Changes in social practices

Do you enjoy shopping? Most of us would probably say that we spend money online and the feeling of purchasing and control gives us an immediate buzz. To the hunter gatherer instincts, it sounds like we have successful ambushed a kill when we use our credit cards to get what we wanted. But online shopping is one thing. What about high street shopping? You know, the one where you actually have to get active and move around, looking for the things you want? It is effortful and perhaps less enjoyable. The amount of time and effort spent trudging along makes it a disagreeable process.

And one of the forms of shopping that many of us are likely to find uninteresting is grocery shopping. Is it because of the repetitive nature of food shopping, that we have to do it so often? After all, familiarity breeds contempt, and our dislike from it may stem from doing it again and again. Or perhaps it is because we find it somewhat soul destroying to decide which multipack of toilet rolls work out cheapest?

And what if supermarkets asked you to pay first before you bought any item, and then refunded you any unused credit? You may think this is a crazy idea, but it is what some fuel service stations at ASDA supermarkets trialled. The rationale was that it would avoid theft, drivers leaving without paying, but the scheme was soon stopped.

Drivers were charged an initial fee to use the pumps, then paid for their purchases, and had to ensure that their initial fee was refunded to them. The reason for this unusual three-step purchase was to make it difficult for fuel theft, where drivers drive onto forecourts, fill up and then disappear without having paid for their fuel.

Fuel theft is on the rise, and investigating these cases takes up a lot of police time, which detracts from the real work of policing.

On the face of it, what it amounts to is paying in advance as a form of guarantee or security. While we may balk at the idea of an advancce payment at a service station, we already do it in other areas. We pay for school activities a term in advance. Most schools such as piano schools charge you a term in fees (although if you were looking for piano lessons in Hornsey N8, this visiting teacher doesn’t). The downpayment ensures they can do the payment for overheads they are likely to purchase in the course of providing these services.

Social media and the public use of phones have become ubiquitous from non-existent two decades ago. Perhaps putting downpayments in advance may be a social practice of the future.