THE CALL for a two-day mass boycott of shops in protest against high prices can only be described as a grand, but meaningless, gesture, of the type that is more concerned about attracting publicity for the organisers than achieving any results. It is aimed at showing the organisers were doing something, when in reality they would be doing very little of practical value to the people they are supposed to help.
The Cyprus Union of Consumers and Quality of Life called the boycott for next weekend because, according to its representative, “fraud and profiteering in the market are everywhere and everyday it gets worse.”
Loucas Arsitodemou said that “for the past two years prices have plummeted in all EU countries and have only soared in Cyprus.” He gave the example of petrol prices and of necessities such as bread and milk “which were three times higher than other EU countries,” and claimed there was no competition, price cartels “working undisturbed and unpunished.”
While there is truth in what he says, it is very difficult to see what a shopping boycott would achieve. Even in the highly unlikely event that it were observed, it would not hurt shops, as people would buy their food and fill their cars with petrol before or after the weekend of the boycott. So why bother with this empty gesture? According to Aristodemou, “the message you send is of great importance” as it would “show your indignation to all those who want your money but do not respect you.”
This is the type of hollow talk we expect from politicians, who love to make idle claims about ‘profiteering’ because it has an effect. But no shop will lower its prices because of the boycott or the rhetoric of consumer groups. People do not need defiant public declarations and publicity stunts, but practical help and the best way for consumer groups to help is to offer information, such as price comparisons among shops, value for money analyses for competing products, tips on how to shop smartly, evaluations of special offers and so forth.
This would require resources, but a consumer group that shows its only interest is to protect consumers, could use volunteers and secure funds from the EU. We do not need consumer groups that waste money on surveys that tell us that 10 per cent of households had seen their incomes drop 41 to 50 per cent. Does this help consumers in any way? If the money was spent on a survey on which supermarkets have the lowest vegetable prices or the biggest number of special offers it would have been much more helpful to the 10 per cent of households that saw their incomes drop by 50 per cent.
This is how consumer groups would best serve consumers and not through boycotts and political declarations.