The frenzy to click makes us forget what matters
The Americans call it Monday morning quarterbacking, describing the self-appointed experts who stand back after the event and sagely offer their wisdom as to how a game was won or lost.
The Monday morning quarterbacks have been out in earnest in Australia the past few days gloating over the (apparent) failure of Click Frenzy, the biggest retail experiment our country has ever seen, in which some of the nation’s biggest stores tried to fight back against lethal competition from foreign-based online stores.
The fact that the website crashed unleashed a wave of ridicule and, bizarrely enough, genuine anger towards the stores themselves and the operators of Click Frenzy.
Having your website crash because of the weight of public demand is unfortunate, but it is still a nice problem to have as it underscored people’s willingness to spend their money locally. It is also something that can be rectified next time.
Instead of commending the retailers for doing something for local jobs and businesses, people have been going bananas about the fact that they missed out on the bargain of their choice, claiming that some of the bargains weren’t really bargains at all, moaning that they spent too long waiting for the site to load.
In terms of human behaviour it has been a bit like the Christmas sales where people will half kill each other to be the first to get to the $50 plasma television.
Yet it is the retailers who have been copping all the flak, much of it from the mainstream media, much of it on social media, where the hashtag #clickfail saw the public pile on to register bitter disappointment.
The ACCC is now involved, amid dark warnings that people might receive spam emails from the retailers they signed up with for up to five years.
This is despite the fact that they can go through the simple process of clicking “unsubscribe” and never receive an email again, if they actually bothered to read the terms and conditions.
It puzzles me how the Click Frenzy episode has been discussed and reported. It is only superficially about our ability to shop and save some money. It is actually about something much more important than that - human beings and their ability to hold on to their jobs.
Australians have a weird kind of ambivalence towards their actions as consumers and the viability of industries which they regard as iconic.
Most Australians would agree that it is important that we have our own local car industry, even if they have a Hyundai or a Daewoo in their driveway, and they will criticise governments for failing to stem the loss of Australian jobs, even though their own actions as consumers have helped to create the problem.
I am not advocating protectionism at all, as tariffs distort markets and are economically unsustainable in the long term anyway, but I would encourage a bit more clear thinking on the part of those who can’t see a link between their actions and the industrial realities.
Online shopping is different from the tariff argument though. The difference involves tax. Goods purchased from overseas shopping websites do not attract the GST under the value of $1000.
Even if the goods are valued at more than $1000 there are still ways of getting around paying the tax anyway. This is not a level playing field at all for Australian retailers.
Not only is it a good thing that local firms are banding together to promote domestic online shopping, despite the technical difficulties with this nascent website, I would argue the retailers should muscle up in their demands for the application of the GST on foreign goods.
If you oppose that, that’s fine, but you would have to concede that what you’re effectively saying is that you would rather pay $50 for a pair of jeans than pay a little bit more and keep someone local in work.
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