You may have read about the report earlier this week from the Competition Authority on the reason for the price differentials between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland prices. It would seem that the reason is little to do with profiteering on the part of the retailers, or higher price margins, but is mostly down to ‘lax consumers’ who fail to hunt out good value.
A few years ago Mary Harney famously said, in response to complaints about the high cost of living, that people should ‘shop around’. This really, really, really annoyed me at the time, and continues to rankle today. So people should shop around, eh? Fair enough. Let’s take an average middle-income Irish person as a sample. This person works in Dublin but lives in Celbridge, Co Kildare, because they couldn’t afford to buy a house near their job, thanks to the property boom which favoured developers and priced ordinary working people out of the market. This person has to commute for 2-3 hours each day.
Let’s say also that this person has two small children in childcare, who have to be picked up after the commute. The childcare, by the way, costs at least €1500 each month and not one penny of that is tax-deductible. In between working, commuting and trying to enjoy some brief time with the kids before they go to bed, this person is also expected to visit 5-6 shops each week in order to get the best possible value? The red mist is starting to descend. Where on earth is the understanding of what ordinary people’s lives are like?
I’ll try to avoid plunging into a full-on rant about this (too late, you say). I’m lucky enough to live and work in Dublin city centre, and have access to plenty of different supermarkets and am able to shop around quite easily. But the vast majority of people do not have this luxury, and have to somehow fit their shopping into already overstretched and overworked lives. Claims like this are, I think, a complete abdication of the responsibility of government and regulatory bodies to properly monitor the markets, and as I said above a total lack of understanding of the pressures that ordinary people are under.
This is something I’ve been thinking (and seething) about for a while, and we plan to do a feature about it here soon. We know a few ways that you can plan out your visits to shops in order to get the best value while minimising the time you spend. And if any of you have any tips, please do let us know.