Why consistency and continuity of service is important

 

Castries, St. Lucia, where the people rely on our Fair Trade

Shopping for essentials

As consumers, when we are out shopping we have an expectation of what we can buy. We do not like to be disappointed to find that what we want we can no longer get.

At our local supermarket I have had some disappointments recently. I rather liked their own-brand baked beans, but they have obviously changed their supplier and now although the label and packaging look the same, the product is different and inferior. However the price is the same.

At the same supermarket, I rather liked their Fair Trade tea. We try to support Fair Trade in our household as do so many.  The supermarket, the one owned by Walmart, seems to have stopped stocking their own-label Fair Trade tea or indeed anyone else’s. I have to go elsewhere to “do my bit” with regard to tea.

Retiring iGoogle

Then again I really find iGoogle useful. It aggregates so much of my stuff, and yet iGoogle is being retired next year. From their comment we can see that they are not really offering anything else as a proper substitute. I do not pay Google anything currently, but maybe they could make iGoogle subscription based and keep it on. I do give them the use of my stuff in return for the use of theirs.

Maybe I could use an assortment of Google’s other products, but it is a bit like being told you must wear a digital watch rather than an analogue one. So many people prefer analogue, and so many people might want all their web-based stuff in one place, which is not on their phone. And yes, I like my Android phone, but I am not alone in feeling abandoned

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Choices spoiled

People like choice, and having made a choice they do not like to be told they cannot have their preferred offering any more.

Of course commercial decisions have to be made and if there is a fall in demand we cannot expect to always get what we like. Perhaps the supermarket and Google felt they had to make changes on commercial grounds, but it is important to offer customers a viable alternative.

Be consistent

As long as a product or service is popular, our customers and clients should have a reasonable expectation that we will carry on supplying it. We must take into account their preferences and cater for minor differences as far as we can. We should not chop-and-change because it confuses our customers and our audience prospects. Chopping-and-changing would make us look unreliable.

If I like to buy something regularly and rely on a supplier, I don’t like to find that I cannot get it any more, or to have to go elsewhere, because I may take all my custom to that other place.

Do you miss being able to buy something you always liked in the past?

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Hard times and worse horrors

Castries Harbour, St Lucia, whence Fair Trade bananas and cocoa are exported

Small businesses are under the cosh in the UK. Our markets are very difficult. People don’t want to buy even when we can help them save money. I don’t sell answers which are not worth a lot more than they cost, but prospective clients still take a lot of convincing.

All of Europe is struggling in business. Germany is the strongest, but needs its markets, and the uncertainty of the fate of the Euro is hampering ambition. We are told that countries such as India are booming and riding the crest of the wave. Those in the Cities are apparently doing well, yet we are told that the poor in especially those in rural areas are being abandoned, even being prevented from using agricultural machinery.   No, I don’t understand it

Sky News ran this report about the bottom having dropped out of the cotton market, leading to the ruin of Indian cotton farmers. It is really harrowing and puts in perspective our own troubles. Of course if growing cotton is not making any money, we would say in our Western way that they should grow something else, because if something we have always done isn’t working, we should change our ways. I don’t have the knowledge as to whether these farmers could grow something else such as maize or sweet potatoes, but it would need new finance and education which the Indian farmers can’t get.

If something isn’t working, it needs changing. It needs a new approach to business. We in the West have the capacity to change because we have the technology to do the research and we can easily find out, if we don’t know, the right people to help. That’s what we have to do.

None of us has all the answers, especially when it comes to business and agriculture in another land. Let us change our businesses to do what we need to make more money, and let us see how we can help subsistence farmers like those in India by donating to appropriate charities and buying Fair Trade products.

We can help, even if in a small way, even just by changing our shopping habits.  Don’t you agree we really must make the effort to help?

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Should we worry about our purchasing ethics?

 

Marigot Bay, St. Lucia (pronounced Saint Loo-sha)

A year or so back my wife and I were lucky enough to visit St. Lucia. It is a beautiful island, and if you get the chance to go there, I do recommend it.  It is a place where we from the developed world can enjoy great luxury in the sun, buy cheap goods in the market, and generally have a good time.

 

And yet…

Yes, and yet… And yet the one thought that struck us as soon as we got out of town was the extreme poverty. We had seen appalling poverty before in South Africa, but that didn’t make it any easier in St. Lucia. How can we Westerners imagine living in a wooden shack with no washing or toilet facilities, and perhaps relying on a spring or a stand pipe outside or some hundreds of yards away? How can we imagine having inadequate protection from the weather? It may seem like paradise to us, but when it rains in St. Lucia it really rains, and the winds during the storms are tremendous.

In some ways it took a while for the full reality of life there to sink in. We might have felt condescending in the first place to those in the street who would create an animal out of a palm leaf for one US dollar. Our Western sensitivities were upset along the country roads by men who had captive boa constrictors they wanted to show us for money. “How cruel” was our first reaction!

Bananas

Yet, how are these people to get by? We learned that J Sainsbury, the UK supermarket bought most of the year round banana crops from the plantations, which at least shows that someone cares. Fresh local bananas are delicious. St. Lucia bananas are sold under the Fair Trade scheme in the UK, and since our visit to St. Lucia, my wife and I have always bought Fair Trade bananas. If they are from the Windward Islands we hope sometimes they are from St. Lucia. Of course they are often more expensive than other bananas but we allow ourselves to think we are doing our bit. Are we really, though?

We have been moved to buy other Fair Trade products such as tea, but how much responsibility should we take in our shopping, and do we always know whether we are doing the right thing?

Business aspects

The same applies to business purchasing of course. There are some who boycott products from certain countries and I have done this in the past too, but someone somewhere may suffer from a boycott. Many workers in poor countries may be exploited dreadfully, but as Chris Brogan reminded me (see the comments) that may be the only job they can get to feed their families. It may be that someone has to do the job even if in much worse conditions than Chris’s thoroughly Western mayonnaise factory and unless we are really sure that boycotting or supposed ethical purchasing doesn’t hurt anyone, maybe we should avoid it.

That doesn’t get us off the hook of course. We need to press Governments and NGOs to encourage or persuade poorer nations to tackle exploitation. The main way will be through education and cracking down on criminals who may be involved in the effective slavery of men, women and tragically, children.

Where now?

My take is that Fair Trade is helpful, that we must think very carefully before boycotting products (probably mostly electronic and computer gear in business), that we should press Government and help charities working in the relevant areas.

My, what a thorny issue. What do you think?

In the market in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia

 

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