Jul 262015
how easy is it to make money online

Is capitalism dead? Journalist Paul Mason discusses his book outlining a post capitalist future on a Guardian Live panel that covers how technological change is undermining the foundations of what we understand to be capitalism today.

While it’s arguable that capitalism is dying, more likely its evolving away from the current corporatist, consumerist model driven by easy credit, the panel makes some excellent points about how technology is changing the underpinnings of our society’s economic structures.

While the video’s long at 90 minutes, it’s well worth watching for some interesting observations on how our society and economies are evolving in a connected century.

Jul 232015
the temptation to discount for business owners and managers

Around the world threatened incumbents are turning to their political cronies to protect them from competition with businesses using technologies their cosy managers and shareholders never envisaged would exist.

In Australia, one of the laziest industries has been the retail sector. Long coddled by cosy duopolies and favourable regulatory arrangements, retailers ignored the changes to their markets since the web arrived in 1995.

Of the Australian retail industry probably the most cosseted of all was the department store duopoly. Protected by their market share and product licensing agreements, Myer and David Jones neglected investments in their internal systems and largely ignored the online world, with DJs even shutting down their website in the early 2000s.

Insular Australia

Eventually it became obvious to even the most insular Australian retailer that the internet was here to stay however in the meantime canny Australian shoppers had discovered buying overseas online was substantially cheaper, and much easier, than local stores.

Faced with offshore competitors that beat them on price, range and service, the Australian retailers started lobbying the Federal government to lower the threashold, currently $1000, that customs would take an interest in and add the ten percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) and various fees and duties. In the hope the bureaucracy would discourage local shoppers looking overseas.

Mistaken lobbying

The campaign to lower the GST threashold was a mistake says Ian Moir, the current Chairman of now South African owned David Jones. “It set Australian retailers back because they spent more time trying to persuade governments to do this than they did thinking about what the long term future for the business is.”

Moir was speaking yesterday in Sydney at an Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch panel titled ‘Reframing retail for the digital age: The importance of an integrated approach’. Joining the DJs executve on the board were Craig Dower, the CEO of Salmat and David Mustow, Head of Retail & Consumer at Macquarie Bank.

The message from the lunch was clear – technology savvy customers were demanding more from retailers now smartphones are driving purchase decisions. “Everyone talks about Big Data and how you use it as an organisation,” observed Scottish born Moir. “Not enough people talk about the big data the customer has on their mobile phones.”

Mobile first

Moir’s view on mobile was endorsed by Macquarie’s Mustow who stated “if you’re investing in this space it’s mobile first.” Salmat’s Downer added to this with Salmat’s research that found 55% of online retail sales are coming through mobile devices.

That Australian consumers have one the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates and are also among the planet’s most avid web user only shows how poorly local retailers have responded to the web and mobile devices over the past two decades.

When Moir took the reigns at David Jones last August after Woolworths South Africa – unrelated to the local supermarket giant – the company was making a piddling one percent of its sales online. The new management has grown this three fold but it’s still trivial compared to Australians’ appetite for online shopping.

Dampening overseas demand

The appetite of overseas online sales will dampened should the proposed GST changes reducing the taxable threshold on imports to $20 be introduced as consumers deal with the bureaucracy, delays and costs of Australia’s dysfunctional customs system however Moir warns this will only be a temporary respite, “these changes only affect you in the short term, it tends to sort itself out over time.”

Indeed for retailers, the GST changes will probably only benefit customs agents and bloated ticket clippers like Australia Post along with introducing a whole range of unexpected consequences as foreign retailers and local entrepreneurs find opportunities in the new tax regime.

While the champagne may taste sweet for Australia’s retail lobbyists as they celebrate their likely win over brunch at Sydney’s exclusive Balmoral Beach Club this Sunday, their employers are going to find that swaying the politicians is the easy part – it’s ultimately the market that guarantees your success.

Jul 172015

As services like Uber change the definition of employment, the company finds it has become an issue for the US Presidential race.

The New York Times reports how the Democratic candidates, led by Hilary Clinton, and the Republicans are carving out their positions on the sharing and on-demand economies.

Notable in the current discussion is low little support there is for the incumbent taxi companies and their drivers which shows how in most states and cities the medallion and licensing regulations have been used to stifle competition and discourage service.

For cab drivers that characterisation is somewhat unfair given cabbies themselves in many cities are exploited and are as much the victims of a bad systems as the passengers.

That the future of work and the structure of these services is now in the political spotlight, the issues raised by the new business models are going to get more examination and – hopefully – some ideas on addressing the changes needed to deal with a very different workforce in the 21st Century.

Mar 262015
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

This morning I’m speaking on ABC Radio’s Overnights about the risks of the Australian government’s law to force telecommunications companies to retain users’ metadata for two years.

While the act, currently before the Senate having passed the House of Representatives last week after the poorly named ‘opposition’ Labor Party supported it, mandates that telcos and ISPs will have to retain the details of users’ connection times, places and type of device for two years and that government agencies will be able to access this data without a warrant.

The program was broadcast on 26 March 2015 at 4.15am Eastern Time with Trevor Chappell and is can be listened to on the ABC radio website.

Some resources on the data retention bill follow;

Jan 082015

Today’s links kick off with the worldwide reaction to the terrorist atrocity in Paris. The other links, which pale in contrast, include why we should really fear deflation, the decline and rise of China and how to understand a food critic.

Cartoonists unite over French terrorist murders

After the terrorist atrocity that saw twelve people murdered in an attack on a magazine office in Paris, cartoonists around the world have shown their reaction.

Why Europeans should fear deflation

Yesterday the main economic news was the Eurozone had re-entered a deflationary period. Irish economist David McWilliams explains why deflation scares governments and banks with some lessons from the Great Depression.

The decline and rise of London

In 1939 London reached its peak population of 8.3 million then saw declines for the next fifty years as war, government policies and economic restructuring saw the city’s attractions wane.

Sometime this week London will pass its 1939 peak and Citymetric magazine looks at the reasons for the decline and why the recovery began.

China’s incredible disappearing former leader

In November 2012 Chinese leader Hu Jintao stepped down from his post. Since then he’s effectively disappeared from public view Foreign Policy magazine reports.

At the same time many of his allies and supporters have been purged from their party positions as part of a major change in direction for the Chinese government. What this means for the parties’ cronies who’ve been propping up property prices across the Pacific and Macau’s lucrative casino business remains to be seen.

What restaurants should know about food critics

First impressions matter warns former restaurant critic for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Ruth Reichl, in a terrific interview with Open For Business.

Reichl’s advice is good for pretty well any business; make sure your first impressions are good, don’t rip off your customers or be too pushy with upselling and train your staff. It’s an entertaining insight into a field dominated by egos that’s largely becoming extinct.

Jan 052015
ANZAC Day remembered at the Melbourne shrine

Today’s interesting links revolve around economics – those of shopping malls, the future and how politics might react to a world where the majority’s incomes are lower and far more precarious than we’re used to.

The economics of dead malls

Shopping malls were the town square of the late Twentieth Century consumerist society. Now in many parts of the US the shopping mall is dying as economics and culture turns against them.

The New York Times looks at the economics of shopping malls and how they are affected by changes to society, particularly the decline of working class incomes and the middle class squeeze. In the meantime high end malls seem to be doing extremely well.

Having opened in 1986 with a renovation in 1998, Owings Mills is young for a dying mall. And while its locale may have contributed to its demise, other forces played a crucial role, too, like changing shopping habits and demographics, experts say.

A number of factors are working against old fashioned shopping malls including growing wealth disparity, falling middle and working class incomes along with fundamental changes to the economy which mean retail businesses, along with other industries, are going to have to adapt to a very different future.

Journey through the landscape of the future

Some of those changes to the global economy are described in Deloitte’s Centre For The Edge’s The hero’s journey through the landscape of the future, first published in July last year.

The Deloitte think tank describes a world where the workforce is more casualised – dare one say more precarious – and the barriers to business far lower than today.

Democracy in the 21st Century

Changes like those described by Deloitte don’t happen without consequences and economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests this will change our democratic institutions.

Sadly Stiglitz doesn’t suggest the changes that might happen apart from observing the current system that seems to be baking in inequality probably isn’t sustainable.

In a world where incomes are less stable and economic standards of livings are falling for the majority of people, the current beliefs that underpin the philosophies of political parties and government agencies become redundant. How today’s governments react to these changes will be an important question for how our societies look in the 21st Century.

Nov 162014

This year’s G20 talkfest has come to an end with the usual communique of fine words.

Apart from the discussion of climate change there’s little in the communique that wouldn’t have furrowed the brows of Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Regan thirty years ago with most of the pronouncement a being around opening markets, reducing unemployment and freeing capital.

On the latter point, the call to reduce tax avoidance given this was an obvious consequence of the 1980s reforms would be met by with a rueful laugh from those responsible for the deregulation wave of the Reagan and Thatcher years given reducing taxes on corporations was one of the reasons for the ‘reforms’

An aspect that would trouble Maggie’s and Ronnie’s ghosts would be the commitment to ‘address deflationary pressures’, something undreamt of in the 1980s, although a clear warning to today’s commentators and investors that Quantitative Easing is not going away any time soon.

What today’s communique shows is the world’s leaders are still very wedded to the economic models of the Twentieth Century despite the massive demographic and technological developments changing our society.

The real message from the G20 is don’t wait for your country’s leaders if you want progress; at best they probably won’t comprehend what you’re saying.

Although if you can put your ideas in terms of creating growth or reducing youth unemployment then you might have a willing audience with your local minister, chancellor or President.