Responsible consumption and COVID Christmas – shopping safely online

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By Professor John Bryson
Department of Strategy and International Business, University of Birmingham

Christmas is a very special time of the year. It is a time to look back at the year that is nearly past and to gaze forward. It is a time at which family and friends come together to celebrate. It is a time of hope and of renewal. There is no question that Christmas this year will be very different to any other year. This is the Christmas we will always associate with COVID-19.

For many, Christmas is not a moment of celebration, but of great anxiety as they try to balance household income with all the additional expenditure related to Christmas. Nevertheless, it is possible to celebrate Christmas without engaging in excessive consumption. There is a well-developed debate on corporate social responsibility and responsible business, but there also needs to be a debate on responsible consumption.

COVID-19 has altered the balance between shopping online and shopping in store. This comes with many benefits, but also great dangers. Shopping online is easy and, for some, it has become an addictive pastime leading to consumption-related debt and great misery.

With COVID-19, the rapid adoption of online shopping has also led to an escalation in online fraud. There are some simple guidelines that all responsible consumers should adopt to increase the safety of online shopping:

  1. Pause, and think before you enter information about your identity and debit/credit card details online.
  2. Only those engaged in fraudulent behaviour will try to make you hurry.
  3. Be aware of special offers that appear to be unbelievable especially when offered by companies that you do not already know and trust.
  4. Avoid paying by bank transfer and use a credit card or a payment service like PayPal.
  5. Make sure that the device you are using has up-to-date software including virus protection.
  6. Never download software or grant access to your computer to someone who has cold called you and tried to persuade you to panic. Encouraging you to panic is a strategy designed to make you act now.
  7. Avoid clicking on social media links that take you to a website to buy something. Be aware of social media adverts.
  8. Only purchase goods and services from secure websites. The web address should come with ‘http’ during the stage at which you enter your personal details. Make sure that a padlock symbol is displayed by the website address.
  9. Never use public Wi-Fi when purchasing goods and services but switch to 3G or 4G.
  10. You will be safer with well-known websites.
  11. Be aware of fraud or phishing e-mails related to packet or parcel deliveries. These include e-mails stating that a package could not be delivered and requesting that you click on a link. Ignore such e-mails and do not click on the links.

There is another side to being a responsible consumer. Every time we consume, we support employment. The decisions that we make create and sustain jobs, but they also destroy jobs. The problems that bricks and mortar retailers have been facing reflect the shift to online shopping. With COVID-19, shopping has shifted from being a face-to-face experience to one that is more about a face-to-screen exchange. The problem is that face-to-screen consumption will not create jobs but will destroy jobs on your local high street. Responsible consumption is about shopping safely online, but it is also about balancing online with local shopping to reduce your carbon footprint.

Perhaps the best Christmas gift that you can make to your local community is to ensure that some of your Christmas spending is targeted at local consumption.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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