Shop till you stop

When I answered “shopping” to somebody’s question about what I did in my trip back to Glasgow, they expressed surprise and it started an interesting discussion. I thought it worthwhile noting some of the points here.

How long have you been here? The general trend is that you shop for less and less stuff in the ‘old land’ the longer you have been in Israel. Either the desired item becomes available in Israel, or you learn to do without, or you eventually prefer something else which is available. For example, I buy all my shaving essentials from the UK. (I use King of Shaves products, and no, they are not giving me any inducement to promote them. I do, however, think they are outstanding.) I have got stock and hope it will last a while.

You play games? However, if you have a speciality hobby, you are likely to keep buying at least 90% of your needs from abroad. For example, there are gaming stores in Israel – though very few – and none stock wargame products. So, I buy all my gaming material on trips to the USA or by mail from the outstanding crew at Static Games. I have met Israelis with other hobbies who similarly feed their addiction by imported purchases. Amazon is used a lot. Unsurprisingly, the English language book selection is very limited. A Kindle is a big help for me.

How much? General day to day shopping is much as in the UK, though there is less use of the internet. The supermarkets, generally, are ok but have a bit of a way to catch up with UK and especially USA standards. It is worth noting that the ticketed prices are always expensive. It is, you see, essential, to have a loyalty card to get a (so called) deal on prices, and occasional rewards. There’s an old joke here which roughly equates to “only tourists pay full price” but it’s no joke.

It was working yesterday. Many people buy their gadgets from abroad – computers, iphones, ipads, and so on. There are good savings to be made. However, if something goes wrong… One self employed computing professional told me that when his work laptop gave him problems, he had no option but to buy a new one, because sending it back to the USA for repair would take too long and he was unable to work without it. In my last trip to the UK, I looked at buying a laptop. I could not get exactly what I wanted – it was out of stock in the places I tried – so I ended up buying it in Israel. It cost about 75 pounds more, but it does come with an international pick up and drop off warranty, so I am quite happy.

How much is that monopoly? Prices are high because in most areas there are monopolies, duopolies, or (probably) cartels. And they are protected from real competition by the fact this is a small market. If there were real peace between Israel and its neighbours, then maybe Tesco or Asda or some big chain like that would see Israel as a center of Middle East trade. Without the peace dividend, why bother? That’s why many of the international brands here are local franchises, using the name but not the resources of the actual business. The banking services are is especially guilty. I could save them a fortune by speeding up their processes, reducing paperwork and making them so much more efficient. I did mention it to a couple of bankers, but it’s clear there is no interest. The present situation is too comfortable, profitable, and beyond challenge. The Ikea operation in Israel prints money. A competitive effort went bust a few months ago. There are plenty independent retailers who provide just as good quality (if not better) and value (if not better) than Ikea, and that is a positive difference in the Israeli market – comparing it at least with the UK.

The future’s bright. Things are improving. The longer established immigrants all agree how much of an improvement there has been, and there continues to be, in all areas. It’s just not fast enough for us newcomers! In that regard, I would mention the Volkswagen/Seat dealership we bought our cars from. Their after sales service has been excellent. (This proves it can be done.) ¬†And the mobile phone market has recently been blown wide open with real competition and a real drop in prices. Perversely, this is one area in which Israelis spend a lot of money – way out of proportion to their earnings. So, these prices should have been available a long time ago.

Two plus two equals five? The overarching challenge in all of this, is that I do not understand how ordinary Israelis make ends meet. Prices are high – even where the goods are locally produced – and wages are low. (Which should tell you about the profiteering that is going on in some areas.)

Israel is my home now, and I am not returning to the UK to live. But, if you had told me before I made aliyah, that a highlight of my return trips to the UK would include a walk round the local Tesco, I would have called you a bad name. How wrong I would have been! If only I could import UK supermarkets and Glentress mountain biking to Israel…