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Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Chop wood, carry water

A joint survey by affiliate network Linkshare and research house Penn Schoen and Berland Associates on the impact of the recession on shopping habits in the UK has revealed that nine out of ten shoppers have more faith in information they read on the Internet than advice given to them by retail staff.

The survey revealed that 81 percent of consumers spend time conducting online research because TV and other forms of advertising do not give enough information in order to make an informed choice. As the purse strings tighten and the recession starts to bite, more consumers are also turning to the Internet in order to save money. The rise in Internet shopping is the most acute in southern England, with 23 percent of consumers planning to increase their online spending this year. This is followed by 20 percent of people in the Midlands and Wales, with the North of England and Scotland on 18 percent. This is not surprising when you consider that the industries most affected by the recession are concentrated in the main around London and the south-east, with many of those recently made redundant from such positions choosing to downsize into less well paid positions that they would not otherwise have considered.

The most popular tools for conducting research are price comparison sites (75 percent), user reviews (69 percent) and professional review sites (66 percent). Loyalty and disocunt voucher sites are also favoured by around 55 percent of respondents. 43 percent of respondents claimed to have purchased a product online that they may not otherwise have made without consulting these voucher sites, showing the importance of discounting on the prevailing culture. The good news is that despite the recession, 58 percent of respondents expect to spend as much as they did in 2008, if not more.

The message to retailers is clear, that they need to remain competitive in the face of savvy consumers, who are prepared to shop around in order to get the best prices, but also demand the best service. The public demand good service, but are not prepared to pay for it, perpetuating a minimum wage culture in which retail staff are expected to be experts on the products that they sell, learning more often than not in their own time, while subsisting on minimum wage because their bonusses have been cut to the bone. I speak as someone who has recently escaped from this madness, which affects more and more areas of retail. How glad I am to have made my escape.

Contrast this with my new job as a housekeeper in a nursing home, which I started this weekend, where the staff are treated as individuals rather than disposable commodities, their contribution valued for what it is, regardless of the role that they fulfil. I am ten times more fulfilled in what some would term a menial role, cleaning residents rooms and helping in the kitchen than I ever was selling expensive items that people believe they need in order to keep up with the Joneses, and have discovered there is real dignity in this. Like they say, chop wood, carry water.

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