Why is John Harris so alarmingly ignorant?

Supermarkets are taking over the high street and it\’s all big capitalism\’s fault. Fight The Man!

Between January and June this year, the proportion of British shops lying empty increased again, to an average of nearly 15%; the centre of Nottingham topped the rankings with 31% of shops unoccupied, up from 23%. But for those big corporate interests who have staked their money on retail parks, the news was rather different: in those places, the average vacancy figure is a lowly 9%.

From there, it is only a short hop to one of the most alarming beliefs of our time – that the high street has had it, and only charity shops, bookies and coffee outlets can even do business there, along with the supermarkets\’ ubiquitous convenience stores. The latter are now spreading at speed into disused pubs, which represents a poetic development indeed: one-time centres of socialising now echoing only to the grim bleeps of self-service checkouts, as Jacob\’s Creek, cigarettes and ready meals are ferried home to be consumed in private.

Not surprisingly, the standard explanation for all this takes its cue from the credo of the free market. Britain, it\’s said, is so overjoyed with internet consumerism that the old-fashioned shop seems drab – but no one mentions the fact that Amazon pays no UK corporation tax, or that such firms as Play.com, the Hut group and Indigo Starfish use well-worn VAT dodges.

Might just be worth mentioning that 11-12% of retail sales are now made over the internet. It wouldn\’t be a terrible surprise to thus find out that 11-12% of the previous stock of retail space was now surplus to requirements.

But the much larger problem is that Harris and his ilk have forgotten what it means to live in liberty and freedom. Such meaning that you have the freedom and liberty to shop at a supermarket or at an independent as you wish. But you do not have the right to ban one or the other and deny other people said freedom and liberty.

And, note, if people in general didn\’t value the supermarkets, if they valued the independents over the supermarkets, then the supermarkets would go bust and the independents would thrive. Meaning that the very fact that you are trying to ban supermarkets in order to preserve the independents is proof perfect that you think your fellow citizens desire the supermarkets more than the independents.

You are, in fact, deliberately trying to screw over your fellows\’ preferences by using the law to limit their options.

How very fucking liberal of you.

43 thoughts on “Why is John Harris so alarmingly ignorant?”

  1. > The latter are now spreading at speed into disused pubs, which represents a poetic development indeed: one-time centres of socialising now echoing only to the grim bleeps of self-service checkouts, as Jacob’s Creek, cigarettes and ready meals are ferried home to be consumed in private.

    So rescind the smoking ban, then people can smoke in public again. Simples.

  2. Quite so. Ian, and I would add that my lady’s former bar was a private place, where she could decide who was able to come in or not, and how they behaved while they were there.

    The ban on smoking in “public” was actually a ban on smoking in “private”. Bars could always choose to be non-smoking in part or entirely.

    Except that most of those who choose to be non-smoking did badly.

  3. “…but no one mentions the fact that Amazon pays no UK corporation tax, or that such firms as Play.com, the Hut group and Indigo Starfish use well-worn VAT dodges.”

    People would rather not pay artificially inflated prices SHOCK!

    Next week, the ‘Guardian’ looks into the unprecedented woodland ursine defecation situation.

  4. ‘one time centres of socialising now echoing only to the grim bleeps of self-service checkouts, as Jacob’s Creek, cigarettes and Ready Meals are ferriedc home to be consumed in private’

    High VAT and Duty which have raised the Pub Price to nearly 4 pounds a pint and the smoking ban obviously not having any effect then?

    In terms of a more general commentary on the article, I can fairly easily envisage that people like Harris would like people to be directed to a single shop for all their shopping needs. From my research into the USSR and other ‘planned’ economies, this is exactly the ‘choice’ that their citizens receive. Between This clown and Monbiot advocating the banning of ‘inessential travel’, the future looks clear – buy anything the state lets you and move only with the requisite permit.

  5. Apart from city center parking charges for customers, Nottingham businesses also pay a workplace parking levy.

  6. It isn’t even just about price for me any longer. I can order a DVD while sat in bed, I can order coffee beans while sat on a bus. Last year, we did a shopping order while sat on a ferry.

    That all means that I’m making use of dead, or worthless time to buy things, rather than going out to shop on my weekends.

    And the difference in costs between online and retail are huge. How do Moonpig sell custom cards for the same price as cards in shops? Because they aren’t paying for staff who spend more than half their week standing around waiting for something to happen in expensive premises.

    Unless you can sell something that has to be seen, smelt, tasted or tried on (like clothing, perfume or jewellery), people aren’t very likely to buy retail any longer.

  7. The irony in all this is that the main cause pf high street death is a lack of free parking spaces thanks to money grubbing local councils.
    I’d rather buy my lunch from town, than from the hot food counter in tesco but not when I’ve got to stump up another £1 so I can leave the car five minutes walk from the shop for 15mins…

  8. @ Slibs ‘…the high council tax rates for businesses…’

    @Van_Patten’ ‘High VAT and Duty…’

    @theProle ‘…a lack of free parking spaces thanks to money grubbing local councils.’

    All of which is about extracting money from one set of people to give to another set, the other set being, largely, people who buy, and are even employed through the pages of, The Guardian.

  9. Online retailers also have the benefit of being able to keep a wider range of stock, whether in cheap warehouses rather than expensive high street shops, or virtually by getting distributors to drop-ship directly to the consumer.

    My tastes in music have become quite obscure and it’s rare that I can find anything I want to listen to on the shelves of high street stores. They could order it for me, but I’d have to wait a week or more (assuming they don’t cock up the order and need to re-do it), so why should I do that when I can order it myself, have it arrive next day potentially, and save anything upto 70% compared with high street prices? The same applies to electrical goods and anything else that’s mass produced and either generic or bought based on specific make/model.

    There was a little independent record store I used to use, but that was because they a) were knowledgeable and could make useful recommendations b) kept a good stock of obscure stuff and c) were fairly price-competitive, particularly if one considered their used stock. Sadly, not enough people felt – or rather behaved – the same way…

    As far as food stores go, if anything, it looks like the independents are on the resurgence – those that have convenient opening hours for working households, have good products and are helpful and knowledgeable about what they sell. Good riddance to the rest, pretty much.

  10. Interested

    Absolutely – These ae the people who are defending the ‘Courageous State’ and doing ‘Socially useful’ jobs.they are also the key reason why it appears Miliband, and by extension Richard J Murphy are on their way to election victory in 2015.

  11. “Online retailers also have the benefit of being able to keep a wider range of stock, whether in cheap warehouses rather than expensive high street shops”

    Actually in quite alot of industries are looking to implement a business were you don’t keep stock for spare parts. You just have a few 3D printers for polymer, ceramic and metal then if a client needs a part you just print it off, do a little assembly and sell it.

  12. “…but no one mentions the fact that Amazon pays no UK corporation tax, or that such firms as Play.com, the Hut group and Indigo Starfish use well-worn VAT dodges.”

    Well with Amazon we see the EU single market in action and this cuts both ways. As for the “VAT dodges”, I’m assuming he’s banging on about low value consignment relief which, for the Channel Islands, Osbourne shut down as of April this year.

    @Tim Almond

    Unless you can sell something that has to be seen, smelt, tasted or tried on (like clothing, perfume or jewellery), people aren’t very likely to buy retail any longer.

    Those examples that you mention will struggle as well as unless it is at the high end of the market and/or niche, it’s very easy to do an online clothes shop (I know my size, what I like, and returns policies tend to be generous, i.e. free, no questions), buy the missus her favourite perfume, or a nice pair of earrings.

    I can’t remember the last time I went out to a shop apart from a supermarket to buy something. What’s the point when I can seek out whatever I want anywhere in the world online and have it delivered to my door for less than the cost of petrol and parking at the nearest shops?

  13. @The Prole
    Got caught with this last time in the UK. Had to get a phone SIM which is only available from the company’s shop. The SIM was free but it cost me £3 to park. I’d actually got to the point of putting the ticket into the exit gate & having it rejected before I realised I was expected to pay for 15 minutes parking.
    I’m not sure I could explain this in France. Similar size town I’d only be expected to pay if I’d been longer than an hour & then only 60 cents. (12:30-14:30 doesn’t count because it’s lunch). They’d think you were mad. But then the town has the complete range of thriving shops despite there being a couple of hypers in the outskirts make a Sainsburys look like a corner shop.

  14. High VAT and Duty which have raised the Pub Price to nearly 4 pounds a pint

    Hmm. On a point of economics: duty works out as about 70p a pint, and is levied at the same rate irrespective of retail price.

    This is a vast proportion of supermarkets’ retail price, but a small proportion of pubs’ retail price.

    So any rise in alcohol duty serves, at the margin, to favour pub consumption and deter retail consumption, by reducing the percentage premium that the pub charges over the supermarket.

    Many people don’t get this, but this reflects the fact that many people are completely effing clueless about economics.

  15. @Blue Burmese

    “… buy the missus her favourite perfume,…”
    And this will be her only perfume? For life?

    This seems to be the problem with your town councils. They’re still wedded to the idea the high street is where all the shopping is done & the rates/taxes/charges can graze off the money flow. Sorry, it’s no longer true. Much retailing has moved elsewhere. By continuing with the model they’re loading all the costs on those businesses that could operate in the high street. Where the customer wants specialised services or needs to physically choose the product. Which are already the businesses who have the highest overheads in staff costs, stock costs, rents etc.
    It’s a recipe for commercial suicide.

  16. As a multi channel internet retailer my storage costs at amazon are £6 a month and locally for cheaper stock is under £100 a month. Sales costs are about 15% of total customer spend – I’d be mad to get a shop on the high street.

  17. From there, it is only a short hop to one of the most alarming beliefs of our time – that the high street has had it, and only charity shops…

    The fact that the high street is only populated by shops which are exempt from taxes speaks volumes. I suspect that the reason the French and German high streets survive, despite the presence of supermarkets there, is down to regulations and taxes more than anything else. Would be willing to be put straight on this, though.

    but no one mentions the fact that Amazon pays no UK corporation tax…

    Similarly, the Post Office doesn’t pay corporation tax in Luxembourg.

  18. Gareth – I know both Yodel and Citylink have people contracted to deliver goods. Our Royal Mail parcel deliveries are often made by a guy in a white van or a guy in a yellow van, no idea if he’s employed or not. Growth of people operating on a self employed basis or contracted company basis perhaps.

  19. Blue Burmese,

    Those examples that you mention will struggle as well as unless it is at the high end of the market and/or niche, it’s very easy to do an online clothes shop (I know my size, what I like, and returns policies tend to be generous, i.e. free, no questions), buy the missus her favourite perfume, or a nice pair of earrings.

    Well, clothing is a big inconsistent. I bought a pair of DMs. Exactly the same serial number and size as my current ones, and they didn’t fit. Women’s clothing is worse because sizes like “8” or “10” have no meaning, unlike say, the collar size of a shirt. Plus a lot of women like the social aspect of shopping.

    I’m not saying that some of that isn’t going online (it clearly is), so much that if you’re not in those categories then you are going to struggle to exist on the high street.

  20. “…I can’t remember the last time I went out to a shop apart from a supermarket to buy something. “

    Friday, for lightbulbs, having found Aldi’s and Tesco’s to be stinkers.

  21. The wife’s online shopping turned up the other day in a greengrocer’s van.

    Apparently once he’s bought that day’s fruit & veg the van just sat there all day, so now he makes a bit on the side doing deliveries.

    The big companies dump off a load of parcels in the morning, and he drives round the local villages delivering them. Saves their huge lorries having to drive all over to deliver one parcel.

    Looks like an efficient use of resources to me.

  22. but no one mentions the fact that Amazon pays no UK corporation tax…

    And to pay corporation tax anywhere, it has to make profits, and in truth it isn’t very profitable. Razor thin margins and tiny profits – great for you and me, but less so for the taxman.

  23. Being a bit of a devil’s advocate – high street rents are a bigger problem than rates (which are theoretically based on rental values at two or three removes). I make the tiny effort to buy fish and fruit and veg in the weekly (twice-weekly for fruit and veg) market, bread from the best local baker and meat from the best butcher – none of which are in the high street. The second-best baker is in the high street and charges noticeably higher prices for not-quite-so-good bread.

  24. ” I make the tiny effort to buy fish and fruit and veg in the weekly (twice-weekly for fruit and veg) market, bread from the best local baker and meat from the best butcher”

    Yeah, and I would too, only the butcher and the baker and the fishmonger open at 9am, by which time I’ve long since left for work, and close at 5.30, a good hour before the earliest time I can get back. If I wanted to shop there I’d have to do it on a saturday, and having worked all week the last thing I want to do with my saturday is spend it going round shops.

    Everyone likes to hate tesco for being successful, but they would n’t be so successful if everyone – including all the people who complain about tesco – didn’t also shop at tesco.

  25. @ sam
    My baker opens at/by 7.30 (it used to be 7 am so that I could eat a warm steak-and-kidney pie on the 7.20 instead of making breakfast).
    I don’t hate Tesco – I just like good food.

  26. @ John

    “I don’t hate Tesco – I just like good food.” Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you did. More that John Harris and friends all go on about how evil Tesco is the whole time, despite almost certainly shopping there.

    Your baker seems to have the right idea, although personally I’d prefer them to open later and close much later.

    I also like good food (in the absence of a decent baker, I learned how to make bread properly) which is why I’d like to be able to buy it. And if people don’t support independents they go out of business, but the independents don’t always make it as easy as they could…

  27. “One time centres of socialising now echoing only to the grim bleeps of self-service checkouts, as Jacob’s Creek, cigarettes and Ready Meals are ferried home to be consumed in private.” It’s true…it’s true. I can still recall pre-supermarket days, when you arrived home on the evening commute and the corner shop was a choice between tins of Spam or sardines. Supermarkets, like the internet have been a boon. Yes I miss the independents. Years ago Mrs G. used to spend weeks prior to birthdays or Xmas scouring specialist Soho music shops for rare recordings. Now I can order them online at the click of a mouse. Two thirds of the population couldn’t afford the produce from many of the butchers I know…supermarkets are as much a social service as they are shopkeepers.

  28. @ sam
    I wasn’t taking it as aimed at me personally, just didn’t want to be thought as doing this negatively. I do shop at Tesco and it’s quite good for a lot of stuff but I shall never buy “fresh” fish there.
    I admire your skill: I gave up trying (before I married) to bake bread after a few attempts where the results didn’t justify the effort – my overworked wife occasionally does so with better results but very rarely has the time to do so.
    @Bernie G
    For most of a decade before I married I walked to work because I had concluded that paying nearly half my after-tax income in rent was better than being killed by commuting and was able to buy bread, meat and fruit and vegetables before walking very fast to the office (other days I walked slower). The last time I bought a record was when I was visiting my (now sadly deceased) parents and I noticed a music shop on my way to the market to buy a Wensleydale to take south with me. Since then my wife has bought the records/CDs.

  29. @Interested, #10: “All of which is about extracting money from one set of people to give to another set, the other set being, largely, people who buy, and are even employed through the pages of, The Guardian.”

    End of comment.

  30. So Much for Subtlety

    the centre of Nottingham topped the rankings with 31% of shops unoccupied, up from 23%.

    The last time I was in the centre of Nottingham, I saw a rather lovely pre-1914 city that had been gutted in the 1960s a la Birmingham by really exceptionally ugly concrete eyesores and as a result was full of drug addicts, drunks and thuggish looking members of our vibrant and diverse multicultural communities.

    I am not sure you can blame Amazon for all of that.

  31. @SMFS:

    As much as I abhor those concrete eyesores, are they really to blame for the people living there?

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