Sunday, 4 March 2012

Terry McCrann - retail is changing, it's not dying

Dear Terry

I've read your article "Bleakest of views from the shopfronts" in the Sunday Herald Sun, and you make some valid points.  I also understand how your readers like you to sensationalize economic stories for a bit of cheap titillation, but they also expect you to get your facts right.

Retail is not the largest employer

First off, let's set the record straight.  You said that "Shops are also the biggest employers". Well, that was right until two years ago before health care passed retail as the biggest employer in the country and it has continued to grow.

So, sure, retail is a large employer - but it is in fact the second largest employer, not the biggest. And in the most recently reported quarter, the number of retail jobs didn't even fall, so when you state that "jobs are being slashed" I doth think you protest too much.

Retail is changing, not dying

Next, let's look at your implication that retail is dying in Australia - "in trouble like it's never been before". That's simply mischievous.

Australian retail is changing for sure, but it is still strong. The best retailers are innovating and tired retailers are struggling or fading away.

For the customers of a store like Fletcher Jones, or Angus & Robertson, it's a shame when the chain folds, but it's not the first or last retailer to close up.  And as you point out yourself, Woolworths weaker results were still underpinned by increased sales in groceries and liquor, so it's not all doom and gloom - they are just admitting Dick Smith has underperformed.

So rather than focus on the challenges of Woolworths, and to claim that "this story is repeated ...across all retail" why not look at a success story like Super Retail Group, who are growing sales in existing stores and opening new ones as a result. Their like for like sales were up between 3.5% to 9.9% across their three divisions, and earnings per share were up 20%.  That doesn't sound like "sales are struggling, profits are plunging" now, does it?

Terry, let's make a deal

OK, I don't want to criticize without being constructive, so how about this. If you point out a weakness in our economy, balance it up with the positive.

Point out the benefits to our productivity as a result of this retail shake up, or give credit to our big shopping centres for continuing to improve what they offer to the community.  Remind everyone of the great food and beverage precinct at Westfield Sydney, the continuous upgrades that keep shoppers flocking to Chadstone, or the recently reported like-for-like increase in retail profits from shopping centre owner, GPT.

We should applaud the changes in retail. We are moving forward towards the 22nd century, not backwards to the 20th

Let me know what you think

Mark S


  1. There's no "shame" for the customers of Fletcher Jones or Angus & Robertson when those stores closed. They can now dress better and buy books cheaper.

  2. Mr Gruskin
    While I empathise with your view on these retailers, it seems that some folk are likely to go without any new clothes due to the closure of their beloved Fletcher Jones!!
    While I agree this is a very odd reaction - and Angus & Robertson customers are unlikely to stop buying books - surely you's acknowledge that it is at least an inconvenience if not an outright "shame" for them.