Christmas is over, extended in Spain until Kings, and the ritual of each year takes us directly to the sales season. A few years ago they were a social and economic event; now, partly due to the effect of Black Friday, they have lost some relevance, but they are still a few weeks marked in red for many businesses.
And, of course, as in so many other activities, this year they are marked by the coronavirus pandemic. The confinements and mobility restrictions as a result of the spread of the virus have already caused, according to data from the Spanish Confederation of Commerce, the closure of 67,500 businesses, approximately 15% of the total. And that percentage could, according to the same source, have reached 25% by the end of 2020.
The citizen organization that I preside, the European Association for Digital Transition (AETD), launched in the last weeks of 2020 the campaign ‘Save your area’ in order to encourage purchases in local businesses, compared to which takes place in the great giants of electronic commerce. We were one of the associations that demanded consumers, through the municipal councils, to defend local businesses, which constitute an important part of our social, economic and even sentimental fabric. We did it with our own nuance, which is our DNA: the strength of the consumer when he also acts as a citizen aware of the implications and value of his decisions in his environment, in the society of which he is a part and in his country.
The campaign was focused on Christmas shopping, but its purpose is still there. Now is the time for sales, and it seems that if it is about lowering prices, nothing better than those e-commerce giants that we all know and have used on occasion. But whenever we find a remarkably cheap offer, it is healthy to ask how it is possible for the seller to lower the price where others cannot: Do they pay their employees less? Are you putting undue and even unethical pressure on your suppliers? Do you leave less revenue in the public coffers than your competitors because you resort to sophisticated tax engineering to pay less taxes? Will so many offers seek to expel the competition to, in the medium term, raise prices?
We have known for a long time that the essence of this phenomenon goes far beyond the commercial sector. It is one more manifestation within the still disorderly and unbalanced process of digital transformation that we are experiencing. Our societies are changing at a speed unprecedented in history – further accelerated by the pandemic – as well as business models and mechanisms of business competition. Many companies compete unequally against new so-called technology companies and, in particular, the ‘big tech’, which, thanks to their control of technology and data, grow voraciously and, like Attila’s horse, cut any competition under their feet. .
Fortunately, the social and political climate is changing, and the European Commission, judging by its institutional statements, the sanctioning capacity and, above all, by its regulatory proposals – the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act – seems to have understood what is happening. in Game. The risk of technological dependence far beyond trade, and even the economy as a whole. In the AETD we are convinced that our economic sovereignty is in danger, plain and simple, yes, but also citizen and political. Or do we not already have enough examples of how the misuse of technological capacity and abusive dominance in the market hijacks the privacy of our data or can threaten the cleanliness of our elections or even democracy itself, as we have seen recently in the United States Capitol?
Regardless of what the community regulations are, we have to be aware of our role as European citizens and not just as consumers or users. The technological and digital transition in which we are immersed needs rules and legislation to ensure that the digital gap between citizens and labor is reduced, as well as to balance competition between companies and thus favor sustainable growth. This institutional reaction must be accompanied by our awareness as citizens to control, protect and decide on the use of our data, respecting European values - equality, solidarity or justice – that have made Europe recognizable, a fully digitized economy.