No wonder traditional stores are going broke

Posted on February 21st, 2014 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Here in Australia, the fading gasps of the traditional department stores are mixed with the outraged squeals of shops – often selling electronic goods – that were themselves once the young and daring of the retail scene. They’re the ones now old hat, made irrelevant to many consumers by the Web.

I am happy to see retail Darwinism rampantly at work: if I can buy books from overseas, the transaction conducted online, for about half of what I’d pay in Australia, then I’ll do just that. I am a trifle sad to see the disappearance of specialist local bookshops – say, motoring bookshops – but I am not so regretful that I want to pay hundreds of additional dollars out of my own pocket each year to keep them going.

But some stores are, to me, a little different.

Dick Smith Electronics started back in 1968 by the man himself, Dick.

I was five at the time so I don’t remember much about it but I do remember that by the time I was about 12, there was a Dick Smith Electronics shop close to where I lived. It sold wire, CB radios, aerials, connectors, transistors, resistors, capacitors and other electronic components. For those who liked fiddling in this area, it was better than heaven. In fact, back then, there was almost no other way of buying non-industrial quantities of electronics components.

Sixty percent of the company was sold to Woolworths in 1980, and in 1982 Woolworths took full ownership.

From that time until the present day, Dick Smith Electronics has moved more and more away from hobbyist electronics and towards commercial consumer electronics – TVs, music systems, and so on.

So for me, the incentive to walk into a Dick Smith Electronics store has gradually withered away. I buy nearly all my electronic goods online, but even as I do so, I am conscious of a tiny nagging regret that I taking my custom away from a store (now actually owned by private equity firm Anchorage Capital Partners) that served me well in my youth.

So – to today’s events.

I wanted a watch – a smart watch that would talk to my phone. I looked around online and found what I wanted. It would cost me around $160 plus postage – or, I found to my surprise, $179 at Dick Smith Electronics.

So while it would cost me a little more at Dick’s, the fact that I’d be able to try the watch on my wrist and actually look at the thing in the flesh was sufficiently persuasive to offset the additional cost.

Into the store I went – and they had one in stock. But would they let me look at it?


Would they even open the box so I could try it on my wrist?



If that’s the service, what are the actual consumer advantages of buying in a retail store?

As soon as I got home, I bought the watch online for $150 plus $10 postage…

I can’t see myself ever going back into a Dick Smith store – and that’s from someone who actually has more loyalty to the chain than the vast majority of people.

No wonder these darn stores are going broke….

6 Responses to 'No wonder traditional stores are going broke'

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  1. Ben Powell said,

    on February 21st, 2014 at 9:46 am

    That’s what I thought the main benefit of ‘real’ stores was… Every store I have been into (especially auto parts stores, and even Jaycar electronics, which is closer to what dick smith *used* to be) has been happy to open the box for me so I can look/sample/etc.

    Jaycar were even willing to open the box of an active sub and let me take the thing outside the shop to see if it fit under my car seat…

  2. FRED WALTON said,

    on February 22nd, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Hello .My brother owns a 98 Camry v6 {stop laughing} which needed a boot seal.-so we sent an email to a well known Toy-itsanota dealer asking for price and availability.Hours went by -then days -then weeks -so i sent a Mail off to a friend in CA asking if he had a Toybus dealer nearby .Yep ! says he .whaddya want? -Boot seal .Ok fine .TWO DAYS LATER he mails me .Said boot-seal on way cost 69 USD INC POSTAGE .arrived Three DAYS LATER .guess what happens now? ps Dealer was one suburb away which takes all of six minutes drive –we’re busy . GDS FRED W

  3. DAVID Z said,

    on February 25th, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Hang on a minute Julian, you cannot try it on buying online, but you insist on trying it on in the store, what gives?

  4. Ben said,

    on February 26th, 2014 at 1:00 am

    The point was that trying it on for size was worth $15 extra to him. He was buying a watch regardless, but if the shop won’t let you try it on, why pay the premium?

  5. Ford Man said,

    on February 27th, 2014 at 11:52 am

    It would be interesting to run this story past Dick Smith for comment…

    Sorry to labour the point but: would you characterise the job losses at Alcoa, Ford, Holden, Toyota, Sensis and now Qantas as ‘good for us all?”

  6. Phonsa said,

    on March 3rd, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    The main advantages of buying it in store as opposed to online overseas is that you are covered by Australian sale of goods laws. I understand everyone wants to save money, that’s common sense but i also understand the mammoth amount of work, time,energy and costs involved from getting goods from the supplier’s factory gate to the retail shelves. I worked in Woolworths Limited supply chain (domestic and international) for over 11 years, as a publicly listed company its in the companies best interest to maximise shareholder value. I really appreciate it when i go to my local supermarket because i know i have a consumer choice of accessing over 20,000 individual products for my convenience and i know the effort it took to get the goods there.