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Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: If shopping shoe fits we'll have to wear it

Ageing population means there has probably never been a better time to open my rocking retirement home.

New Zealand's population is ageing: It is expected there will be 1.2 million old folks in a few decades. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand's population is ageing: It is expected there will be 1.2 million old folks in a few decades. Photo / Supplied

I went into a clothing boutique in Newmarket a few days ago. The shop assistant had cool silver shoes on. "Where did you get them? Wow, New Lynn? I must pop out there. Ohhhh, sorry BER-Lin. Right."

Shopping just isn't what it used to be. I wonder how most local retail shops can survive when the whole world is your mall.

In the Herald on Sunday Matt McCarten wrote a plaintive column wistful about his favourite local shop closing, to be replaced with big box retailers like the Warehouse. I know he thinks we are from different tribes - I can't imagine he would spend a week's salary on some silly see-through Margiela boots - but I feel your pain, brother.

There is nothing really new about the phenomenon of big ugly category killer retailers gobbling up rustic local shops. As a capitalist, in a bid to stop myself thinking of the Warehouse as utterly vile, I have tried to remind myself of the people who thanks to Stephen Tindall can keep warmer in winter with cheap polar fleece blankets with bad taste tigers on them and feel they are part of the affluent world buying barbecue furniture.

Their quality of life is surely enhanced by being able to buy more stuff. And we are buying more - 40 per cent more than we were in 1992. So shopping isn't dead. But if you are a retailer, it might feel that way.

One of my friends travelled recently to Bangkok to buy an entire house lot of furniture. Outdoor furniture, dining tables & chairs, couches and armchairs, coffee tables: the whole caboodle.

He told me: why pay double in Auckland's high-end stores when he could fill a container for half the price and have something different you don't see in a Newmarket showroom.

It's not an isolated case; two other people he knows have done the same using the same Thai broker. If more and more people do it this way then obviously New Zealand retailers will close.

Already many of us are buying smaller stuff, like shoes, online, and it's hurting retailers. The answer to this retail conundrum is apparently for us to import more punters. Demographers are talking about how we can become a country of 10 million people in the next 50 years. We are relying on immigration to supply our growth, rather than improving our own productivity and skills.

We seem to have stopped talking about building our own local industry like Nokia or being a finance hub like Switzerland and have just accepted our industry is to import people instead and start a lot more $2 shops.

Here are some figures. Our population is ageing: there were 200,000 people aged over 65 in 1950, now there are 600,000 and it is expected there will be 1.2 million old folks in a few decades.

We are losing 50,000 people a year: typically skilled, working-age people. We are accepting about 85,000 new residents. This influx has seen Auckland quietly become "super-diverse", surprisingly more diverse than cities in Australia or Canada, with 40 per cent of its residents born in another country. This is a huge change. Professor Paul Spoonley warned on National Radio last week: "We have diversified our population without a lot of fuss. I would have expected more reaction to be honest."

I'm quite proud of how we have adapted to the new diverse New Zealand but there is a law of diminishing returns so I'm not sure the next phase will be as easy.

Immigration might work for Auckland but is not so flash for the rest of the country. Still, our strange little wizened ageing nation at the bottom of the world has some upside. There has probably never been a better time for me to open my rocking retirement home where we will listen to Nick Cave, gamble, take class A drugs and race our mobility scooters.

Wearing great shoes of course.

- NZ Herald

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