A purchasing paradox

12 July 2011
Hooray – my daughter’s sun hat cost just £5 from the supermarket. Boo – what are the chances of people in this country being employed to churn out hats for big retailers? Hooray – manufactured goods keep getting cheaper and offering more value for money. Boo – not many are made in Britain. Purchasers find themselves in the middle of what is perhaps the biggest trend in global business today: the extraordinary growth in the supply of low-cost goods. But this is a rather paradoxical phenomenon. In a sense, this global trend is the familiar tension of the buyer/seller relationship, just being played out on a much bigger scale. There is speculation about the watering down or removal of a “groceries code adjudicator” in the UK which aims to protect suppliers from alleged heavy-handed purchasing behaviour of the big supermarkets. But what are the supermarkets supposed to do at a time of rising food prices when competition is fierce and, they would argue, the customer is well served by efforts to keep prices down? There are no easy answers. Move into the area of intangibles and high-end professional services and the discussion over price and value gets even more complicated. Purchasers need to up their game, in terms of “hard” financial skills and also the “soft” interpersonal ones. These days, there is nowhere to hide for buyers. But at least the opportunity is there to make a big difference to the success of your business or organisation.   Not from Greece, with love In this world of economic crises, market turbulence and unforeseen “black swan” events, a decent summer holiday is the least that any hard-working professional deserves. So I hope you have been able to plan to take a proper break sometime between now and September. It is important to stop work and switch off, literally and metaphorically. In late June, I took the (excessively cautious?) decision to relocate the Stern family holiday from Greece to Turkey, fearing as I did a potential meltdown in the Greek economy in the wake of its debt crisis. At the time of writing, an immediate disaster had potentially been averted, but you cannot be certain. My nightmare (tourist) scenario involved Greece being ejected from the euro zone (or choosing to leave it), cash dispensers ceasing to function, perhaps even my credit cards too – with me, wife and offspring stuck on an island somewhere with no access to cash. A Greek colleague criticised my cowardice and selfishness – “they need your money” – but the truth was I didn’t like the idea of jetting in just as hope was packing its bags and clearing out. If you are heading to Greece, I hope you have a great time, and feel free to contact me in the autumn to say what a paranoid fool I was being. On the other hand, if there is a renewed Greek crisis this summer and subsequent economic collapse, you’d better brace yourself for months of “I told you so” speeches from me. ☛ Stefan Stern is director of strategy at PR firm Edelman and visiting professor of practice at Cass Business School
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