The real problem which this decision reflects is an incremental and inconsistent approach to retail regulation. The "big five" supermarkets now account for about 70% of the market. Key ingredients in their success are the influence they exert on the food chain and on competition and planning authorities. Assessing particular retail initiatives requires clear and consistent thinking.
A useful mechanism for developing consistent policy is to look at the issue in the same way as the retailers - in terms of whether or not they are giving consumers "what they want". Consumer experiences of competition ought to be a crucial "anchor point" for the government's approach to retail policy but beg a fuller understanding of how different groups of consumers use and experience multiple and independent stores. Looking at retail competition through the "lens" of consumer choice, as we do in our current ESRC-funded research, will provide the guiding insight necessary to achieve a delicate balance across varied policy-making arenas. It should be possible to extrapolate from this un derstanding to assess the implications for consumers of what might happen next - a few examples being the effects of 24-hour trading, of additional road congestion on the competitiveness of those retailers able to maintain extended hours, and of large retail multiples taking over smaller convenience operators. At the heart of this idea is a more proactive approach to planning, rooted in the experiences of consumers making retail choices within constantly changing local competitive situations. The key question is whether consumers feel they have sufficient choice and, if not, how can policy be used to address such situations?
Prof Ian Clarke
Give customers more say on the future of shopping
Lancaster University Management School and four colleagues
The Guardian - United Kingdom; Dec 24, 2002