In the first of his new weekly series continuing on from 89 Not Out, Ian Morris asks whether local shops can compete with Amazon, and whether Pompey High Streets can survive the pandemic.
It’s day 102 of lockdown, and at this point I should be raising my bat – not a euphemism – to a cheering crowd. I have made my century in lockdown without going completely stir crazy. Strangely, after nearly two weeks off from writing this was more difficult than I expected, but here goes!
One of the things that has got us through lockdown so far is the wonderful world of online shopping. But is our new love going to give us more trouble than benefit in the long term?
The biggest player is of course Amazon. A business that started life as a fairly unscrupulous online book vendor has grown to be one of the largest corporations on the planet.
I will say it, I love Amazon, because up until now I haven’t thought too much about it. Last year I split my weight training gloves; this isn’t because I am some kind of hench machine, I drive a desk and I don’t lift weights without gloves on. My wife Nicky picked up the iPad, tapped a few times, asked me I wanted to pay, and then went through an array of options before the final tap and ‘They will be here tomorrow!’ The alternative would have been to wait until the weekend, drive into town or to Havant, face the joys of Sports Direct and then choose from the one pair of weight training gloves they stocked.
My online ‘Mr or Ms Fix it’ persona has become even more useful during lockdown. When the toilet roll aisle at Tesco was shinier than my head, Amazon sorted us out (see this previous 89 Not Out blog) and continues to do so. My observation that after this box of 20 and the other box of 20, we will only have 20 toilet rolls left earned me a seven letter directive on sex and travel from my lovely wife. As well as being overstocked in the loo roll department, our online chum has muscled in on bin bags, cat litter and a myriad of other household products that seem to just appear.
The big question in all this is, of course, At what price? The answer is almost certainly that it will be cheaper on Amazon, but I don’t mean that price. It is well documented that Amazon is, erm, very efficient in realising its profits in tax-advantaged locations and minimising its tax liabilities in higher tax economies like the UK…
But there is also the impact on the High Street.
Given the choice, would I like to click on a link, have it turn up to the door and have Natasha (we are on first name terms) tap the door, and leave it on the doorstep?
Or drive to town, park, pay for parking, queue outside the shop for quarter of a mile, enter the shop with my lower face swathed in cloth, note others are not complying with the face-covering thing, do the dance of the social distance, consider whether it’s acceptable to break social distancing to batter the muppet who has stepped up right next to me, find the item that is more expensive, pay for it and get back to the car?
It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Ultimately, I worry the High Street won’t make it through this pandemic. It was in pretty poor shape going in, and I am not sure it will make it out the other side.
But do we want to hand our whole shopping universe to a monopoly with rather doubtful social capital credentials?
I hope we can find our British sense of ‘fair play’ in all this.
Eggs from battery hens were much cheaper but something in us said, ‘No, that is not a price worth paying’. Similarly, there have been plenty of scandals over High Street brands using child labour to make their garments and trainers, and again, consumers said ‘No’.
So, I am hoping for an online independent retail revolution.
We can all look for independent online retailers, those little niche providers making a living producing on a small-scale locally. I don’t think we can save the High Street this time, but perhaps we can find a way to make sure the market doesn’t become an all-encompassing monopoly.
We can all make a change, one, organic, free-range toilet roll at a time…
So let’s get started! Share your ‘must-use’ online shopping recommendations in the comments below or head over to Facebook or Twitter and let me know!
Something for the Weekend will be back next Friday, tackling national issues from a local perspective. In the meantime, you can check out all of Ian’s writing for S&C, here, along with past editions of the Pompey Politics Podcast.