‘I don’t believe it!’ said my wife, slamming this week’s local newspaper in front of me with such force that my boiled egg almost fell out of its cup. Quickly steadying my wobbling breakfast with one hand, I held the paper in the other and looked at the front page headline that was causing her such agitation.
As far as I could see, it was good example of our local media supporting local independent shops.
‘I’m writing a letter to them,’ she declared. I was still puzzled by her reaction. Because they didn’t mention Your Life Your Style? I ventured. ‘Of course not.’ She gave me a withering look. ‘It’s the way they describe the Sales offers in the national chains as a sign they’re not doing well,’ she kindly explained.
She was right, of course. I’ve known a lot of journalists and they’ve all been both intelligent and skeptical. I doubt this reporter was any different, so if he didn’t realise these Sales are disingenuous, what hope is there for an average shopper?
Take the 3 For The Price Of 2 promotions he noticed and that you find everywhere. The fact is, shops plan these offers from the start and build the discount into the price.
Not so terrible, you’ll probably say. OK then, what about Half Price offers? Surely that must be a case of shops finding themselves with too much stock? Not always. The Guardian reported a few weeks ago that a leading supermarket was advertising Christmas trees and chocolate yule logs at half price. Had they found that Christmas was approaching fast and they needed to shift excess goods? Not a bit of it. Both products had last been available at full price back in October. Call me cynical but who buys a Christmas tree that will be dead before Christmas or a Yule Log that has a Use By date weeks before Yule?
Then there were the mince pies that had been reduced in price to £2.00. A nice saving of 50p unless you realise that they were also reduced at the same time last year, when you could get them for £1.25. So, really it was a 60% increase in price in only twelve months.
Which? reported in November that many big name supermarkets put prices up to make multi-buy offers look good. One example was typically selling a Goodfellas Deep Pan Pepperoni pizza at about £1, then putting it up to £2.50 to coincide with a multibuy deal of £4.50 for two.
The national chain stores are relying that their customers won’t keep track of prices on the tens of thousands of products on the shelves and will take the offers at face value. What leads them to treat their customers with such contempt? I think size is the problem. The bigger a company gets the more disconnected from its customers it becomes.
In a small business like ours, we know our customers and they know us. You could say the entire success or otherwise of independent shops is based on a fair and honest relationship between us and our customers. We could neither get away with this kind of behaviour I’ve described nor would we want to. Whereas in an office miles from any of their shops, marketing teams working for the big supermarkets dream up clever schemes to dupe people who are never more than numbers and demographics to them.
Size also means that an employee doing something underhand is shielded from the consequences by collective responsibility and layers of management. Chief executives may want their company to operate ethically but, as we saw with what happened at Barclays and other banks or the BBC or News International, they don’t even know what’s going on. People on the shop floor may also want to treat their customers fairly but they have no say in what goes on.
For independents, the struggle against the power and trickery of national chains verges on the unwinnable. Our relationship with our customers is one of our few weapons.

As my wonderful wife said in her letter to the Chronicle, our Sale starts after Christmas and the bargains will be genuine.