Retailer grab for profit OR would madam like to purchase a brown paper bag to carry her shopping?

It is not often we have a rave on the Stancombe blog but today, rave we will! … A couple of days ago, our local Thomas Dux decided to charge their customers 10 cents for a Thomas Dux branded bag to carry purchases home or in our case, back to the agency kitchen.

This initiative has evidently been instigated so that the residents of Paddington (long known for their leftish ideologies and keenness to save the environment and join a protest) are educated on the importance of re-use.  Really, as if we don’t know about reuse already!  Besides, paper consumption levels have declined enormously in our suburb since we all went on-line to consumer media (apologies to Fairfax and News Limited).  

Thomas Dux has missed the point. Thomas Dux is situated in the middle of a shopping drag, in front of a bus stop, near a community school and is used by local businesses and residents to do ‘top-up’, basket shopping i.e. little and often. It is far too expensive and specialised to do a trolley shop.  To be told we must bring our own (Thomas Dux purchased hessian effect) bag, pre-used Thomas Dux branded brown paper bags or pay a penalty to take our (over-priced) shopping home is wrong at some many levels. 

Locals drop into Thomas Dux on the way past the store either when getting off the bus, on the way past the Dux to conduct an errand, visit a local business or associate or when one realises one has forgotten to pick up some milk on the way to or from school pick up or an office meeting. 

Spontaneity is the key.  We don’t know about you, but we rarely have shopping bags stuffed into our pockets in case we decide to pop into the local grocer on the way past.

Thomas Dux has a massive negative environmental footprint:  A large proportion of their product range is imported (e.g. Dutchy biscuits, French cheeses, Italian cold meats, Turkish dried fruit, New Zealand frozen produce to name a few). Think about the amount of carbon produced just transporting grocery and deli items from one side of the world to the other. Many of the SKUs ranged by Thomas Dux are beautifully presented in exquisitely designed boxes consisting of multiple layers of paper and plastic (excuse me, Mr. Dux, is your hypocrisy showing?)

The Stancombe Series 2013: “What Is The New Normal” did identify a key consumer theme we called ‘Who Pays, Wins’.   This theme identified the insidious move towards a model of user pay in Australia.  The customer is increasing asked by manufacturers and retailers to carry the burden of cost and responsibility. We see this reflected in a wide range of areas: The move towards user-pays education, on-street parking meters, the cost of installing solar panels to generate (and buy back) sustainable energy, increasing compulsory super contributions, and most recently, an increase in the Medicare levy to cover new disability services (can’t argue with that one!).  

Who pays, wins is ‘the new normal’, not so much grass-roots driven movement but something that seems to have crept up on us. 

While we are seeing some resentment rise to the top as a consequence, there’s a visible rise in ‘class-consciousness’ and competitiveness seeping in.  In essence, this is about winners or losers. Ultimately many Australians are starting to understand that those who can afford or prioritise paying for what were once free services will win the game of life. They’ve clicked that if you play the game, you win at your own cost.  If you don’t or can’t, then don’t expect to live life to the fullest or access the best range of services for free.  But does this include such essentials as food and groceries?

We think not.  While people may be happy to ‘play the game’ with education, services, and even sustainable energy – food is an area where people are not keen to play “winners and grinners”.  Mr Dux, forcing people to pay for lovely re-cycled brown paper bags to carry their already pricey food items doesn’t deliver a pay-off.  It seems mean and opportunistic.

The sub-text of this rave is that we don’t buy the idea that the folk at Thomas Dux really care about the environment. The brown paper bags they have offered customers since they opened their doors cost approximately 14 cents each.  

So, madam would not like to buy a brown paper bag to carry her premium-priced shopping. Based on the outrage being expressed at the checkout, Madam is not alone.

‘No Thanks, I’m Just Using’

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With Australia Post in the news over price hikes of up to 30% for pre-paid parcels, competitor Toll has announced its trial rollout of TZ locker technology. Consumers simply rent the automated lockers in anticipation of a parcel delivery and pick it up from a 24 hour localised pick up point. While this innovation is an evolution of the almost ancient concept of a PO box, it got us into a discussion about the broader trend it is part of and what this says about our changing society.

Once upon a time it was standard practice for a young adult to get a job, buckle down and save their pennies in order to buy a house and things to fill it with. But this trajectory may be on the wane.

Things seem to be gradually giving way to the services things offer. Lately we’re seeing the emergence of a number of innovative short-term rental/usage concepts whose success indicates that for some Australians it is no longer appealing or necessary to commit to fully purchasing something to enjoy its benefits, or to have that something to hand all the time. The service comes before the product.

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Spotify is the pioneering commercial music streaming service that has been described as the saviour of the moribund music industry. Spotify offers users access to almost every piece of recorded music for a modest monthly service fee. Essentially this negates the need to purchase or own music; users are simply borrowing the music they want, as required.

GoGet is one of a handful of car share services launched in Australia that claim to be more convenient than car-rental and cheaper than car ownership. Members can book a car online, take a short walk to the nearest GoGet rental car, unlock it using a smart card and return it to the same spot when finished. No vehicle registration, no insurance, no repairs, no saving or commitment. To add to this in recent years

Melbourne has embraced the bike-sharing trend occurring in over 200 cities in 33 countries. The idea is much the same as GoGet, with two wheels.

So what’s driving this shift towards services rather than products? Is it an affordability issue? Not really. According to a report released last year by NATSEM, the cost of living isn’t increasing as rapidly as many would have us believe. Australians are experiencing financial stress due to greater discretionary spending and consequent expectations. We think this ‘service over product’ shift is about something bigger and more significant - services such as these offer lifestyle without encumbrance; they mitigate the rising cost of lifestyle, cater to an attitude of entitlement present amongst some, and talk to the new narrative that sees young Australians less willing to set aside part of their weekly wage to purchase a car, bike or LP. A service doesn’t deteriorate like a consumer durable, and disappears as soon as you’ve finished using it. It’s all the wheat and no chaff.

So what’s next? Could this trend, coupled with some quirky Japanese inventiveness, be the answer to Sydney’s housing shortage?