There is no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives. Celebrating New Year 2020, who would have thought in the space of a few months there would be mass panic followed by three months of lockdown. But since the rules have relaxed how many can honestly say things are back to normal?
High Street Shopping
A series of conversations got me thinking, in so much as I was forced to challenge my own behaviour. For example I have always felt uncomfortable about doing too much shopping online for fear of how it affects the High Street. Being strongly in favour of British retail stores and independent businesses, there is no question these establishments are being gobbled up by global giants such as Amazon. This drew my mind to a post I wrote in 2019 on how enjoyable traditional High Street shopping can be; a feast for the senses.
Unfortunately the creeping consumerism associated with an abundance of online goods has grown worse and COVID-19 hasn’t helped. Even with shops gradually opening again, availability of some products has been scarce. I wanted to buy my husband a bird table for his birthday but after visiting numerous garden centres and pet shops there were none in stock. Reason? Restrictions on travel and freight resulted in a worldwide timber shortage.
With no choice but to search online, I found a nice bird table on Amazon. Begrudgingly bought it. Before I reached the checkout however, I was prompted to click a button for a free delivery option. Next thing I knew I was signed up for Amazon Prime.
How did that happen?
I don’t remember seeing any other choice for shipping… but too late. I had inadvertently signed up and the next time I saw my credit card statement I had been charged too! This naturally led me to purchasing more products on Amazon to get my money’s worth in free postage. Sneaky or what? Isn’t this exactly what they want you to do?
All things considered, I don’t mind paying for shipping. Someone has to package up the goods and deliver them to my house by courier (sometimes next day), so why should that be free? It saves having get into my car, use petrol and pay for parking to get it myself.
But oh, how easily we are seduced by the convenience of it all.
The Global Giants
The more we talked, the more I began to shudder at the sheer power these companies have not to mention the control they exert over us and I’m talking about the big boys: Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. It seems no coincidence that the tech C.E.O.s of these companies faced a congressional hearing last Wednesday to argue that their companies do not stifle competition. I saw it on the news, curious to wonder how the four chief execs would defend their powerful businesses under the hammer of the US government.
It is estimated Jeff Bezos of Amazon makes $2,489 per second, more than twice what the median US worker makes in a week. This is the richest man in the world, 36% richer than our own monarchy, and despite making billions from UK alone consumers, pays not a penny in UK tax.
Mark Zuckerberg has annual earnings of roughly $15 billion but if it’s not enough he made a fortune out of Facebook, he quickly leapt in to buy Instagram, the next rising social media platform and has even joked about buying Google.
According to the New York Times, members of the House judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee have investigated the internet giants for over a year on accusations that they have stifled rivals and harmed consumers.
But we’re letting it happen!
The second, more sinister initiative I embraced recently was the Smart Shop app. Once again COVID-19 has rendered human contact risky, so the app is designed to reduce it. I won’t deny it saved me time. Scan your goods and pack them, scan your QR code at the end and bish bosh, shopping done.
I resisted this for weeks and everything would have been great; if only the store worker who persuaded me to try it hadn’t said that checkouts would be phased out soon. Not good news for the elderly who prefer being served at a checkout. Also not good news for the millions of workers who will lose their jobs. I felt the same when the privatised railway companies brought in automated ticket machines in train stations, and post offices had self-serve weighing machines for sending parcels. Technology is rising but at what cost? How long will it be before humans are redundant, replaced by machines and robots?
We can’t push back technology but a depiction of where this world could be going is brilliantly portrayed in dystopian thriller, HOPE by Terry Tyler, my favourite holiday read of last year; with job losses and spiralling homelessness, it outlines a terrifying vision of how Britain could end up if we let the giants take over:
HOPE is set in the UK. Year 2028 (8 years from now). “Multinational conglomerate Nutricorp is busy buying up supermarket chains, controlling the media, and financing the new compounds for the homeless: the Hope Villages.”
It’s glum but it could be real. If we let it.
My goal is therefore to support the High Street, and buy from independent stores and farm shops. With online shopping embedded in our culture, I may still use the internet – but will endeavour to support the smaller retailers.
It is estimated that if companies such as Amazon paid tax (even if it was only 10%) it would fund our NHS. But the sad fact of the matter is we are bowing to these all- consuming global parasites, which means people will lose jobs, go hungry and homelessness will keep rising, whilst the 1% wealthiest in the world get richer and richer and richer. Everyone has a choice and I am not trying to preach, but be careful how you shop and if you can, make responsible choices.