Chris Gray writes from London: Tell me honestly: were you surprised when you heard that two major supermarket chains in Britain were selling filtered tap water under their own brands of ‘still water’, cunningly positioning the bottles among the accepted top brands of proper mineral and spring water and making a profit of about 2,500 per cent on the operation? (Both chains, mind you, have rejected the notion that they were unashamedly selling tap water.) Come on, come on, put your hand on your heart and tell me that you were shocked to learn that supermarkets were taking their customers for a ride.
I bet very few of you out there were surprised. Because it is a given that supermarkets and the retail trade generally like, you know, to bend the rules a bit when it comes to making money. It’s not a proper business really, retail trade that is, and never has been. And it does not create proper jobs, relying on the lowest level of unqualified labour that needs no training and no knowledge and gets paid close to nothing.
Take the pricing con: what do all these price tags with 19.99 or 199.99 or even 999.99 on them actually stand for? The only point here is to trick people into automatically missing the point that 19.99 is actually 20 or that 199.99 is as close to 200 as it gets and that 999.99 is a grand. Goods should not be priced like that. It’s a con, pure and simple. And yet, the retail trade has the nerve to teach their managers that fooling people is a great way to move the stuff off the shelves quickly.
Let’s be brutally honest: the whole point of retail is to make you buy goods, whether you need them or not and in the biggest volumes possible and as often as possible, preferably 24/7. It’s all supposed to be about skilful marketing and promotion and not about price fixing and cheating. Although selling tap water does raise the level of con-artistry a notch or two. What next, urine mixed with lemonade for that added goodness?
And how about those two-for-one or three-for-two or even four-for-three offers? You know, you buy something and you get another one free. Or you buy two of something and you get a third one free – and so on. Why do you think that retailers don’t just cut the price of the items by half or by one third? Come on, take your time, think about it. Got it now? Good. It’s all done to clear the shelves as quickly as possible. They win and you lose because more often than enough you buy more goods than you need. Clever buggers, aren’t they.
Not forgetting all those so-called ‘great discounts’ when the initial prices are grotesquely inflated in the first place. It’s just another way of price fixing, a term that retailers don’t like to hear. It just doesn’t fit well the image of a customer friendly operation, does it?
And there are more tricks of the trade. How about confusing labels, for example, that don’t really explain what you’re buying, or very tight ‘use-by’ dates that force you more than often to throw out the produce and buy more. My personal favourites are the ‘new improved recipe’ brands in supermarkets that usually mean that the stuff is not as good as the old one was, but still costs exactly the same, or even more.
The change of packaging or of brand name also works well for the seller in respect of prices. Or selling smaller packaging and with the price again going up. And how about charging the same price for low fat and full fat produce when it should be different, as low fat foods lack the same goodness as full fat foods.
Another way of making the consumers pay more is setting the same price for, say, an item of clothing that has been made in China or the sweat shops of South East Asia as for the higher quality wear made in Italy, for example. There is a difference in quality, you know, a big, big difference. But does anyone pay any attention to where the clothes are made? Nope, they are just not bothered or are too busy to search for the labels that are now often hidden somewhere on the inside.
Top designer brands charge you a fortune for things that have been made by slave labour in some shitty sweat shop where they pay $1 a day. Or less than that. Shifting the production to places with cheaper labour but keeping the prices high is another way of price fixing.
Retail trade has become way too cunning in its selling techniques. So the customer has no other choice really but to stay alert. And read the bloody label, at least from time to time.
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