Sliced bread, take-outs, soft butter, cordless vacuum cleaners, we all love convenience. That's why we love online shopping.
In total, Australians spent $665 million online in January 2015. Last month we spent $4.3 billion. Lockdowns accelerated the trend to online and it's unlikely we'll ever back away from the internet checkout.
Which is worrying, there is so much at stake. The immediate problem is the livelihoods of the small traders in our local shopping centres and along our high streets.
When COVID-19 struck almost two years ago we stripped their shelves. But then we went online, for click and collect, or for home delivered parcels direct from national and global suppliers. The ka-ching, ka-ching of local stores went silent.
Some commentators say we stand on the edge of what is clumsily called "logistics urbanism". If we abandon local shopping our cities and towns will become unrecognisable. Large regional warehouses - Amazon calls them fulfilment centres - will annihilate higher-order retailers, stores where you buy clothes, gifts, appliances, sporting goods and so on, the things in the past we travelled "into town" to touch and buy.
We need to act aggressively to save the retail geography of our towns and cities. And the best tactic is to shop local, starting this Christmas.
Local stores are already struggling, outdone by the predatory strategies of the supermarkets and big box warehouses.
Local cafes and restaurants struggle as home delivery gets easier and easier.
Professional services are next. Accountants and lawyers are easily displaced by online providers. Online real estate, medical and pharmaceutical services are sprouting.
When we first moved into the lower Hunter, 36 years ago, local townships were attractive places to visit on a Saturday morning. People were around. Politicians lurked and chatted. The smells of coffee, freshly baked yummies, deep-fried foods were irresistible.
There were book sellers, record shops, and men's clothing stores other than Lowes.
Our high streets changed a lot since that time, but they didn't die off, until COVID-19.
A shift to services occurred: real estate, hair and beauty, physiotherapists, optometrists, health services, financial advisers, take-out food, reflecting the ways our lives changed. And, thankfully, the baker, the butcher and the pub remained in place.
But, say the experts, COVID-19 has opened the door to logistics urbanism big time. Under threat is the historical pattern of human settlement based on residential neighbourhoods, these clustered around local shopping and service centres, within a hierarchy of higher-order centres across a city or region. If this historic ordering goes, it's gone forever.
We need, I think, to act aggressively to save the retail geography of our towns and cities. And the best tactic is to shop local, starting this Christmas.
Buy your food from local stores, especially those that promote locally grown produce. Or buy direct from local farmers or farmers markets. Visit a craft shop for that special gift. Take your neighbours out for a meal at the local pub. Get together for a back yard party and hire a local musician, and a clown for the kids.
Then next year, take your tax return to your local accountant, stick with your local pharmacy, the local pathologist, the local physio. Park at the other end of the street from where you need to be and stroll under the awnings and spend a few bob more than you intended.
We need to re-invigorate our foundational economy, the idea that local well-being is best generated by the circular flow of money among local producers, service providers, community agencies and residents.
The key is the decisions we make in how we spend our money. Even if they are best in class, a local producer or retailer can only survive with the support of local customers.
Buy white sliced bread from the supermarket all the time and the local baker goes out of business, no matter how many blue ribbons hang proudly from the window. Buy your runners online and the local sports store who sponsors the cricket club goes bust. Hand your financial affairs to an online provider and the local accountant in the old bank building closes shop.
And then what? Work from home, shop from home, watch subscription TV from home? And what then for our suburban shopping centres and high streets?
Suburban wastelands loom. We need to bring back the ka-ching.
Time to give your wallet more local outings.
Phillip O'Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University.
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