Opinion: Why It’s Time To Rethink How We Shop

Supporting local businesses who employ staff in New Zealand stores is one way to shop smartly. Photo / Getty Images

Heard the one about the seller of cashmere robes who got clearance as an essential business to make online sales? Most likely you have, because after various fashion and influencer types weighed in on Facebook this became a media touchstone of what is just one tone-deaf story of our times.

Sure, we want our local businesses to survive and this one did follow the rules in applying for and being granted dispensation to trade during the lockdown, but it would be good to see the rocky road to retail recovery be made as level as it can be.

We all have a part to play in this, including in the individual shopping decisions we make.

There’s plenty of questions to be answered about why some local sales have been given the nod from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment while others haven’t. I’d have much preferred to walk to my local fruit and vegetable shop than add to the queues at the supermarket twice as far from home.

The well laid-out vege shop has thankfully just ended its “we’re reopening, no we’re not, yes we are” safety dance with MBIE. Often poky dairies have had the OK to trade for longer, leaving us to trust they’re doing their bit to encourage social distancing should roaming teenagers squeeze in for a sugary hit.

Of course, we’d like to see all our local shops open as soon as safely possible, but while most stores are closed for now, a growing number are cranking up online sales since the definition of essential was relaxed. That, by the way, appears to take in gourmet salmon and booze from food and beverage purveyors and posh perfume and pricey creams from pharmacy websites. But not my local butcher, yet. Food and personal care items are considered essential, but like the cashmere case, it seems defining what is essential and where it can be had is elastic.

It can’t be easy at MBIE, during a public health emergency, to foresee all the permutations, but its guidelines are obviously open to interpretation.

I’ve been getting emails from local beauty businesses, some of whom are allowed to trade online — having a hand wash in your range obviously helps — and others not. Hard to see the difference between many of them. Maybe it was a case of some applied on the off-chance and others never thought essential could apply to them.

Skincare basics are all an added on lockdown trader like The Warehouse is selling in the beauty realm, but chemists which were kept open as essential businesses from the start of the corona crisis have websites showing their existing wider online offering, including makeup and gift items.

The ministry says: “It is difficult to be prescriptive about what an essential product is. We expect that essential goods cover those products that keep people warm, replace key household appliances, and maintain people’s health.” Therefore, it seems woollen items to keep us warm can be translated to luxury cashmere blankets, socks and robes.

Yet, some boutiques selling woollen garments haven’t been able to get clearance. Glassons has. Logical to start reactivating mass market retailers first, but it would be good to see our authorities quickly draw a clearer line or, fingers crossed, soon be able to relax restrictions across the board. After all, one person’s polar fleece is another person’s designer poncho.

Retaining the choice — and the jobs that go with a diverse retail sector – has clear economic value; the ethics around specific purchase decisions being more in the individual realm.

So consider well how you best spend your dollar — if you are in the fortunate position of having discretionary income for shopping.

Supporting businesses that employ staff in stores here (be they physical or online) or who provide services that pay full taxes into our country’s coffers contribute to the wellbeing of this country. Going on an international e-tail shopping spree because you’re bored doesn’t. Looking at some global fashion and beauty websites and you’d have no idea there is a global pandemic.

Weighing on my mind, is why international e-commerce players can send pretty much any old thing into the country. Want some unsustainably produced fast fashion or a makeup palette from a global e-tailer?, then be New Zealand’s guest. Unless you choose otherwise. Firms with Australian distribution centres can load up an online order on a ship and have it delivered to your door by courier in a week or so. Meanwhile, our New Zealand businesses have to play by national rules, not those of borderless commerce.

If you’re desperate for a retail fix — rather than truly needing to stock up on actual essentials — a little delayed gratification may be in order right now. Wait for the lifting of maximum Alert Levels to be able to support local shops, or buy vouchers or goods from those that are able to trade already.

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