Never underestimate the power of either.
I’ve recently pointed out the price gouging that takes place during Ramadan as vendors take advantage of the higher consumption rates of their fellow citizens during this holy month. The problem being how to effectively counter this unique economic effect without governmental interference in price controls that result in market distortions. Well consumer activists from the Consumer Protection Society have decided to encourage Jordanian housewives to do a little market manipulation themselves by boycotting goods that they consider “unreasonably expensive” while discouraging them from the annual desperate mad rush to buy stockpiles of food at the beginning of the month, promoting instead shopping on a daily basis according to their daily needs.
In theory this is a great idea; a way for consumers to take control of the market while preserving its free nature, but therein lies the problem: consumers rarely want to do that. While housewives, or anyone else for that matter, have the power to avoid certain vendors or products in protest of rising prices, they will rarely exercise that consumer power. Consider that there are Ramadan staple foods, dishes, products that must be purchased at whatever cost. Consider the unwillingness of many to go out of their way to seek out alternate vendors that are geographically further away than the supermarket down the street. Consider that people in Jordan will buy in bulk in preparation for the month or at the very least the first few days. Consider that many will be more forgiving of the people taking advantage of them since it is Ramadan afterall.
Consider as well the difficulty in differentiating between what is considered price gouging and what is considered a natural occurrence in the market. Usually the prices for some products will rise accordingly to match the initial spike in consumer demands but will then adjust after the first few days i.e. after the rush. Consumers will have a tough time knowing if prices are experiencing a general rise or if there is actual price gouging taking place, until the first few days have passed after which it is usually too late or perceived as not being worth it.
It is of course naturally better to shop day to day but simply inconvenient given the fact that most people buy in bulk not only because they feel it’s cheaper but because they want to avoid excessive line ups and the hassles that come with shopping during Ramadan.
It would be best if the Consumer Protection Society launched a campaign to promote the idea of vendor boycotts but in the form of making the consumer aware. This can be done by distributing leaflets in the lead up to Ramadan to make consumers aware of the normal price listings for common products or publishing them in local papers.