Unhappy shoppers

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It seems as though no matter what retailers do right now, the Australian public is not happy.

I recently read an article on News.com.au about retailers trying to encourage people to spend at the Boxing Day sales. In the comments section below, people were talking about how ripped off the poor average Aussie is and how tough they’re doing it while retailers and high earning white collar people are lapping it up. What I don’t think many people realize is that unlike America, Australia’s labour market is no where near as cheap and therefore as competitive. Cheap labour in America means mark-up does not need to be as high and when you add in that a large amount of goods are manufactured in the US or in China (and it’s relatively cheap to import to the US from China) it really helps keep the cost of goods down.

In Australia, we have a higher minimum wage, therefore in order to cover all your expenses (including import cost which is usually more expensive for Australia because we’re relatively far away from most other developed countries) mark up if often higher and goods are not as competitive compared to the US.

I don’t much of the public realizes this and when they complain about the price of our goods and encourage buying online from overseas companies, I don’t think they realize they’re making the situation worse in a way. It’s the little things that often count the most and the continual trend of shoppers buying online will eventually send some retailers broke. Even buying online from Australia companies is bad in a way. Online stores don’t need as many staff and can be more efficient at their job simply because they are not dealing with customers face to face. Online stores can offer goods cheaper because they can often buy a good in bulk and then distribute it for a cheap retail price due to their lack of expenses (lower staff costs, no cost of attractive fixtures and fittings, lower rent etc).

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Unfortunately some local retailers might be slow on picking up on the fact that they need to prove their worth to the public instead of sitting around in their empty stores pulling sad faces. Eventually even the big boys will realize they need to offer exception customer—the one thing online stores can only offer in a certain way. In one of the last stores I worked in we were encouraged to suggest things to customers that they might like or look good on them. More often than not they appreciated it and bought what you suggested. They would start coming in last minute needing a dress for an event that night knowing we could pick something off the rack for them that would be both appropriate and flattering. It’s something chain stores need to encourage their staff to do. And not just, pick the news shirt and show it to everyone. People will only appreciate you up selling them if it’s something in their taste. You just about need to analyze your customer’s outfit and mannerisms upon entering the store in order to work out their style and even socio-economic background before you lead them to something they’ll dislike. Get it right once and they’ll keep coming back. Get it wrong too many times and they’ll never respect your opinion.

As someone who has always worked in retail yet understand a bargain I know saying this won’t change many people’s habits. I do recommend however that you remain loyal to the stores you love most and who provide you great customer service. It might be your local boutique, it might be a good branch of a franchise or chain store—whatever it is remain loyal to them and both of you will benefit in the long run!

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Online vs Instore

I won’t say a whole lot on the online shopping vs instore shopping right now because I plan to do an article on this next month and don’t want to feel like I’m repeating myself (plus nearly everyone has something to say about it). However, I just discovered that it is actually cheaper for me to purchase J Brand’s jean leggings from shopbop.com than it is to purchase them with my staff discount at the boutique I work in.

One of the reasons behind this is the free shipping that many online stores are now offering. They’re not silly; they know you can be dissuaded from buying that dress or those shoes due to a pesky $10+ shipping fee. That’s $10 you could spent at the supermarket, or on drinks, or on lunch. Online retailers know it’s more beneficial for them to take this cost on themselves than to lose your business. In a way they’re actually smarter than your local boutiques. They’re often tricking you with a $1 saving compared to a brand’s RRP; similar to the way consumers can be subconsciously tricked by the pricing of items for example at $4.95 instead of $5.

A local boutique is convenient, sure. But in today’s economy where many people are becoming more thrifty and are conscious about the small amounts of money that can go to waste. People are now going for the pair of jeans that may save them a mere $3.72 on a pair of jeans that they have to wait an extra week to get; consumers want a bargain and they want competitiveness. The online retailers are smart enough to play into the hands of these consumers, even if it’s less only one dollar less than the price the brand recommends.

In a way it’s sad. I used to think I would remain loyal to my local boutiques no matter what. Unfortunately, I happen to live in a small city and majority of the time, my local boutiques don’t stock certain brands I want, let-a-lone the full range. With Visa-debit cards on the rise, it’s even easier to snub the locals in favour of online retail giants who have large size quantities and often full collections from brands.

One of the other downsides of instore shopping? Local retailers can’t buy in bulk, therefore, the prices can’t be pushed just that little bit cheaper. Your local boutique has to pay for shipping, staff, and much more. Online stores simply need a warehouse, a computer with internet, and a staff who don’t have to engage their consumer to convince them to buy.

In the end, is it really worth seeing your favourite boutique suffer in order to save $3.72? Personally, I think not. I would much rather try on the J Brand jeggings at the boutique I work to ensure the size is right (some brands don’t always cut accurately and J Brand happens to be one of these) than save myself the price of a very small coffee and wait around for a week or two while the jeans arrive. Unless the difference in price is greater than $10, I’m not going to shop online over instore (nevermind the fact I’m paranoid about internet fraud). After all, when you’re in need of an outfit last-minute on a Friday afternoon, only your local boutique will be there to meet your needs. A computer can’t pull the perfect dress for a wedding reception off a rack that it thinks will suit your figure, only the shop assistant who’s dealt with you countless times can.

So if you’re dying for that dress that you local boutique just doesn’t or won’t stock, then go to the online retailers.
But if you’ve got a choice between your local boutique and an online store and the price difference isn’t big and the colour or the size you want are in stock at both, support your local boutique. At the end of the day, they will be there to hold your hand during an outfit crisis.

“Sorry, there’s no shotgun in retail”

My father has always said to me on the topic of shopping, “if you’re not sure, wait a few days. If it’s still there when you come back, it’s meant to be”. Recently, I’ve twisted this to, “if you’re on a budget, wait a few weeks. If it’s still there when you can afford it – yay you”. Let me tell you, it hasn’t been working out so well.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a mild Witchery obsession at the moment (probably something to do with it being new to Townsville and me experiencing the initial over-excitement and obsession that comes with it). Gorgeous nude coloured heels – will usually match everything & have a use, especially in my closet. Flowy silk dresses – highly unlikely to experience neglect. Two cute pieces that I really quite wanted.

Alas, I’ve made a pact to myself to save a large sum of money before Christmas and being the accountant’s daughter I am, I’ve put myself on a strict budget. This budget does not allow much spending money, let me tell you. Not when you shouldn’t be heading out having fun due to uni exams and the goal to travel to Japan next year. So I waited, thinking they would stay there, just for me.

Yeah, it doesn’t seem to work like that. Clothes seem to be a bit like lovers: some of them will wait for you, some of them will not; and some of them might be right for you but will only ever be ‘the one that got away’. Neither of those lovely pieces are in store anymore and what’s annoying is, because I haven’t spent money on fashion, somehow, money is spent on unnecessary things on accident, e.g. drinking alcohol and eating fast food. I don’t know how this works. Despite being rather adept at accounting and economics, I don’t know why a lack of clothes buying leads to an increase in junk food buying instead of more savings. The relationship just doesn’t make sense.

Regardless, I’m certain I’ll find something else to want (I can’t help it, I am human after all) and the cycle will repeat itself in some shape or form again.