the pressure from constituents feels less urgent.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

Philip Green and bad business – Lib Dems must act firmly

The collapse of Philip Green’s retail empire, Arcadia is a sad case of history repeating itself. It is only 4.5 years since BHS went into administration, and whilst Green was no longer the owner then, having sold it for £1 in 2015 to the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, it was under Green’s ownership in the previous 15 years that the under-investment and plundering of profits led to the situation where the chain was no longer viable.

Retail analysts are commenting that a similar set of circumstances mean Arcadia is now not fit for purpose. The shops look tired, and there has been a failure to embrace online technology at a time when going to physical shops is difficult for many customers. Additionally, Green is reputed to have taken huge dividends out of Arcadia – £1.2billion in 2005, all of which is safely secured in his wife’s name in the tax haven of Monaco.

Posted in News | Also tagged , and | 28 Comments

Recent Comments

  • Chris Moore
    Hello Mary, you say this, "he party made a huge tactical error – when they could have had massive influence on a vote by vote basis – and betrayed millio...
  • Gwyn Williams
    As a student some 44 years ago, I delivered leaflets in a byelection in a new(ish)housing estate on the outskirts of Reading. It was uneventful until a furious ...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might we please have a pamphlet or three on the harsh harm done to so many in our policy-deprived, not-rich fellow citizens and the some 25% of our children w...
  • David Blake
    Leaflets work, but they have to contain more than just 'Labour can't win here'. We need to get people voting for us because of our policies and values, not jus...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Mary Fulton: Confidence & Supply would have had the same risks for us as a full-blown coalition. It would have looked like we were just propping up the Tor...