True “bargains” are only found online


It’s hard to see how some “bricks and mortar” retailers will survive the relentless growth of online sales.

And sometimes its hard to argue against it.

A couple of weeks ago my car remote died. No amount of tinkering, application of blue tack or fidgeting with batteries and tiny metal gadgetry could get the thing to work.

So I headed off to Highpoint Shopping Centre in search of a new one – they sell them at those kiosks, where they also repair watches and cut keys.

The affable guy behind the counter quoted me about $110 for a brand new remote and said the best price he could do was about a $95 if he included a 10% discount voucher, which he placed in my hands.

It seemed quite a lot for a little gadget so I said I’d think about it and left, thinking I might get a couple of other quotes.

In the Moonee Ponds arcade, the guy behind the key cutting counter quoted me  $130 and I thought, “Yeah right mate” and left.

Of course it always pays to look online – specifically eBay.

Typing in a few key words into the search bar, I came across an online store selling a brand new remote for $68 in one of those “this is not really an auction – “Buy it Now” deals, including free shipping.

car remoteSo I did some checking as you should always do when shopping online and discovered that they’re a “bricks and mortar” locksmith in Five Dock, Sydney – with an address, phone number and very high seller rating – and so I bought it.

It came in the post four days later and works like a charm.

I walked around basking in that strange warm, enveloping glow that happens when your research has paid off and there’s a couple of extra bucks in your bank account as a result.

It also got me thinking about retailing, specifically – are consumers being taken for a ride every time they buy something in a mall?

After all, I got the gadget for roughly half the price of what it would have cost me to buy it in Moonee Ponds and about 30% less what I was offered in Highpoint, even with discounts thrown in.

Of course, bricks and mortar retailers have to factor in things like rent – which can be very high – the cost of holding stock, staff wages, insurance and many other things which is partly why they charge more.

I say “partly” for good reason.

Recently I came across an article about the float of the Dick Smith electronic stores by the Australian Financial Review’s retail writer, Sue Mitchell.

She writes that Dick Smith chief executive and turnaround specialist Nick Abboud has established a “new sourcing office in Hong Kong and is now sourcing direct products for Dick Smith’s growing private label range”.

“The private label products are cheaper than international brands but gross margins are around 80%,” writes Mitchell.

What this means is that a Dick Smith $396 television is only costing the company $79 before factoring all those other costs I’ve mentioned above.

Even when you tally up those costs, Dick Smith is making a healthy profit on each item they sell under their own brand and continue to do so even after offering as much as a 50% discount.

Clearly not all retailers operate on such wide margins, but still food for thought the  next time you see the words “sale” and “discount” pasted across every shop in your favourite mall.

Another “magnificent” beet-up from the attention-seeking hypocrite Dick Smith

newbeetrootsizedwebshadow_0For those who missed it, Heinz is threatening to sue Dick Smith after his Magnificent Australian Grown tinned beetroot label included the following:

”When American-owned Heinz decided to move its beetroot processing facility from Australia to New Zealand causing hundreds of lost jobs, we decided enough is enough.

”So we are fighting back against poor quality imported product.”

Since the story “broke” Dick Smith has made headlines in every major newspaper and news website in Australia talking up his products and vowing not to crumble to the whims of the US food-making giant.

Let me tell you something.

Despite what it may say on the label, there’s nothing at all magnificent about any of the products Dick Smith flogs at customers in supermarket stores around Australia.

They all look like cheap imitations of the real thing and that’s exactly how they taste.

The other day on a whim I bought Dick Smith’s ‘Magnificent Australian Grown Raspberry” a spreadable fruit product that masquerades itself as jam.

dick smith

I bought it despite it being more expensive than the French-imported St Dalfour brand, which actually has bits of real fruit in it.

st dalfour

You could almost pick up the Dick Smith brand by mistake (no doubt that’s the intention, it’s surely not flattery) as it is in an almost identical jar, has similar labelling and an almost identical list of ingredients.

(This is ironic of course, given Dick Smith’s public tirade against German-owned Aldi, which makes products that mimic more famous brands)

Except of course there’s Dick Smith face trying to be to jam what Paul Newman was to salad dressing.

Dick Smith’s spread sells for $4.61 and St Dalfour’s for $4.29.

I spread both of them on a half of a bagel and munched away.

OK, I am not going to tell you the Dick Smith brand is inedible – that would be only the kind of media stunt he would pull – but it’s decidedly ordinary.

In fact perhaps he could change the name to Dick Smith’s Decidedly Ordinary Australian Grown raspberry spread? At least he’d be poking fun at himself. Hey, he might even sell more products.

But the question must be asked: why is a product made from ingredients grown in Australia and manufactured in Belrose Sydney more expensive than the better tasting French-made product that is made from imported ingredients and flown in from the other side of the world?

But these sorts of things are, I am sure, just silly details for the man who is no doubt lapping up all the media attention generated by his latest spat with Heinz.

The cold, harsh facts are that Dick Smith is a complete hypocrite.

Dick Smith made his millions flogging cheap Asian electronic products at Australian consumers for years, products most likely made by small children in overcrowded sweatshops.

He was happy to flog them and happy to get rich doing so.

Now that he’s flush, he’s conveniently turned himself into a champion of Australian-made products even if they’re more expensive than those made overseas.

Yes he gives the profits earned on these so-called magnificent products to charity (only ocker Australian charities need apply) but unfortunately, he’s used the moral high ground to spread a subtle message of xenophobia, racism and hypocrisy – disguised as being proudly Australian.

He’s a bit like one of those people who waves the Australian flag on Australia Day and talks about how proud they are to be Australian and then picks a fight with an Asian or Muslim while walking home with his mates.

Just watch his banned commercial, which turns the fate of refugees aboard a sinking boat into joke about buying his products and you’ll get the picture.

And how about this page on his website, with its covert anti-Muslim message.

Count how many times the word China pops on the pages of in reference to foreign ownership of Australian businesses and then try find mention of how Chinese demand for Australian raw minerals has propped up the economy for the last four or five years.

And while he is happy to list all the Australian brands now in the hands of  foreign companies, he conveniently fails to make any mention of the Australian mining companies that own mines in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia helping to generate mega-profits.

Yes Dick is happy to lend his support to Cate Blanchett when she spoke in favour of the carbon tax (though too gutless to actually appear in an ad in support of the tax), but did he have anything to say when his friend Gina Rinehart suggested Australian miners be paid $2 per day like their African counterparts?

Not a word.

But find a story about an Australian buying an Australian business (Dick Smith was happy to lend his support to Rinehart’s failed bid for control of Fairfax, despite the obvious damage it would do the freedom of the press) and Dick Smith will be there wearing his vegemite hat and waving the Australian flag.

The truth is we don’t need Dick Smith jumping up and down from his mansion on the outskirts of Sydney (reached by helicopter no less) telling everyone what they should be buying at Coles and Woolies and not at Aldi or Costco.

We’re smart enough to make our own choices about what we buy and who we buy it from.

I have my own magnificent gesture for Dick Smith, from now on I promise that even if his product is cheaper, tastier and made from ingredients grown in someone backyard down the road, I’ll choose to buy the imported product.

And I’ll shop at Aldi, and buy a BMW (one day) and fly Emirates instead of Qantas, sipping an ice-cold Heineken while dining on Norwegian smoked salmon and perhaps potatoes grown in Idaho.