Better publicity for responsible retailing initiatives is the way forward, says Stephen Crawley
Just as the furore over the pricing set by one of the largest supermarkets carrying the latest Harry Potter book begins to die down, you can't help but wonder whether this was just a publicity stunt; a genuine passion to give fans of the book the best price; or bully-boy tactics regarding competitor pricing.
The supermarket's decision to sell the book at £5 a copy certainly may have sounded the "deathly hallows" of a number of smaller independent operators, many of whom bought their copies from local supermarkets rather than from the publisher Bloomsbury in the struggle to compete.
Is this any different from the tactics adopted by the supermarket giants when selling alcohol? Lately, they have come in for increased criticism for selling alcohol at below cost price from a wide range of bodies, including Camra and the Royal College of Physicians.
While many of our European neighbours and a number of states in America outlaw the practice, in the UK there is little movement on what surely would be a sensible law that would help in the fight against alcohol-related disorder. No responsible producer of alcohol wishes to see their product sold at below the price a stockist has paid for it.
In Ireland, a year after the abolition of the Groceries Order, which banned below-cost selling, the Beverage Council of Ireland (BCI), the representative body for the alcoholic and non-alcoholic sectors, urged the Government to introduce a ban on below-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets.
BCI president Edward McDaid accused the Government of failing to take action against the widespread sale and promotion of alcohol by the supermarkets, which is at odds with the industry and public policy endeavours to promote responsible drinking. A bit like over here then. We need to get our act together and shout louder about responsible retailing initiatives taking place across the pub and leisure sector; our voice is constantly being drowned out by sensationalist headlines that point the finger at the pub retailer.
Now we hear that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will look to review 24-hour licensing - this really needs to be put into context. There are a couple of hundred pubs that hold a 24-hour licence, but, as far as we are aware, there are none that trade 24 hours a day. The supermarkets, however, operate several hundred, with Tesco managing around 150 alone.
As one of the country's biggest retailers the company can expect to attract some criticism and as the Royal College of Physicians commented in their submission to the Competition Commission inquiry into whether supermarkets have too dominant a position in the groceries market: "If supermarkets wish to make a positive contribution to the health of the nation and be more socially responsible, they could switch to discounting healthy foods." Now that would be an enlightened step.