Thursday, 2 May 2013

How to become even less relevant

Warning: May contain traces of Docklands – © 2012
Myer CEO Bernie Brookes's ill-conceived comments on the funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme say a lot about big retail's place as the least innovative, most self-aggrandising rent-seeker in the country:
"Remember, a lot of our customers have equity portfolios, they’ve got superannuation and they get the bills each week, and suddenly the Medicare levy costs them another $300 from July next year and that’s $300 they might have spent with us."
Yep. That pretty much says it all. The viability of our outmoded stores is more important than improving the lives of millions of Ausralians, half of whom live below the poverty line. It's pretty safe to say that those with equity portfolios probably won't notice too greatly the $1-a-day impost of the increase in the levy. 

Brookes's comments are symptomatic of the attitudes of self-interested rent-seekers in the Australian economy: Government discusses sensible policy options; industry conducts and/or threatens concerted campaigns against said options; people of Australia suffer.

The retail and hospitality industries are the most woeful of Australia's rent-seekers, endlessly soliciting support from government; crying poor and waving the "Australian Jobs" banner when they don't get their way.

Bernie, nobody is shopping in your stores because they are a relic of the mid-twentienth century. No amount of taxpayer subvention will send customers flooding back in to your stores. Consumers have seen the world beyond national borders (courtesy of Amazon et al) and they don't particularly like paying a 100+ per cent premium on jeans, cosmetics, computer games etc. 

Brookes's other ill-conceived thought bubbles, such as opening hours "flexibility" (i.e. 24-hour trade with few penalty rates for staff), apparently to "compete" with online shopping, do nothing to fix the structural problems in Australian retail. 

Whether it's employee penalty rates, workplace "flexibility" or the GST-free threshold, Australia's Captains of Retail Industry always have an opinion at the ready, usually seeking some form of government intervention to solve all of their problems. Well, hopefully we'll be getting some government intervention soon in the form of a disability insurance scheme that will benefit Australians for decades to come. 

I know where I'd rather spend my $300.

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