Welcome to the online versus in-store book buying series. All this week, we will examine different points of view on the topic. Today, CONSUMERS get their say.
It’s never been a better time to be a consumer.
With the Australian dollar reaching parity against the American dollar, online shopping has never been more attractive as most overseas online stores knock a good 40-60 per cent off the recommended retail prices (RRP) for the same product sold in Australian stores.
If consumers weren’t aware of this before, they are now, with the recent media campaign from Australia’s largest retailers, Harvey Norman and Myer, lobbying for the Australian government to introduce an added tax fee on offshore buying – which currently stands at GST free for purchases under $1,000.
The campaigned backfired immensely, with consumers labelling the giants greedy and boycotting stores – all the while starting to shop all the more online.
Consumers have a wide variety of onshore choice for purchasing books: namely independent bookshops, chain bookshops – even department stores.
Although cost is a huge factor for most consumers, some are willingly to pay that little bit extra to support local independents.
Consumer and primary school teacher Amy cites cost, accessibility, customer service, variety and range as reasons that impact on where she buys books.
Consumer and fellow primary school teacher Kassie agrees with Amy, too citing price, convenience, accessibility, selection – and she likes to support local businesses. Kassie also adds that, “Price thing is probably the biggest thing, given how many books I actually buy!”
Amy says, “I buy books from a variety of different places. Mostly online, independent or chain stores. There are predominantly two different types of books I buy – books for school (picture story books for my Prep class) and novels.”
Consumer Samantha, a university student, says she usually buys locally but sometimes is forced to source books online, saying, “I try to support smaller book stores. The mood’s better, the staff are often better. Sometimes availability is an issue – last semester for school we had an out-of-print text on the syllabus, and the only way to get that was online. And let’s face it, price is often a factor.”
Consumer and year twelve student Amy-Jean, like Samantha, enjoys the atmosphere of bookstores – something online shops can’t compete with.
Amy-Jean says, “I’m a huge sucker for a good atmosphere; I love second-hand bookshops, usually because you do fluke books that have been well looked after, and maybe only read once and then swapped. I particularly love op-shops; I think picking up a book that has been previously loved, and you can see that in the pages, you do buy into the feeling of having a ‘pre-loved’ book.”
Consumer and journalist Sarah receives a lot of books to review, but says for books she doesn’t get she buys from a variety of places, including eBay, Amazon, K-Mart and Myer. She comments that she “can’t get over” how expensive books are.
Consumer Maria agrees with Sarah, citing one of her main reasons for purchasing books online was the cost factor – it is simply cheaper.
Sarah does, however, think about the authors, saying: “As a freelance journalist I understand how much a labour of love writing can be and how difficult it is for people like me to choose between their craft and putting food on the table. But I guess if they’re published, they’re probably better off than most other writers who are still struggling.”
Consumer Jane* is in a similar situation to Sarah – as Jane is a children’s book judge, “I have not had to buy any Australian children’s or YA Fiction for the past two years.”
But Jane comments that when they do buy books, they purchase most through cheaper online alternatives, but do buy literary fiction at Writer’s Festivals.
Kassie prefers buying in store, saying she’s never really bought online.
“I do like the face to face interaction of buying a book; talking to the staff about their recommendations. I prefer being able to actually pick up a book and look through it. I also like having the book ‘right there and then’, rather than wait for it to arrive (not the most patient person in the world!)
“I buy a lot of books, but I have never really been into the online side of things. I am sure that if I looked more carefully, I could save money on the books I buy. But for me personally, it is about the personal satisfaction of being able to pick up a book, like the look of it and leave the store with it.”
Several factors are primarily driving consumers to shop online more and more, as Choice campaign director Christopher Zinn recently said: “The big chains should recognise that it’s their high prices, limited range and poor customer service that increasingly encourage people to use the internet.”1
Sourcing cheaper items overseas isn’t a new practice, as Kevin Harris recently discussed with The Brisbane Times: “In 1981 I set a popular academic book as the text for a course and was confronted by students angry at the price the uni bookshop was charging for it. I rang a colleague in London and asked him to buy 150 copies from his university’s bookshop and airfreight them to me.
“I then made these available to my students at the English cost price plus the (considerable) cost of air freighting, all of which came to just 60 per cent of the price being charged here. There was no rampant dollar, no online shopping and no GST then. The experience stirred serious thoughts of finding alternative ways to buy things.”2
Consumers are also opening their eyes to stores who do up-mark above the recommended retail price, with consumer Bevan recently changing his online book buying from the Borders online store to The Book Depository – no doubt low prices and free postage swayed him. He cites convenience and price as reasons for buying online over stores, saying he doesn’t feel guilty “in the slightest” for not shopping locally.
The media campaign is also driving people to shop online, with Insider Retailing reporting,
“In the end, the retailers in this poorly-counselled coalition have invested $200,000+ promoting to the Australian community how much better off they are shopping offshore.
“They’ve alienated their existing customers, discouraged would-be customers and shipped sales right out the door to the US or EU.
“Far from presenting a valid, cohesive case for what is essentially taxation reform, this coalition and its PR campaign strategists have actively damaged the market for every single retailer in Australia.”3
Consumers have never been more informed, or in a better position to negotiate better deals.
Amy understands why they want to add GST to online sales, but thinks retailers should keep up, saying: “If they can’t meet the demand and offer the same products and services here at a reasonable price, then people should be free to go online to get what they’re after without being subject to the GST for a product coming from somewhere else.
“If I could get the same resources here without having to order from overseas at the same price, then I would. But this isn’t always practical or possible. They can’t have it both ways. Online shopping is just another thing of the future that the global economy wasn’t ready or prepared for in order to keep up with demand.”
A recent article in The Herald Sun says essentially the same thing, saying the government will never put a tax on under $1000 online purchases as – as the government themselves have admitted – it would take too much effort to collect and monitor.4
They further report that, “Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten has said that collecting GST and import duty on foreign internet purchases would cost more than the revenue it would generate – a figure the retail coalition has estimated at $2.5 billion a year.”5
An interesting point to note is that the Australian $1000 exception is one of the highest in the world – compared with the eighteen pounds in the UK and $NZ400.6
Saying that though, fair is fair, as Inside Retailing suggests: “The biggest irony in all this is that the retailers did actually have a valid argument at the outset. We’re the first to agree that from a pure taxation perspective they’re right: If your taxation system includes a tax on consumption, then you tax all consumption.”7
A huge thanks to everyone involved in the CONSUMERS post. Comments below are encouraged so the discussion can continue. Stay tuned to Literary Life as tomorrow the next group share their view.
Amy is a twenty-six-year-old primary school teacher in Victoria, Australia. She regularly buys books for her large school library, but also enjoys reading novels for herself.
Amy-Jean is an eighteen-year-old completing year twelve via distance education in Victoria, Australia. She blogs at Struggletown.
Bevan is a first year teaching student from Victoria, Australia. He enjoys reading classics.
Jane is a children’s book judge and consumer from Australia.
Kassie is a primary school teacher in Melbourne, Victoria. She enjoys reading a wide variety of books.
Maria is a book-buying adult from Melbourne, Victoria. She studied English Literature at university and loves cookbooks and travel articles.
Samantha is a young adult studying Creative Writing at university in Melbourne, Victoria. She blogs at Little Girl With A Big Pen.
Sarah is a freelance journalist living in Sydney, Australia. You can find her on her website.