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The Covid Diaries #14 – The death of retail?

I could spend this entry talking about how Covid appears to be completely out of control in Sydney (900+ cases for the last few days), or about how here in Victoria we’re in lockdown #6 and case numbers are on a knife edge, or about how the vaccine rollout pooch has been touched inapprpropriately if not actually molested, or about how commentators in the rest of the world don’t understand that we’re doing now what they did in April last year but with Delta.

I could talk about all of that. But I won’t. Instead I’ll talk about how I think retail is mortally wounded and I’m probably ok with that.

So here’s the thing. I’m not much of a shopper. Some people love nothing more than browsing big malls and touching all the merchandise. They seem to get a lot of satisfaction from vicariously experiencing all of the wondrous possibilities of the world’s manufacturing. I don’t share that pleasure, but I don’t judge it harshly – horses for courses.

For me, I don’t like malls and big shops. I sometimes feel briefly excited by them, but then the crowds and noise tend to overwhelm me. I make an exception for bookshops and the serendipity found therein, but I would normally only visit if I were nearby for some other reason.

So in light of this I am not at all surprised or bothered by the decline in retail. Much of this is driven by Covid of course; why would you want to mingle with potentially infected people who you don’t know, and lockdowns make it all moot. But I think a large part of it is that there are many people like me who just don’t like shopping.

I’m far from a recluse, but if I need things I am more than happy to order them over the internet and have them appear in my letterbox a few days later. I think you’d agree that grocery shopping is a special kind of hell, one that comes back to visit once or twice a week for the rest of your life. If I can spend ten minutes on the internet, followed by a delivery or quick pickup, you can bet that I’ll do that rather than taking an hour pushing a trolley up and down an aisle, trying not to listen to fucking “Coles Radio”.

Even clothes are easy for me – I have fairly conventional body measurements so I rarely have to send anything back. I’ve spoken to people who say that they used to enjoy shopping just to “know what’s out there”, but that this feeling has waned. This is partially due to the obvious horror of retail, but partially due to the fact that shops will only ever be able to show you a small fraction of what’s on the internet. Avoid the accidental impulse buying, just get what you need online.

Once Peak Covid has passed, I would be surprised if retail bounced back to the way it was. I think many people have realised that much shopping can be done better through the internet, especially in a time-poor, home-based world that we now appear to be living in.

No doubt shops will still exist, but I wonder whether they’ll transition to a kind of showroom model where you examine the merchandise, but that your actual item is delivered to your home later on.

Maybe by drone.

That would be cool.

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