37 shopping days till Christmas – time to get the Balance Right

Jonathan Sacramento - Tuesday 17th November

Last week’s story regarding the 8 / 4 pound handling fee for receiving packages from outside Gibraltar generated one of the most intense sessions of audience interaction we’ve ever had on Facebook. Nearly five hundred comments on our Facebook wall in just a matter of hours.

Social Media isn’t always the best gauge of the strength of community feeling. Vocal minorities often flood the debate and silent majorities don’t tend to get involved for fear of being torn apart by jackals.

But in this case the feeling of anger was clear, and triggered a Government climbdown less than 24 hours later.

The intention was a laudable one in principle. Businesses have been hit hard by the perfect storm of Covid and Brexit. Tourists aren’t coming to the Rock in any meaningful numbers, and Main Street is suffering.

There needs to be an awareness of the limited diversity of the Main Street shopping portfolio. Beyond electronics, toys, clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, booze and fags, there isn’t much out there. Specialist shops are rare and perhaps this is understandable given the economies of scale, but the introduction of a postal handling fee now gives businesses a fighting chance to reposition themselves.

Increasing the duty on goods is a double-edged sword. It’s unpopular, yes, but we lost our bookshops to the online giants a couple of years ago. Perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if the handling fee for postal deliveries had been implemented before.

But retail businesses also need to help themselves. The high street shopping experience in Gibraltar is a bit of a mixed bag. Some stores have a deserved legacy reputation for excellent customer service and dedicating themselves to the local shopper.

Others… not so much.

At a time when Government is – rightly – urging consumers to support local businesses, it should also clamp down on questionable practices such as disproportionate mark-ups for new and old stock, selling multimedia electronics which have region-encoded limitations for Gibraltar, not passing on the benefits of duty-free savings onto the consumer, and failing to label the price of goods on shelves.

Disincentivising shoppers from turning to the global marketplace is one way to skin a cat. But businesses also need to meet consumers halfway here.

There are 37 shopping days till Christmas. Plenty of time to get the balance right if the will is there.