The basics

The current economic climate will help re-define the basics for many people.

Since I was a child supermarkets and shopping experiences have been richer and presented consumers with progressively more choice. During the last recession of the early 1990s supermarkets created own brand products that offered cheaper alternatives with the exact same quality as own brand products.

No Frills

A second own-brand phenomena was own brand products that fulfilled basic needs but did away with superfluous packaging and were best seen as ‘fit for purpose’: the No Frills supermarket own brand pioneered by Kwik Save is a classic example of this category. Sainsbury has their version called Sainsbury Basics. So by the time the economy picked up again choice had been increased even further. These brands moved away from, or redefined the bare essentials, for instance recently in Sainsbury’s I have noticed basics including filter coffee and Jaffa Cakes.

SuperValu Nice Price Jaffa Cakes

When I left university in the late 1990s, I got a jump on other candidates that worked for the same temping agency as me by having an alphanumeric pager that allowed me to be more responsive to the agency – getting better roles because it was easier for them to find me. Over the next ten years mobile phones became ubiquitous to the point where even homeless people and crack addicts have one.

It is pretty much the same story with internet access. I used to go over to a cyber cafe in Liverpool near James Street station to check the email in my Yahoo! account every Saturday. Although I had bought shareware Mac software online via Kagi whilst at university, I made my first modern e-commerce purchases via Boxman during my lunch break in the office when I moved down to London. It is hard to imagine that prior to Freeserve in the UK, even dial-up home internet access was largely the preserve of the middle classes in the UK. In contrast, now fixed and mobile broadband has become ubiquitous with mobile broadband connections costing as little as 5GBP a month at the time of writing.

I get the sense that we have reached a golden age of what basics means, and that golden age will last an uncertain amount of time as environmental and resource concerns kick in. Resources as diverse as food products, oil, copper and water are all under pressure; together with rise of a huge middle class in the developing world basics are going to be more expensive and some items will come off the list as compromises are made. Globalisation will no longer just be about competition to supply products and services, but also about consumer competition to demand goods.

What does the basics look like to you? How will it change by economics, increasing awareness of personal carbon footprint and environmental impact?