Changing Times – the ONS Inflation Basket

As I write this entry, I am about to make a presentation at a business conference on the changing nature of retailing and the future of the high street. There are a number of themes I aim to pursue but one of them is the changing nature of technology and its impact on retailing practices and consumer behaviours.

And this theme of change came to mind when the Office of National Statistics yesterday published its latest changes to the inflation basket. This is a basket of 700 items which are meant to reflect the habits and lifestyles of the UK population – the things we spend our money on. This basket then feeds the national inflation figures – and thus are of major interest to many people and the government.

The basket gets changed on an annual basis so as to reflect both the changing spending patterns that are seen and where it is felt the coverage of items in a sector are sufficiently not reflective.

A couple of things caught my eye in the changes this year. The 2000s have been the decade or so of the introduction of technology and this year continued the theme. In particular e-books made it into the list as did digital TV recorders that allow pause and rewind functions.

Neither of these should be much surprise. The rise of e-books and the systems on which they are accessed has been obvious in the shops, cafes, bookshops etc. People have taken to these very quickly and they have become a common sight and part of life. Likewise the changing viewing habits via digital “TV” have rapidly developed. Consumers are now firmly in control of what they watch, when and how and this change reflects this switch to consumer ordered content and viewing.

These are fundamental changes in how we live our lives and retailers, advertisers and others are having to catch up quickly. The interest in HMV by Asda and other branching out by large food retailers into new sectors show how there is a scramble to think what may be needed in the future,

In a reflection of the times perhaps, champagne bought in pubs and clubs has been dropped from the list. No doubt next time some ready meals will be for the chop.

And a final thought – if Scotland became independent and wanted its own inflation series, I wonder what the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK’s products would be?

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
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