What is the real price?

We are by no means suggesting that retail outlets should not have promotional sales, or that they should not lower the prices so drastically… What is at issue is the fact that, even at these markedly reduced prices on so many items, they are without doubt still making a profit

Going through the promotional brochure of a well-known retail outlet, I was more than surprised to see the sale price differences marked on the different items on promotion, compared to their previous prices. And this left me wondering about what is the real price of items that are sold to us?

A sample of a few of them will give a better idea of what I am referring to. For example, the prices of two 5-kg bags of rice, each of a different brand, were respectively (Rs, in rounded figures), 200/299 and 300/425 – a difference of Rs 100 and Rs 125 for each! And of course, the rounded 200 is actually 199.95, clearly a psychological marketing device so that the buyer feels s/he has actually paid less than 200. Fair enough for promotion by nudging the consumer’s psyche, but this much of difference?

And the same goes for other items, with the percentage differences being equally significant. A sparkling drink is at 80/125; a fruit juice pack is at 30/46; a brand of butter is at 43/90 (more than 50% reduction!); easy pack chicken is at 177/216 and fish at 100/144 (thank goodness not 99.95/…!); ice cream on sticks is 155/199; white flour is 40/52 – and so on.

It’s the same scenario for other retail supermarkets too. We are by no means suggesting that they should not have promotional sales, or that they should not lower the prices so drastically when, clearly, it is possible for them to do so. What is at issue is the fact that, even at these markedly reduced prices on so many items, they are without doubt still making a profit. Nor is this in dispute – for we do understand that we are in a free market economy, and that there has to be a margin of profit so as to recoup investment costs, and amongst other things cover overheads, pay staff, maintain the infrastructure, reinvest and expand the range of products and their quality, and effect economies of scale that benefit the customer, etc.

But who/what defines the reasonable profit margin? It must be, we presume as lay people, a combination of market forces and – hopefully – ethical considerations, although we wouldn’t expect the latter to go to the level of altruism in the business sector. But still, there must be some consideration for those at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder who probably also aspire to access these goods where they are sold, whenever they do their purchase in the inter-promotional periods.

All things being equal, it cannot be gainsaid that there has been a rise in the overall economic prosperity of the country in the past couple of decades, and that people are on the whole better off and are able to afford what their predecessors could not. That does not obviate the fact that there are those whose boats have not been lifted by the rising tide, but whose needs for basics in terms of food are no lesser than for the rest of their compatriots. So at least as far as the food segment is concerned, one can argue that the profit margin should be kept at a reasonable level – something which is clearly left to the discretion of the outlets over which the consumer has absolutely no control.

And so it is that when I go to the la foire I have no heart to bargain with the modest vendors of vegetables. Sure, the prices do fluctuate seasonally, but that’s only for short periods, but one cannot really complain when tomato prices, for example, go up for a couple of weeks. Most of the year we have an abundance of vegetables at prices affordable for all pockets – and anyone who has tried to grow something in the back garden will appreciate how much of time and effort need to be put into the endeavour so as to finally have something in the cooking pot. We have no qualms about spending money on pricey processed food items but make a big deal about buying the more wholesome and healthier natural products which are sold at more sensible prices in the traditional settings.

Marketing techniques will continue to evolve so as to lure the maximum of customers, but surely we all need a little change of minds and hearts keeping the larger common good in view…

* * *

Curepipe Town Hall: Enough with renovation!

My heart cries when I pass by the grounds of the Curepipe Town Hall, because I have frequented the place during its more pristine times. Then the lake used to be a soothing balm to the eyes and its placidity on calm days touched chords within. I have spent many pleasant Sunday evenings sitting on the bench near the lake where rests a statue of the poet Jean Paul Toulet, and have attended Sunday afternoon concerts by the Police Band and the Veeramundar Band. Now there is no more any lake, only a dry stretch of land that seems to be emblematic of the town’s general physical state.

The Town Hall itself used to look impressive and well-kept at least even until the late 1990s, when I attended some functions there. Its current dilapidated state is a shame for us Curepipe dwellers. Currently works are going on to upgrade the Paul & Virginie Garden, and I believe there is talk about yet another ‘renovation’ plan for the Town Hall.

I think it is about time we stopped with this rigmarole of trying to prop up and do cosmetic surgery on an obsolete structure that is only too clearly beyond any such redemption. A wooden building is no more an option in wet, damp and rainy Curepipe, and this applies in particular to the roof with umpteen replacements of the bardots that are not only costly but not cost-effective when it comes to maintenance. There are modern materials that are much better, even from an aesthetic point of view, and longer-lasting as well. And if we want to preserve the architectural style from a patrimoine point of view, that should be no problem for any competent architect.

I sincerely hope that our town councilors will really give good thought before they proceed with any renovation and do something that not only they but the citizens will be prouder of than what they have been served with so far!

* Published in print edition on 26 October 2018

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