By Adv. Ehud Peleg*
At a recent retail conference, Shufersal CEO was quoted as saying, “We are doing all we can to get people to spend money,” and added disparagingly, “Today, the latest Israeli national pastime is comparing prices and conducting surveys.”
A few months ago, at another highly-attended conference, the CEO of a large communications company was quoted as saying, “We can no longer instruct our employees to tell consumers a lot of hogwash, because the very next day they compare notes on social networks.”
There are few opportunities for us, the consumers, to get first-hand testimony of the real policies and guidelines of corporate governance which ultimately affect us, whether in the form of service or pricing.
The picture that emerges from the statements of the two CEOs is a grim reality of the face of commerce, whereby corporations do everything to get hold of consumers’ money, and based on the statement of the CEO of the communications company, this is not always done in the most ethical manner (white lies are complete lies).
Corporate managements do not see any reason to apologize for their policies and even disapprove of consumer attempts to challenge them.
It would appear that the situation is exacerbated when the Consumer Council – a consumer representative body – turns to the government and the Knesset requesting a tightening of the consumer protection network. Only then do we hear the strong protest of corporations arguing that the state should neither burden business costs nor intervene in the free market, by creating "excess regulation".
There is serious concern that the "free market" argument is too often used as a white-wash slogan to block government supervision and intervention aimed at consumer protection. This mantra is replacing the fairness of the country’s commerce. After all, the goal of corporations is not to operate in a real free market, but rather operate in a market that is free from regulation, allowing them unrestrained and centralized power.
The appropriate consumer response to corporate policy is to take responsibility for their spending habits: it takes two to tango in the trading process. The consumer is the one who should decide when and where to spend his money. If he does this by comparing prices and the value he gets for his money - he will become a wiser and more informed consumer, able to make sensible and gainful purchases.
Given that the personal pastime of Shufersal’s CEO's is to take consumers’ money, the national pastime of consumers needs to be price comparisons.
Every consumer has the basic right to obtain price comparisons and to make free choices in the purchasing process. Today, the heads of corporations are trying to thwart this basic right, with the aim of milking more money from consumers.
The Consumer Council has recently launched the Consumer Council Patrol Project (in Hebrew, SEMEL – Sayeret Hamoetza Letzarchanut), a campaign to protect consumers with a weekly posting of data on the Consumer Council website about the prices of products in hundreds of points of sale in Israel.
Consumers who adopt price comparisons as the new national pastime, will not only be lowering the price of their shopping basket, they will also be giving the CEO of Shufersal an appropriate consumer and Zionistic message.
*The writer is the CEO of the Israel Consumer Council