by Maureen Jordan
I did something unusual yesterday — I bought a book in Melbourne despite the fact that the shop did not have the book! The very attentive and informed shop assistant knew the unusual book I wanted and said he could get it to Sydney in seven days but he also honestly said that I could buy it locally or online if I wanted to. The book is called Art Lover by Anton Gill and it’s Peggy Guggenheim’s take on America, Paris and Italy pre- and post-war.
I knew I could do it with Amazon, but I thought: “This guy has done a great job as a retail assistant. He was honest, knew his stuff and I’m too busy to deal with an online purchase.”
But it was more than that, as I do a lot of transactions online. I just thought I have to give this small business a go and he needed to be paid back for giving me an experience I can’t get online.
Here was a guy, who I presumed was the owner, who was paying rent at the Paris end of Bourke Street Melbourne, which wouldn’t come cheap. He had stacks of books and so had invested in inventory, and the place looked absolutely great when you walked in there.
It actually beckoned us to come in, and we had a really positive experience and, of course, that’s what retail has to be if it’s to survive. Apple has taught us this — retail is not dead as long as you give the consumer a good time.
The fact I’m writing this story proves it was a memorable experience, but some of my need to share this with you links to a concern I have about the new digital world.
Its great appeal is that it helps us consumers buy things a lot cheaper than ever before and it does that because it employs less people, it can tap into cheap wage rates in poorer countries and these businesses can achieve scale advantages that drive down costs even more.
It’s causing bankruptcies of smaller and more costly rivals, who might employ people on decent wages. It’s screwing big business producers as well, who then have the power to push the screwing down the line to smaller customer businesses.
It is a supply chain squeeze play that will eventually take away jobs and force wages down as well.
Now I know change like this creates jobs and wages might not have to be as high if prices are brought down. However, it could also bring down house prices and stock prices and this might be more than all of us are prepared to cope with.
I think it’s unfair that we go into shops, pump shopkeepers for information about a product and then buy cheaper somewhere else. It is ripping off a shopkeeper’s time and in business time is money.
If we want to buy cheaper online, which I have no problem with, we should not use shopkeepers in the process.