You can't have missed the headlines leading the news this week. About our looming retail recession, and how our biggest retailers are struggling to remain competitive — or even alive — in the economic climate. Australia's retailers must think they're trapped in a bad dream they can't wake up from.
And yes, the surface-level numbers are grim, with economists pointing to our retail sales falling to levels last seen during the 1990 recession, and growing fears the many interest rate cuts just haven't had enough of a flow-on effect to make a difference.
The question is, who stands to gain from all this apparent belt-tightening across the nation? Is it the online retailers? I don't think so. Online shopping is growing in popularity, yes, but still made up less than 10 per cent of our total retail spend in 2018.
In fact, should you scratch below the surface of the headlines, you'll find it's actually Australia's small businesses, our mum-and-dad stores, that are in the box seat to capitalise on the climate.
I know that sounds utterly bizarre, given its widely accepted that people just aren't spending. But if you ask me, it's more complicated than that. I think people just aren't spending with the bigger retailers.
I'm not trying to have a crack at Myer or David Jones here, but a trip to one of their stores is feeling more and more like online shopping anyway. You wander around a huge space trying to find whatever it is you need, and you're more likely to find a pot of gold than you are someone to ask for help. Faced with that reality, I'm sure plenty of people would prefer the convenience of an online experience, where they can click on a product and have it delivered to their door without even leaving the house.
But contrast that with the last time you popped into your local butcher, for example. The person behind the counter probably knew your name, knew what you wanted, and was in a position to offer you expert advice on what was fresh, what to buy, and how to cook it. That's the kind of personalised service that goes a long way to convincing a shopper to part with their hard-earned, and it's the kind of shopping experience that only small retailers can provide.
And it's not just butchers, of course. I was walking down Glebe Point Rd in Sydney the other day and spotted bookstores, cycle shops, boutiques and antique stores, all staffed by experts in their field, ready and waiting to assist customers in any way they can. And happily, there were plenty of customers, too.
The mistake I most often see small businesses make is trying to compete with the giants of their industry. But it's actually what sets you apart from the big boys that makes the difference. And that's more true now than ever.