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Key demographic will feel the hours pain

AS a young, professional woman I fit the profile used by national retail giants as an example of the consumer in need of greater shopping hours – well all except for the kids.

I understand whole heartedly the arguments touted by Harvey Norman and Coles Myer that consumers want extended shopping hours.

Just last Sunday I was standing outside an electrical and furniture store in Perth at 11.45am. My partner, about 40 other people and myself congregated outside as though it was the Christmas sales until the doors burst open at midday. It looked ludicrous and bordered on embarrassing.

My partner and I happened to get there by passing a good range of furniture, lighting, and electrical shops in Osborne Park on our way to a precinct that was able to open on a Sunday.

As I stood outside the electrical and furniture centre, a touch frustrated, I pondered the views of those most vehemently opposed to letting me choose to shop when it suited me.

Those views include the argument that deregulation increases market dominance of national retail giants to the point that it pushes out small, independent operators.

And they are views that are backed up by independent statistics on the supermarket industry.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that market share of the major retailers Coles and Woolworths increases significantly in a deregulated environment.

Those clammering for change to WA’s retail laws hold up Victoria as a pin-up case of thriving competition in a deregulated environment.

Yet the retail grocery market share of Coles and Woolworths is 80 per cent there compared to 61.4 per cent in WA. Retail employment growth is on par with employment growth in WA.

There is also evidence to suggest that smaller operators and smaller shopping centres become the victims of deregulation.

In light of that I dwelt on my weekly shopping habits.

I was shopping last weekend for a major household item – I can assure you it is not something that takes place every weekend or every second weekend for that matter. It is an occasional shop for big-ticket items.

I do, however, head to my local supermarket every Saturday morning.

I choose to drive past the big national chain-operated shopping centre with its abundance of shops and a supermarket heavyweight in favour of a smaller shopping centre that houses about a dozen speciality stores and a WA-owned national supermarket.

I shop there because the super-market prices are competitive, I can get a parking space within a reason-able walking distance of the centre and, most importantly, I can walk in and out without needing to fight my way through meandering morning shoppers.

In essence I find shopping there much more pleasant than the large shopping centre environment.

Given the statistics I have seen is it fair to assume that my local shopping centre may be in jeopardy of shutting its doors if retail trading hours are extended?

Can the butcher, the cafe and the newsagent that I visit before getting the groceries cope with competitive Sunday trading under the current industrial relations system?

What if a few close their doors on Sunday and make the centre less attractive to shoppers and therefore unviable for those who are willing to compete?

That may well spell doom for my favourite little centre, which I can access so readily and conveniently without competing with those who have little else to do than shop.

Perhaps that is just progress?

Sunday is also a day that I enjoy catching up with family and friends whether it be for a barbecue, a stroll on the beach, to watch the Eagles play at Subiaco or taking a trip to Fremantle.

It is this lifestyle that I enjoy and it is Perth’s lifestyle that attracts hardworking and innovative people living in this State.  I understand that I can’t force this lifestyle on others but it does irritate me that we are trying to compete with the consumer-driven appeal of major centres such as Sydney and Melbourne that are always raised as examples during this debate.

Caught between my occasional desire for retail therapy and my love of this place, I can only hope that those making decisions in this deregulation debate have considered all the arguments before they change things – for better or worse, depending on which way you look at it.

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