Our say | Customers will ultimately shape the future of retailing

THE arrival of online retailing giant Amazon on Australian shores signals a phase in this country’s shopping revolution.

Amazon's first Australian warehouse in outer Melbourne is “operationally ready” and the company is expected to officially launch on Friday.

When it starts rolling out its full range of products from next year, analysts from several major banks predict it will undercut competitors’ prices on popular products.

By some quirk of the shopping gods, the arrival of Amazon coincides with the announcement last week that struggling retail group Specialty Fashion – which owns well-known outlets including Rivers, Millers, Katies, Autograph, Crossroads and City Chic – is to close 300 under-performing outlets.

When asked about its Dubbo shops, the company would only say that in the next couple of years, it would “close a number of our stores across our brands”.

We hope they survive – both for the sake of local shopping centres and the local people who work there – but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the future of retailing has well and truly arrived.

Amazon is seeking to cash in on the very retailing trend that is crippling traditional stores – online shopping.

Every year we are seeing more and more money spent online and that can only be less over the counter at local shops.

There’s no doubt shoppers enjoy the convenience of browsing and buying from the comfort of their home, and also the flexibility of shopping at all hours of the day and night.

The growing concern, though – and it should worry us all – must be what the long-term impact will be on local shopping strips and, in broader terms, local communities.

Local retailers employ local people who, in turn, support other local businesses.

Local shops also tend to support local charities and local community and sporting groups. Amazon won’t do that.

And so we all have a role in shaping what the future of retailing will look like.

In the battle between online and traditional shopping, it is the customer that holds the ultimate power.

If we’re happy to prioritise convenience over community then we can continue happily down the current path.

If we have concerns, though, then it might be time for a rethink.

There may be savings to be made online, but at what cost?