Over the last few weeks I have been openly discussing the need to create a new consumer culture in Australia (see my comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald): http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/consumers-must-stop-accepting-second-best-20100315-q9id.html
I have received a very positive response from people right across the country. Many feel and have felt for years, a sense of frustration and isolation in their belief that consumers should be treated better. The overwhelming response shows that we are not alone, but the challenge is what we do about it.
At the moment the terms of the debate are set by bad business, from the underlying assumptions, to the language used and the way we are treated. First up then is to pick apart the underlying assumptions. How often have you heard that “Australia is different to other countries, higher prices are a price we pay for living where we do”. Or, “it’s cheaper to buy a new one than to get it mended, don’t expect it to last”. And a sentiment that “kicking up a fuss reflects badly on you and it’s embarrassing anyway”.
Firstly, Australia is different, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should pay higher prices. New Zealand is different, it’s a long way from anywhere and has a tiny population but it has not seen the increase in food prices that Australia has; Britain is different because it imports most of its produce, but consumers also pay lower prices. We’re all different but that is not an excuse to rip us off.
Secondly, technology is now so much more advanced and better than it was years ago that we shouldn’t have to accept the mantra that this is a throw-away society. It’s only throw-away because replacement is easier and more profitable to business. A toaster built today should be better than one built 50 years ago and the environment today also relies on all of us keeping things longer.
Thirdly, “kicking up a fuss” is emotive language designed to make you feel unreasonable. Actually, standing up and asking for what is rightly yours to expect is more like it. Isn’t it theft if someone takes something from you? You don’t side with the crook who steals from your home, so why the shop that steals from your wallet?
A new language reflecting the new consumer needs to emerge and one that sits well with our national culture. A fair squeeze of the sauce bottle was probably a statement too far, but a fair go, fair play, fair rules are much more in line with what people feel comfortable with.