This weekend I faced an ethical dilemma which I suspect is becoming more common for Australian consumers. I needed a new set of bicycle panniers. I had briefly looked on the Internet but I wanted a set that would fit my current rack. So, finding myself near a bicycle shop ,I went in to have a look at the selection.
There was a great choice, a very helpful sales assistant, and exactly what I needed. But then I faced the dilemma. Would I buy the panniers or walk away claiming that I would “think about it”? Now I knew what panniers I wanted, I also knew that I could buy them on the Internet at about 50% of the Australian price. The store and the sales assistant would get nothing but I would save my hard earned money.
I looked at the sales assistant. I’m sure he knew what I was thinking. And yes, I’m a wimp, so I bought the panniers at the store.
When I got home I checked on the Internet. I could have saved about 50%.
Australian retail outlets are trying to work out how to deal with this dilemma. I do not have the answer. There are calls for the government to ‘do something’. But what can they do? Providing tax concessions to Australian retailers who face internet competition will simply undermine the GST and will have a 10% effect – not the 50% internet saving at current exchange rates. Trying to put up import barriers to prevent overseas competition via the internet will harm consumers and prop up an inefficient ‘bricks and mortar’ retail model.
Some stores have tried a ‘fitting fee’ approach. If you try and do not buy, then you pay a fee. But stores cannot distinguish between real bricks-and-mortar shoppers who are comparing alternatives and potential on-line shoppers. So a ‘fitting fee’ discourages real shoppers who will just strike that store off their list and look elsewhere to compare products before buying.
I do not know the answer. However retailers will need to work out how to deal with the problem of customers who try and then do not buy (or rather buy over the Internet) as this is a growing area for consumer purchases.