Are our local shopping centres doomed by technology?

The geography of surnames in the US (click)

In an interesting article on Crikey, Guy Rundle riffs off the Borders bankruptcy to ask if technological change will inevitably destroy local strip shopping centres:

The whole centrality of the shop is changing. It is no longer a necessary place, and so the high street no longer acts as the spatial core of a community. At some point a whole series of mainstream shops will succumb to insufficient, intermittent demand. Everyone will want to know they are there, but no-one will use them enough.

Whether Borders succumbed to poor management, competition from e-commerce, the dead hand of the parallel importing restrictions, or the fall-off in consumer spending, there’s no question that the nature of shopping is changing profoundly.

For example, I bought my first lot of ten novels from Amazon back in 1994 and have purchased many more books from various on-line retailers since. Whenever I have the option, I now download e-books to read on my e-reader in preference to hard copies.

I started home-banking in 1994 and now visit the bank maybe four times a year max (I hate being paid by cheque!). My wife and I have bought so much stuff on eBay we have Turquoise Star status. The household increasingly downloads movies via T-Box rather than hire DVDs and all our music is purchased through iTunes. We book our travel on-line and even negotiated the purchase of a car over the net.

Guy Rundle foresees that these sorts of changes will extend to the local supermarket and beyond, driven by improvements in on-line ordering and home delivery. I expect that once the public has confidence the problems with e-commerce – like affordable and secure home delivery and safe payment systems – have been overcome, many people will surely choose to use their time for higher value activities than routine consumer shopping.

Mr Rundle fears that if the boring but essential services like supermarkets are lost to the high street, then specialist stores like bookshops that rely on passing trade from ‘anchor tenants’ will also go under. He says:

The wider question, in terms of future life, is how we will sustain any form of public spatial life at all – as the last shared, necessary space dissolves

I don’t think the high street is in any imminent danger. It’s likely to change but I doubt it will die. Not all the changes will necessarily be bad. Read the rest of this entry »


Is the online version of The Age still a paper?

I value having The Age delivered to my door each morning, but I’m disappointed with the online version, theage.com.au. I refer to it often, but my experience with the site suggests I’d have to think long and hard before I’d be prepared to pay to access it online.

Charging is of course Fairfax’s ultimate goal (the online version of The Financial Review, which is also Fairfax owned, is pay for use) and seen as a way of making up for the declining popularity of newspapers – sales of the Monday to Friday edition of The Age fell 4% in the March Quarter, 2010. Sales of the Saturday edition fell 5%.

Those video advertisements that automatically start when you click on the site are a real turn-off but I have some sympathy for Fairfax’s search for a financially viable online model (although since I pay for the hard copy, why should I have to endure such intrusive advertising?). No, my disappointment relates to management issues.

A key reason for my dissatisfaction is basic – it’s hard to find stuff on the site. I imagine that many people want to track down an article they recall seeing in yesterday’s paper or last week’s, yet you can’t search by date of publication. You have to know the title or author. That seems like a terribly basic omission to me. Why can’t I look up a simple table of contents for each day, showing the name and author of articles with the ability to jump straight to what I want? Read the rest of this entry »