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Dd131 Tma 03

In: Social Issues

Submitted By makha
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Outline the argument that supermarket power is a ‘zero-sum’ game
Basic necessities such as food are required for survival and we rely particularly on supermarkets and small businesses to make them available for purchase in contemporary UK. Power is a combination of influence control and/or dominance. Supermarket are to some extreme shaping our shopping choices by the variety they choose to stock and by seduction. Recent years have seen the supermarket gain a considerable degree of power by extending their ranges of goods and services, extending opening hours and expanding into local areas with superstores and convenience stores as well as on the High Street. Supermarkets expansion has resulted in the suffering and closure of many small local businesses. Dennis Wrong, Socioligist states that in a situation where the gain of one is equivalent to the loss of another so the net gain is zero, it is a ‘zero-sum’ game. This essay examines the relationship between supermarket power and a ‘zero- sum’ game. It shows how the supermarkets gain is balanced by the loss to others and outlines the ‘positive sum’ games of power.
The concept of power is viewed in variety of ways by different groups, I feel this depends on the angle you are viewing things from. Contemporary UK has four huge supermarket chains, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco often referred to as ‘giants’ by the economy which indicates the level of power and dominance they have in the market. Every consumer has personal preferences and rights of choice when it comes to making purchases of goods and services. These preferences some would argue, are influenced or controlled by the varieties made available to us along with other contributory factors. With the four supermarket chains dominating the food market, the power they have over what they offer to consumers limits the choices of the consumer. Some would argue that this is not the case, and consumers are given more choice by the supermarkets extending their ranges as well as being free to shop anywhere including independent retailers and small businesses in areas that are in need of custom.
We must be open to different or opposing views when looking at any situation. Naturally the supermarket giants attract a lot of attention when functions of new developments are underway with local councils. Those against supermarket domination feel that the supermarket giants are abusing their power at the expense of consumers, small local businesses, communities, and vulnerable labourers in the UK and on a global scale. This concept of power is understood as a ‘zero-sum’ game implying that it is not possible for everyone to win, in this case, the only real beneficent is the supermarket. A ‘zero-sum’ situation occurs when there is a win-lose situation. When we subtract the total losses to small businesses, the consumer and labourers who suffer from the gains of the supermarkets, and they sum to zero, it becomes a ‘zero-sum’ game. On the other hand, those who are in favour of the new developments of supermarkets, place focus on the potentially positive benefits from supermarket power. Examples of this include re-generation, giving consumers more choice, attracting smaller chains to join them in a retail park and increasing volumes of work for the UK labourer and abroad. This concept of power is a ‘positive-sum’ game where everyone is a beneficiary.
Supermarket power has consequences for the contemporary UK society and on a global scale, whether these are viewed as positive consequences or negative. Supermarkets also have a considerable amount of power when it comes to their purchasing especially as they have grown remarkably in size during recent years. ‘As the big four supermarkets have more than doubled the number of stores under their ownership in the UK since 2000, it seems fair to contend that their economic leverage has grown too’ (Allen, 2009, P66). This in effect has given supermarkets the market power to behave influentially for their own benefits. Subsequently, size and market power are major contributory factors towards the buying power of our supermarkets. Due to the size of the supermarkets their orders to manufacturers and sub-contractors are large scale, they are therefore able to use their buyer power for bargaining purposes and deals to their advantage. As I previously mentioned the labourers in the UK and abroad are the most vulnerable in this process. The reason being is that when supermarkets exercise their buying power, the production lines are most affected, especially overseas labourers by long working, poor working conditions and having no alternative but to accept the poor wage paid.
The increase in supermarket power clearly links with the corresponding deficiency of small local businesses. As a result the High Street suffers from a lack of choice, diversity and becomes what some citizens would describe as a ‘ghost town’ consisting of empty shop units for months or even years on end. ‘In support of this view, the Federation of Small Businesses points out that, since 2000, some 7000 local grocery stores have been lost, with independents closing at a rate of 2000 a year, whereas over the same period Tesco, Sainsbury’s Asda and Morrisons have doubled the number of stores that they operate. (Federation of Small Businesses, 2006)’. (Allen, 2009 P74).
In comparison, the graph below shows the number of stores (at the last updated count on Wikipedia) the four leading supermarkets have in operation.

Further facts as shown above include Tesco being the largest UK owned supermarket operating 3370 stores in the UK alone (last updated in April 14). Sainsbury’s had 1106 stores in (last updated in March 2013). Asda, owned by the US (part of Walmart) operates 565 in the UK (last updated February 2013). Morrisons is operating 569 stores (last updated in March 2014). Although the figures for the number of stores were not last updated at the same time, there is a clear picture that Tesco is in the lead and clearly does have a monopoly over food shopping in the UK. The fact that an anti-supermarket alliance (Tescopoly Alliance) has been set up by a number of supermarket opposing pressure groups and organisations speaks volumes in itself.
In summary, considering the facts and figures I have alarmingly come to know, I feel it is beyond fair to agree that supermarket power is a ‘zero-sum’ game. In looking carefully at the loss over the last 15 years especially to local businesses, towns and communities there is insufficient evidence to suggest a ‘positive-sum’ game where all have benefited. Although, I have only scratched the surface of the loss to cheap labourers in the UK and abroad, I do however feel that supermarket power is a strong ‘zero-sum’ game in that the cheap labour is highly took advantage of. The expansion and domination of supermarkets in the UK has evidently resulted in the closure of small local businesses and is continuing to do so, this situation is evidently a ‘zero-sum’ game. Activist groups are opposing these developments for that exact reason however, I do feel the more powerful hand is the one of the UK supermarkets. Many will claim that supermarket power is a ‘positive-sum’ game and a way forward for local economy boom.
Word count 1185…...

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