Check local before going online

December 06, 2017

While online purchasing is convenient, it doesn’t offer the friendliness of a face-to-face retail experience.

When I was growing up on the Gold Coast, there was one shop I visited every week without fail.

It was overpriced, the layout was a mess and the staff openly rude to customers.

But as the only dedicated comic book shop in the city, the owner knew he could treat his customers like dirt and they would still return.

As online selling became bigger, the Gold Coast’s few but dedicated comic book fans no longer had to step into the nasty man’s overpriced shop, and eventually he went out of business.

I was thinking of that when a little website made a big splash when it went live this week.

The media had been hyping the impending opening of Amazon’s Australian store for months and when it finally went live yesterday, I, like millions of others, had a browse (or a click).

Would there be a reckoning with Australia’s bricks and mortar stores as old businesses struggle to compete with the big online player?

I had been buying stuff from Amazon’s United States store for years, but it was usually rare things I could not pick up anywhere else, such as a rare DVD or out-of-print book.

Buying from Amazon’s US store was not a cheap experience, as it usually cost too much in shipping to make it worthwhile.

But in the US it was a different story. The retailer started out as an online bookseller in 1994 when the world wide web was in its infancy.

Gradually it expanded to the point where you could pretty much furnish your entire house through the site, all at competitive prices and with delivery right to your door.

It got to the point where it recently overtook Walmart as the biggest retailer in the US and worldwide its entire workforce is more than half a million people.

So it was fair to say Aussie retailers had plenty to fear from Amazon opening a dedicated local offering.

We love a bargain, love to spend, and will happily jump ship to a new retailer if something better comes along.

When I went shopping last month, a local electronics store had its own Black Friday sale — traditionally the Friday following Thanksgiving in the US — complete with a wealth of bargains for one day only.

But when I went to finally have a look at Amazon’s Australian offering, I did not see the big deal.

There were a few good bargains, but most of what I saw was more expensive than what is available at local shops and that was before delivery.

And there are already plenty of solid online shops offering competitive prices, so it did not seem to offer anything better than what we already have at our fingertips.

It could be that Amazon will slowly ramp up offerings to the point where it will be a genuine threat to bricks and mortar stores.

I was sceptical of digital downloads of music and e-books when they first came out, but these days I never buy a physical copy of any media if I can avoid it.

Amazon could cause problems for bricks and mortar retailers, and if it does it could be regional Australian shops that are hit the hardest.

Local retailers might not be able to compete with the range and convenience of a behemoth like Amazon, but they can offer a friendlier experience than any website.

And that is what will keep customers coming back again and again.

Barclay White is a News journalist.

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