In most countries, buying and selling – referred to as retail sales – is what’s called a ‘main economic indicator’ and tells you how a country’s economic health is standing. In Australia, for instance, monthly retail turnover in January 2009 stood at slightly more than $19 billion, although it had just hit $25 billion in the Christmas rush a month before (up from $3 billion and $5 billion respectively in 1982). The biggest states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland – were also the biggest consumers, signalling the obvious that it’s mostly people doing the shopping, not just companies or governments.
They liked it even more in Canada, with monthly retail figures in February 2009 hitting $33 billion, likewise concentrated in the big population centres of Ontario and Quebec. Retail numbers in the United Kingdom hit £101 billion that month (having just peaked for Christmas at £136 billion) and in the United States for January 2010, all retail and food services ca-chinged up $322 billion. Imagine the picture if we included shopping mega-paradises such as France and Italy, South Korea, Japan, the so-called BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the African giants Nigeria and Ghana, the whole of South-East Asia and that other mass of humanity, the Middle East: all those shoe shops, markets, souqs, strip malls, villages, cellar doors and cheese shops!
Really, we’re talking the whole world. Society collectively loves the range of businesses typically surveyed in these figure sets: motor vehicle traders and parts suppliers; furniture and home furnishings; electronics and household appliances (including radio, televisions and computers and software); building materials and garden equipment; paint and wallpaper; hardware; food and beverage stores such as grocery stores and supermarkets; beer, wine, and liquor stores; health and personal care stores; pharmacies and drug stores; gasoline (petrol) stations; clothing and clothing accessories stores (men’s, women’s, family, ‘other’); shoes; jewellery; sporting goods; hobby, toys, games, book, and music stores; general merchandise stores; department stores; discount department stores; warehouse clubs and superstores; all other general merchandise stores; miscellaneous store retailers; office suppliers; stationery, and gift stores; novelty and souvenir stores; used merchandise stores; non-store retailers such as electronic shopping and mail-order houses; fuel dealers; food services and drinking places; full service restaurants; limited service eating places; and drinking places. Harder to count but more pervasive and more fun to visit are tourism outlets and the fresh produce, fish, fruit and vegetable and farmers’ markets around the world which operate sometimes on the ‘black’ side of the market (no paperwork, no tax, no questions asked) and which just as often barter, trade and work on handshakes. Then there are the so-called ‘flea markets’, known in some parts as car-boot sales, suitcase rummages and second-hand markets, where non-registered traders hawk craft goods for cash, alongside surplus home equipment or deceased estate goods.
Off to one side of this phantasmagoria but nevertheless essentially shopping are three behemoths: the real estate market, where buying and selling houses takes place in streets, apartment blocks, rural and semi-rural districts – even private islands – and online day and night around the world; the world’s financial markets, increasingly colonised by ‘citizen traders’, individuals whose participation, just like citizen journalists, has become enabled by digital technologies such as the Internet and mobile telephony; and there’s the growing list of online shopping, publishing and trading sites such as Amazon, iTunes, Lulu, Craig’s List, EBay, and the games site Steam, launched by digital development company, Valve, where more than 1100 games are stocked, which claims an active user base of 25 million gamers, and logged-in shopper numbers ranged from 1.28 million to 2.24 million in July 201062. For each of these big sites there are hundreds smaller ones online, selling shoes, clothes, books, travel and food.
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