Discuss the role of power in shaping the distribution of benefits and losses in consumer society.
In the UK today, there are a large amount of supermarkets and other shops, often out of town, in which we are able to buy all that we could possibly need. This has led to shopping becoming a leisure activity for many people; something to be enjoyed in your spare time. This activity has led to social scientists to believe, we now live in a consumer society. (Hetherington, 2009) states ‘Shopping is a part of what social scientists call consumption and many social scientists suggest we now live in a consumer society.’ A large proportion of shopping now occurs in one of the four big supermarkets (Tesco’s Sainsburys, Asda and Morrisons), with many of us shopping weekly in these places. (Bevan, 2006) says ‘ ... Tesco’s, Sainsburys’s, Asda and Morrisons – take nearly three out of every four pounds that are spent on food and groceries in the UK’. Their increasing size has given the big supermarkets huge amounts of market and buying power. This means that they have considerable influence over market conditions in the UK and can negotiate favourably for themselves and their consumers. The growth and power of the supermarkets is a controversial subject with those pro supermarkets heralding the growth as favourable by creating jobs, regenerating run down areas and bringing affluence to an area. The anti-supermarkets groups disagree stating a loss of smaller, individual shops, the emptiness of high streets and reduced choice for the consumer. There are benefits and losses to society by the growth of the supermarkets and some of these, can be more clearly seen than others.
When a new supermarket is built there are many advantages for the local community. This is particularly true if unemployment is high and the neighbourhood is generally run down. A new store will create jobs for people living in the area and skills development. (Evidence in the social sciences, 2009, track 1) Dodd states, ‘When supermarkets open in areas when they bring the sort of retail skill and the expertise they have in running those businesses, then of course, one thing they do is they generate jobs.’ More employment in an area also means greater affluence as there is more disposable income. Jobs are also created overseas, as the large supermarkets buy their supplies from areas like Bangladesh and there are the Europeans working in the supermarket pack houses and food-processing plants. This is called a positive-sum game by social scientists. All the parties involved have more gains than losses.
The arrival of large supermarkets also brings more choice to the consumer. Older style, smaller ‘corner shops’ are only able to stock a limited amount of goods. The prices of the products in these shops are often expensive. This leaves their consumers that have a small budget, limited in the products that they could afford to purchase. Due to their financial situation they would suffer inequality. The large supermarkets have enabled them to live more equally to their peers, due to the cheaper prices of their products.
However, there are many people who do not gain from the arrival of the big supermarkets. The smaller, independent retailers have struggled to compete with the offers and low prices that are offered by the large shops. The big stores can negotiate good discounts from their suppliers, due to their ability to buy in bulk and they are able to pass this discount on to their consumers by their lower prices. The smaller shops are not able to offer the range of products that the big supermarkets can. At the large stores consumers are able to buy most of what they...
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