In a rich man’s world

There’s a band wagon rolling by and I think I want to jump on it. It’s the one carrying the voices of the consumers, those of us who buy products manufactured both locally and overseas, be it through a retail store in some huge shopping mall or online. I have to admit, I’ve not been a huge online shopper. A few books, even my Mac were bought online, but not much else. I do pay a lot of bills online. Anything to avoid a queue.

If you ask me what I love and loath about shopping, you’ll probably find it’s not that different to the average person. I love the tactile experience, being able to see, hear, touch a product. I like being able to ask for information about an item I’m interested in buying from a store-hand or the ability to try clothing to check that it fits. But much of that is offset by my frustration with crowds, poor range, store-hands who do not know their products (and can’t explain why it’s better than a rival brand) or clothing that is not in my size (a frequent problem for mainstream stores if you’re a size 16 or over).

I will often research an expensive product online before making a purchase, whether it be through an online retailer or a shop-front. I bone up on my facts and I don’t reckon I’m alone on this tactic. The primary objective of a salesperson is to make a sale and keep his profit margin up. The buyer is aiming to save money. It’s all about buyer beware and that’s precisely what’s happening.

Now some of the big retailers are campaigning for the GST to apply to online purchases below $1000. They argue that their own in-store products are burdened by this government-enforced mark-up, so should those of the online players. Just one month ago, the Federal Government declared that it was healthy competition. The Assistant treasurer was prepared to entertain the idea, but has declared that it is simply unrealistic to chase $9.99 for a $999 purchase. The wage of the person doing the chasing would exceed the tax income in about forty minutes, even at minimum wage and that’s before you consider the cost of hardware, software, and consumables![i] The big retailers didn’t get the outcome they liked From the Assistant Treasurer, so now they’re stamping their feet and making a noise.

Gerry Harvey says that we should “…accept paying more for the good of the country”. Gerry, if you take that approach then I’ll challenge you to ONLY stock Australian made products from Australian owned companies. Afterall, it’s for the good of the country. And the by the way, Gerry & Co., will you next seek that the GST be applied to purchases of less than AUD$1000 made overseas that is imported and declared at customs when re-entering the country after a trip overseas? Good luck taking on the duty-free industry, mate. Did I mention that Harvey Norman benefited when I bought my last camera before going overseas? I claimed the GST back at the airport.

I keep saying this – at work, at home, to colleagues and friends – most people want two things in life: peace and harmony in their homes, plus financial security. Money is king to the masses. It always has been, it always will be, like it or not. Every household in the country is looking for ways to reduce their overheads and if buying online – legally, legitimately and honestly – gives anyone a few extra dollars in the hip pocket AND a little less to the Australian Tax Office, then good on them. You can’t have a consumerist global market without a level playing a field and you can’t play in both sand pits (GST and non-GST, retail and duty-free) if you want to argue about the fairness of competition. And what about all the used products sold on eBay?

The one major retailer that I LOVE dealing with is Apple, who have been providing an online shopping option for a number of years. Buy a Macintosh item online and you can get it maintained and serviced at any Apple store.

The Apple store in George Street, Sydney is a rare exception when it comes my distaste of busy, crowded stores. It’s taken them a while to get the interactions and balance right, but really, the place works well. The products are not cheap, but the service is there. And that’s the difference to Harvey Norman and many other retailers. The store-hands and cheery, they know their product and what they don’t know, they’ll gladly go ask of the tech guy who’s in-store as well. I can get technical assistance in the store, booking in at any of Sydney’s three major stores online (Sydney, Bondi and Chatswood).It’s a bit like booking your car in for a service, but they have helped me in an emergency too. The morning after I poured soft drink over my laptop three weeks short of a deadline for my publisher, the guys in the city store bumped me up the queue to get urgent help. The laptop itself was dead, the drive and my precious manuscript salvaged and they’d sold me a new laptop AND a printer and One-to-one membership in under an hour.

Match that Gerry. Give me a fabulous product, fabulous service, home delivery. It’s savvy marketing and most of you big guys have become complacent. Even with the GST added to all purchases under $1000, many of the large retailers are still undercut. Get smarter, Gerry. Change your marketing model to compete. You’ve had it good for years, but don’t expect my dollar to be spent in your stores again. You lost me when I realised your Protestant work ethic obliterates compassion.[ii]

[i] Based on $570 per week, 38 hours per week.

[ii] Link provided by Jayne, via comment at Sleepless Nights.

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