Last week some of the heads of Australia’s largest retail chains began making grumbly sorts of noises about the amount of business they were losing due to online shopping. By the beginning of this week the noises had reached a crescendo. So had the counter-noises on the online forums and social media networks as people vented their indignation (“Dear Gerry Harvey” has been a top-trending topic on Twitter for days now).
On Wednesday their campaign was revealed in the Sydney Morning Herald’s business section as an orchestrated strategy, being run through a PR firm, to force the government to impose GST on all online purchases. Having realised, by this stage, that the ‘we’re-not-making-enough-profits-to-maintain-our-villas-on-the-Riviera’ strategy was not washing with a plainly antagonised public, the Coalition of Greedy Bastards (CoGB) then pulled out the ‘we-just-want-to-save-Australian-jobs’ line. I think the word unAustralian may also have been used – a sure sign of desperation in any campaign.
Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, was quick out of the blocks with some facts: only 3% of retail purchases in Australia are conducted online and of those, only 20% are overseas. Leading the Greedy Bastard Coalition, Gerry Harvey, CEO of Harvey Norman, owner of horse studs and now patriotic defender of Australian employment, this morning conceded that the campaign had been a PR disaster – an observation also made by various retail experts. I guess the CoGB strategy now is to encourage the shoppers back out of pure sympathy for them in their abject contrition.
The following points have been made numerous times through the online news comments sections, Twitter, various blogs and letters to editors, but they’re worth reiterating:
- The internet isn’t just a convenient shopping haven, it is also a forum for lightning-fast dissemination of information and mobilising mass campaigns. It is the 21st Century’s Typhoid Mary, and as far as the CoGB is concerned, can do just as much damage.
- The GST is 10% of the purchase price, that’s all. Last week I bought a book online for $6(US) – even with postage costs, it still comes in at over $14 less than the same book in Borders (and yes, Borders is among the Coalition of Greedy Bastards)
- Far from protecting Australian jobs, the CoGB is more than happy to exploit cheap foreign labour – we didn’t hear them speaking up for Aussie labourers when they virtually squeezed Australian manufacturing out of existence by demanding lower wholesale prices and then went offshore to source their goods from China.
- Service at most of the CoGB stores ranges from bad to non-existent. If they were so concerned about Aussie jobs they’d actually employ more people. You could qualify for the old age pension waiting for someone to serve you at my local Myer (CoGB) store.
- The CoGB has yet to work out that rather than mounting a campaign to antagonise consumers, they might be better placed to look at how they might use internet shopping to improve their own sales.
- They also have yet to work out that as far as mounting anti-government campaigns go, they just don’t have the clout of, say, the mining industry. It was telling that neither the Prime Minister nor the Treasurer made any statement, leaving to the very competent but fairly junior Assistant Treasurer Shorten to state the government’s position.
- The CoGB is also not getting a lot of joy from the opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has, like the PM, not bothered to break his holiday to make a statement, and his Treasury Spokesman, Joe Hockey, simply advised the CoGB to improve their own service and lower their prices if they wanted to reclaim the online share of the retail market.
- People shop online for a range of reasons – avoiding tax is not one of them. People shop online because they can get what they want from their desk without having to be gouged for parking; they can shop around for the best price without driving all over town or sitting on a phone being told that their call is important to the CoGB; they don’t have to wander around a store looking for someone to serve them. The internet has revolutionised the retail industry and it’s not going to go back to what it was.
- Unlike members of the CoGB, most Australians do not write off their tax against horse studs in the Upper Hunter and they get pretty pissed off when they’re accused of dodging tax by the people who do write theirs off against said horse studs.
For the record, Ruby’s favourite online shopping haunts (and yes, most are Australian) are: