EDITORIAL COMMENT: CCZ must rise to the occasion in price wars

Some essential products went into temporary short supply recently, either because of import delays, as was the case over the raw materials for cooking oil or because of panic buying fuelled by social media, as seems to be the case with sugar or because of a one-off problem, as was the case with eggs and avian influenza. Responsible retailers responded by imposing limits on how much each customer could buy, but did not increase prices, unless their suppliers increased first and even then retained previous margins. Others decided to ration by price, pushing up their profit margins substantially and in some cases having a three-price system for US dollar notes, bond notes and plastic, intending to play games with the notes to further raise their mark-ups.

As products return to the shelves it must have become clear to even the dumbest consumer that they were being taken for a ride by all the social media messages; either originators had political agendas or were driven by financial greed or where guilty of both. And it must also now be clear that those retailers who pushed up prices were simply feeding off consumer insecurity.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries have both condemned profiteering by some retailers and the Government is investigating. But consumers do not have to wait for any action. They actually have the power in their own hands. They can refuse to shop at the stores and tuckshops that profiteer. This is practically possible because the large supermarket chains and many other retailers, especially the larger ones, refused to change their pricing and other policies, kept their policy of fixed percentage mark-ups, rationed scarcer essential goods and generally acted responsibly and as good citizens.

So it is not difficult to boycott the profiteering hyenas. At worst, in some areas, a 50c bus ticket might be required to go and shop at a respectable shop, but that is the most anyone needs to add to their grocery bill. We suspect that determined consumer action will soon bring those who refuse to play by the rules back into line.

At the same time millers, oil expressers, sugar refiners, bakers, egg producers, meat and poultry suppliers plus the many Zimbabwean industrialists who now see their products lining more shelf space should also continue to be responsible. At times they might hit a temporary shortage of a raw material, at times the price of one of their inputs might rise, at times they might be hit by an extra expense. All these could cause legitimate temporary shortages or cause a legitimate price rise.

In both cases a simple notice explaining the problem or giving careful and considered reasons for a price rise, would help people understand. The same Zimbabwean industrialists could also give indications of the range of retail or wholesale prices they think their products might attract. Obviously special offers and retail promotions can lower these prices, but the range would help consumers understand what has to be endured and what is sheer greed.

Without accurate facts being transmitted, the inaccuracies of social media players have an open field to dwell in. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe could play a more important role in this information war, being able to check fact, initiate inquiries over price rises and generally ensure that there is a decent pool of readily accessible data, with summaries on social media, so consumers can avoid the greedy and work out how best to keep to grocery budgets.

Article Source: The Herald