Monday, August 30, 2010

A long, long time ago. ( Shopping adventures.)

A long, long time ago, when I was a little girl, all shops were open till 12 on Saturdays, closed on Sundays and Thursday night trading was an adventure for the whole family. There were local stores open for a few hours on weekends and they were where we picked up bread, milk and the occassional salty plum. We would take all our glass bottles to the shop and swap them for a few cents, save those cents until we had enough to purchase a choo choo bar, redskin or some musk sticks.

Over the years the lollies didn't change, you can still buy all those I have mentioned at any good corner store, but the prices went up. The bottles we used to swap for money are now plastic and worthless. The one and two cent coins are a thing of the past and even the five cent coin can't buy you anything. Those things were all going to happen anyway, the world changes, the value of money goes down but prices go up. Nothing really unexpected in that.

What I do find ridiculous is the hours stores are now expected to remain open for. We are all working longer hours and weekends are almost a thing of the past, but surely opening all stores, 7 days till late, will only force more people to lose their weekends and encourage consumers to....well, consume. We are rabbiting on about the fact that Australians (actually, the world) is caught up in the buying cycle, we are purchasing things we do not really want or need, we are buying too much of the things we do need and we are constantly in debt because of it.

Local small traders trying to compete from their locations outside shopping centres and the ones who are really struggling. IGA is the exception. The national marketing of the brand and the fact that the trading hours are much more relaxed than those for the big two (Coles and Woolies)means that this is the one franchise that has thrived alongside it's competitors. They are able to buy locally with much more freedom, they can price themselves to be competitive and they are very conveniently located.

With the push to open supermarket grocery stores for later trading on weekends currently gaining momentum it is time to take a step back and look at the facts. IGA and other independant supermarkets currently remain competitive due largely to the fact that have more flexible trading hours. If you are unable to do the groceries during current trading hours for Coles or Woolworths, you need to take a good look at your job and perhaps make some changes in your life. These stores are currenly open till 9p.m weekdays, till 5p.m on Saturday and till 6p.m on Sunday. I can't remember ever thinking to myself that they needed to stay open longer on a Sunday.

Having worked for 19 years in the retail sector I am absolutely in favour of weekend trading. I firmly believe that these extra hours are required for those who work, giving them the opportunity to take the kids with them to try shoes on, or leave the kids at home with one parent while they frantically do the groceries. Those working crazy hours doing shift work should also have the luxury of having trading hours that suit them.

I have watched the erosion of weekends from both sides of the counter. Watched the penalty rates drop until Saturday was just another day and Sunday is not far off. I have seen people shopping like locusts the day after a cyclone because they went into a panic when the shops closed for half a day. I have watched IGA gain strength as a viable alternative to the major grocery outlets and I have seen the prices drop in Coles as a result.

Competition is only healthy if the playing field is a level one. The authorities that decide these things will get their way, there is little doubt of that. Once an idea has been launched into the media and public domain, it is almost not worth arguing against. The fact is that longer trading hours for major grocery stores is well on the way to becoming a reality. They asked the tourists visiting Cairns 'Would you prefer the stores stayed open till late on the weekends?' and got the standard response...'Yes, please!' Instead they should have asked the question 'Would you stop coming to Cairns and tell all your friends not to bother either if stores stayed trading at the current hours on a weekend?' I think the answer would have been 'No, haven't really found it a problem actually.'

In response to those who will soon make our Independant Retailers less competitive and cause headaches for the industry....I will continue to do the bulk of my groceries at Coles, I will ALWAYS do my small shops at IGA and I will never, ever pop in to buy milk or bread from a supermarket chain. Besides the fact that it is a time waster to trudge through an entire centre to get to the basics, I prefer the convenience of just stopping in at IGA for a few things when I need them, the money stays local and the cooked chooks taste better. I have never needed to shop late on a Sunday so the longer hours mean little to me but if I ever feel the need, I will shop locally, at a local chain, using local produce, with money going directly back into the local economy.

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