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Angela Catterns
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Life goes on for Australian voters...

Friday, July 08, 2016

By Angela Catterns

Vicki looked uncomfortable as the microphone was thrust towards her.

“Who are you going to vote for?” asked the reporter.

Vicki appeared to be a middle-aged, slightly down-at-heel Australian who lived in Launceston, in the seat of Bass.

“I don’t really know who to vote for”, she said.

“Well, what do you care about?” pressed the reporter.

“Education is very important to me. And health. And jobs. I’d like a bit more work.”

I got the impression she was looking for a reason to vote for Turnbull’s Coalition, but she just couldn’t quite find it.

As if she’d come to the realisation that there was no way his oft-repeated election policy – the company tax cut – was ever going to trickle down all the way to northern Tasmania to benefit someone like her. It just wasn’t gonna happen. As you know, her electorate – Bass – fell to Labor.

So here we all are, almost a week later, still waiting for a definitive result. Either Turnbull scrapes back with a wafer-thin majority or is forced to form a minority government, which sees him horse-trading with Bob Katter, perhaps an Independent or two, and/or a Green.

Like every journalist, commentator and most voters, I’ve got several theories on what happened last Saturday and if I may ask your indulgence, I’m going to share them with you.

1. We all know Australia has a debt problem. But so does every household. Who hasn’t got a mortgage? Who hasn’t maxed out their credit card at some time or other? Who doesn’t have enough money to make ends meet?

An over-emphasis on money, deficits and streams of numbers is a complete turn-off for your average voter. It might be the subject of much interest and thrust and parry between economists, journalists, treasurers and other politicians, but I don’t think it holds the attention of the public for very long. It should, but it doesn’t.

2. An under-emphasis on education. Every single Australian cares about education. They understand its importance to their own kids and to future generations. They find it hard to forget the radical changes to University fees proposed by Joe Hockey a couple of years ago. Voters also believe in fair funding for schools - they thought Gonski was the way to go.

We are proud egalitarians. Flip-flopping on federal funding for schools makes the Coalition look like they’re trying to disadvantage public schools. As if they secretly only care about private schools, which many of them have attended. (As have many on the Labor frontbench.)

Because a fair go is more or less part of the Australian DNA, Malcolm Turnbull has an image problem. When Peta Credlin called him Mr Harbour-front Mansion, it struck a nerve with many voters. Few Aussies live the way he does. I agree with Nikki Savva who wrote in The Australian “The PM has to move out of Point Piper and use the Lodge as his base”.

3. Every Australian also cares about our health system. If you’ve ever gone to a crowded Medicare office, in some hideous shopping mall, filled out your forms and waited interminably to get some money back, you’ll know that the idea of outsourcing – yes privatising! – the Medicare payment system is not a bad idea. Malcolm Turnbull should have defended this plan as a way of improving efficiency and saving money.

But voters care deeply about the proposed-then-abandoned GP co-payment, the freeze on rebates to GP’s and changes to bulk-billing. They worry that maybe there is something to Bill Shorten’s claim that the Coalition will privatise Medicare. Better to be safe than sorry.

4. Lies, lies, and more lies. The sight of grown men, both vying for the position of Prime Minister of Australia, attacking each other and calling each other liars is not a good look. Not good for the person speaking, nor for the person being spoken about.

For politicians, life in Canberra will not be the same. The parameters have changed, along with many of the faces. There’s disquiet in Liberal ranks and the recently passed changes to the Senate have reaped their reward. Many of us are horrified to realise we’ll be paying the salaries of one or more serious undesirables in our Upper House.

"There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian," was Malcolm Turnbull’s catch cry but it was often spoken with a kind of self-mocking sarcasm. As if it was really only a line from a script.

For Vicki, life goes on. Nothing much will change despite all the talk, the promises, the slanging matches and of course, the expense of the federal election in the winter of 2016.

She’ll still be under-employed; her expectations of life in small-town Australia will remain modest.


Will Australia have its own Brexit event on Saturday?

Friday, July 01, 2016

By Angela Catterns

One more sleep to go. Then the Pandora’s boxes will finally be opened and we’ll get to unwrap what’s inside.

Like children after a big day out – and the longest campaign in recent history – we’ll need an early night come Saturday.

That will only be possible if Malcolm Turnbull’s dream comes true and he’s returned to government with a credible majority and a decent mandate with which to work.

Or, it could be a long, drawn out night, where the result is not clear by bedtime. In that event, TV commentators and election analysts will fill their airtime with endless blather, while we all wait patiently for the vanquished and the victor to make their respective concession and victory speeches.

I remember the election party I went to in 2010 at the home of a respected, veteran journalist. By mid-evening, everyone had lost interest in the coverage. The result – or non-result – was just too vague and equivocal. The coverage dragged on and on and even the politically obsessed journos started drifting away from the giant TV. Eventually, I was the only person still watching. Everyone else was getting into the actual ‘party’ part of the election night party. But the lack of a clear result was almost unbearable and when I finally went to bed that night it was with a feeling of uncertainty. That was the year Julia Gillard eventually formed a minority government with the 3 independents and a Green.

This Saturday, there’s a chance it might happen again.

It’s been Australia’s longest election campaign for 50 years and what a blessed relief it’s just about over. Commercial TV has been awash with political advertising. Now, there’s a style of marketing which must surely be ripe for disruption. It’s repetitive, cheap-looking and a complete turn-off. There has to be a better way for parties to plug themselves. The leaders, and one or two of their team members, have been spreading themselves like wet blankets across all media, flinging about numbers and figures like confetti at a wedding. I tuned out a while ago – it was making my head spin.

Malcolm Turnbull is performing well. Like an ambitious actor trying out for the lead role in an amateur theatre company production.

Bill Shorten has united his party, found his voice and started running – literally. All of which have made him a stronger contender than any of us thought he could be.

Will it be business as usual with one of the two major parties clearly winning the right to govern? Or, will a large bloc of Australians cast their votes against the status quo as they’ve just done in the UK and the US? These are people who’ve had a gutful of business as usual. They’re going for an alternative, a new bunch of politicians who just might do things differently.

My 94 year old mother needed assistance with her postal vote a few weeks back. The NSW Senate ballot is another tablecloth-sized paper, featuring 151 candidates vying for 12 seats. Most of the parties, groups and independents are wannabes who you’ve probably never heard of. Unless you care enough to Google them all, it’s going to be an interesting challenge for your garden-variety voter to tick 12 boxes, or more, below the line.

There are lots of candidates from parties based around famous people: Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter, Clive Palmer, Fred Nile and Nick Xenophon. And there are numerous parties with names designed to confuse you into voting for them. Like the Health Australia Party in pole position on the ballot paper. They’re anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination and heavily into natural medicine. Or the Sustainable Australia Party, which you might think is into renewable energy, but is actually anti-immigration. Or the Australian Liberty Alliance, which is really the cranky old conservative, Angry Anderson.

And finally, there are the bleeding obvious parties. The Veterans, The Country-Minded, Arts, Animal Justice, Non-Custodial Parents, Mature, Sex, Progressives and Marijuana (perhaps those last four should group together next time).

When planning their legislative program, the new 45th Parliament should seriously think about reforming our Senate nomination rules. What’s the good of standing for election if no one has the faintest idea who you are, or what you’re on about?

As ABC election analyst Antony Green says, “If voters struggle to find candidates they know amongst the vast number of candidates, then there is something wrong with the nominations process. It is perfectly legitimate for an electoral system to have a hurdle to get on the ballot paper. Every electoral system in the world does. The question is how high the hurdle is.”

Right now, the hurdle is pretty low.

Nevertheless, grappling with the Senate ballot paper in a tiny cardboard booth is always entertaining. Personally, I love voting. Exercising my right - and obligation - to vote is something for which I always feel humbly grateful. It’s a heart-warming experience to walk to the local Primary School, say hi to all the neighbours and locals, pat their dogs, chat to the volunteers handing out how-to-vote cards to find out what’s the vibe and buy cakes at the P&C cake-stall.

And secretly, I even get a bit emotional.

It’s something about being lucky enough to be born in Australia.


Big hurdles for Rio

Friday, June 24, 2016

By Angela Catterns

Sixteen years ago, the naysayers were doubtful that Sydney could pull off the Olympic Games. The traffic was going to be grid-locked for 17 days, the athletes’ village wouldn’t be finished in time and the throngs of visitors would make life unbearable for residents. Even the marathon, raced along city streets, would be such an inconvenience that countless whingers decided to bail out of the city for the entire duration of the Games.

Big mistake.

They missed the greatest, most joyful party in Sydney’s history. Locals came together like never before, they were generous and welcoming to the visitors and the city looked it’s sparkling best.

I had a gig as a venue announcer for the Gymnastics competition throughout the Games. Wearing that uniform on the train one morning, I was going through the day’s scripts, trying to get my mouth around the correct pronunciations of the gymnasts’ names. Someone looked over my shoulder and said “Can I help? I can speak Italian.” Someone else said “I can speak Hungarian!” and before long, the entire carriage was helping me with my foreign pronunciations. It was the highlight of my Sydney Olympics.

With the Rio Games just 6 weeks away, there are so many problems facing the city and the organisers, it’ll be a miracle if they can pull it off. Here, in no particular order, are some of the hurdles they have to clear;

The Zika virus. Growing numbers of athletes are pulling out because of this mosquito borne virus - Irish golfer Rory McIlroy is the latest. He joins fellow golfers Vijay Singh and Australia’s Marc Leishman who’ve also decided not to go to Rio. That’s a shame for the game of golf – making its Olympic appearance at Rio for the first time in 112 years.

Street robberies. These are a big concern for athletes and visitors. Especially following the attack on Australian Paralympic sailor, Liesl Tesch. She was robbed at gunpoint while cycling in Rio last Sunday. Street robberies there, according to the Washington Post, were up 24% in the month of April. Despite the promise of an extra 85,000 armed police and soldiers who will patrol the city during the Games, theft due to extreme poverty will continue to be a fact of life in the favelas, or slums, of Rio. These areas will not benefit from the $11 billion being spent on the Games. As one resident said, "It's a commercial for the foreigners, for the investors. The investment is not for us, it's for the foreigners."

Raw sewage. Every day it flows into many of the waterways, which will host Rio’s sailing and swimming events for the duration of the Games. Coaches are advising sailors to keep their mouths closed (!) and to wash their hands after they touch wet gear.

Recession. Brazil is plagued by scandals and is in the worst recession since the 1930s, partly because of declining oil prices. The now impeached President Dilam Roussef could be formally removed from office just days before the Games begin.

Transportation. The new $2.8 billion mass transit extension is still not finished. The long-delayed subway project is critical to transporting what will eventually be as many as 300,000 people every day. It’s scheduled to open four days before the Games begin. In late April, a 150-foot section of a recently built coastal bike path collapsed, killing two people.

Doping. Russian track and field athletes have been banned from participating due to state-sponsored doping. Weightlifters from Kazakhstan and Belarus may also be prevented from competing.

The jaguar. The mascot for the Rio Games is a smiling yellow jaguar called Ginga. A real jaguar (a near-threatened species) was featured in an Olympic torch ceremony in the Amazon city of Manaus. After it escaped from its handlers, it was shot dead by a soldier shortly after the event.

On the bright side for Rio, almost all of the venues at the Olympic Park are now complete.

And for the first time ever, a team of refugees will compete at the Games. 10 athletes selected by the IOC will lead the world’s athletes out on the field.

Despite all the obstacles and the naysayers, let’s hope the Brazilians can pull this off. As Games spokesman Marco Andrada told reporters recently, "Brazilians are laid-back and they trust themselves. They believe God is Brazilian, so they believe that God is going to help them in the last moment."

Fingers crossed!


Could robots take over Turnbull's job?

Friday, June 17, 2016

By Angela Catterns

Like most Australians, I’m finding it very hard to engage with this interminable election campaign. Pictures of our two prospective leaders striding purposefully in fluoro vests and hard hats, or sitting at low tables with tiny toddlers, or ambling along suburban streets encircled by the media pack - none of it is really resonating with voters. Indeed, the hateful massacre in Orlando and the conviction of the hapless former detectives Rogerson and McNamara has caused the federal election to lose its headline status.

Malcolm Turnbull’s mantra of jobs and growth is oft repeated, but I wonder which growth and what jobs his company tax cuts might incentivise. More building of apartment blocks? More motorway construction?

It would be great to hear either, or both, of these leaders propose an actual vision for the future.

According to Fortune magazine this week, the global economy is being profoundly re-shaped by software technology. “Human jobs are being eaten by software, specifically Artificial Intelligence - AI. Algorithms are able to ingest and analyse massive volumes of data to inform and remotely-control better management decisions, more efficient outcomes. Our political leaders don’t seem up to the policy challenges of job displacement.”

You can say that again.

After years of scary sci-fi movies and anxiety about what it means for humankind, the AI era is upon us. The Bank of England estimates that 48% of human workers will eventually be replaced by robotics and software automation.

Apparently, among the jobs soon to be replaced by machines are telemarketers, real estate agents, tax advisers, data entry workers, receptionists, various personal assistants and animal breeders!

Umpires and referees at sporting matches are also among the most highly likely occupations to be automated. In fact, a friend tells me of the first minor league baseball game in the US this season, which was entirely called by a robot, with 4 cameras at its disposal.

So it’s not only low-skilled factory workers who are losing their jobs to software intelligent robots. Even the world of finance is being impacted. AI takes the guesswork out of decision-making, creates efficiencies, savings, and new solutions to old problems.

AI has famously helped humans become better chess players. There are now more than twice as many chess grand masters as there were when Deep Blue (the computer) first beat Kasparov. The top-ranked human chess player today, Magnus Carlsen, trained with AIs.

So it stands to reason that if AI can create better chess players, it can help create better doctors, better pilots, better judges and better teachers.

Maybe even better politicians.

This doesn’t mean that new jobs aren’t being created at the same time. They’re just different jobs.

So we should be getting new skills into primary and secondary education right now.

We’re teaching our kids 20th century skills, many of which will be susceptible to automation.

Even though we might not be aware of it, we now live in a world dominated by AI. Every day, we interact with one or more systems that use some form of AI - searching on Google, buying something on Amazon, or recognising faces in a photo uploaded to Facebook. What’s fascinating is the next step in computing - machine learning. Instead of programming a computer to do a task, the computer learns to do the task. Here’s a great example of that:

In Google, every time you type a query or click on a search-generated link, you’re training the Google AI. When you type “Easter Bunny” into the image search bar and then click on the most Easter Bunny-looking image, you’re teaching the AI what an Easter bunny looks like. Each of the 12.1 billion queries that Google’s 1.2 billion searchers conduct each day, teach the deep-learning AI, over and over again. And that’s happening million of times per second.

The social, financial and investment implications of the AI economy are enormous. And they’re here, now. But it seems none of our political leaders has even noticed.


Exercising the hip pocket

Friday, June 10, 2016

By Angela Catterns

Driving home late the other night, I was fascinated by the sight of a fully equipped gym on a main road with all its lights blazing, and an illuminated “Open 24 hours” sign. I couldn’t see a soul inside and to tell you the truth, it seemed kind of creepy … the thought of going to an unstaffed gym in the middle of the night. Who does that?

Plenty of people, as it turns out. Indeed it’s a growing trend for fitness freaks to substitute their expensive full-service gym memberships for more affordable 24-hour gym memberships.

The emergence of budget 24-hour gym chains has stimulated strong growth in the fitness sector. Franchises like Anytime Fitness and Jetts Fitness have grown exponentially over the past five years, attracting customers with their affordability and accessibility.

According to last year’s Suncorp Cost of Being Fit report, Australians spend at least $8.5 billion a year on gym memberships. More than 4.6 million of us have bought a gym membership, which, on average, costs around $75 a month.

I was surprised to learn that 50-69 year olds spend more money than any other age group at the gym, though I’m in that demo myself and I’ve bought several gym memberships over the past few years.

Once I paid more than $400 to join a busy city gym full of gym junkies and posers. On day one, I rocked up to an aerobics class. One of the routines involved stepping up on a box and within seconds I’d gone over on my ankle, suffered a painful sprain and sheepishly limped out of there. I never went back and I never asked for a refund.

The economics of the fitness industry depends on the fact that many of us will pay in advance for an annual membership, visit maybe three or four times, and then let our membership lapse. In gym-land, the biggest time of the year is January, when all good resolutions are made and about 75% of all gym memberships are bought.

We may as well throw our money away. Or spend it elsewhere. As Jeremiah Colman, the founder of Colman’s Mustard admits, it’s the bit that everyone left behind on their plate which made him his fortune. In the fitness industry, it’s the paid up members who fail to show up after a couple of visits that have helped the industry achieve strong growth.

Despite all that wasted money, the desire to get fit and stay healthy is strong and it’s reflected in the sales of sport and fitness equipment. In fact, the fitness equipment industry is one of the strongest in the Australian sports market with revenues growing every year.

Like gym memberships, I’m sure not everyone is taking full advantage of all their sporting equipment - a large amount seems to make it to the street for the regular council kerbside collections. As I’ve observed here before, exercise bikes, treadmills and golf sets seem to be over-represented when it comes to Council clean-up days.

Alongside gym memberships and equipment, the fitness and athletic clothing industry has flourished over the past five years, despite difficult retail conditions. Changing consumer attitudes and trends have led to people increasingly wearing activewear as streetwear, a trend of which I’m not sure I approve.

In particular, women’s activewear is in the midst of a boom. It’s a $15 billion, rapidly growing market and it’s gaining new customers every day.

Along with the gym membership and the new activewear goes the fitness watch. Mine is on my wrist 24/7, though these days I use it less as a step counter or measure of how deeply I sleep, and more as a simple, comfy, lightweight watch.

The most recent Bureau of Statistics figures shows 63.4% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. The fact is, despite our love affair with gyms and equipment and all the clothing and accoutrements … we are one of the fattest nations in the world.

While the promise of health and fitness is a powerful motivator, we’ve got a long way to go before it becomes the reality.


Technology trends

Friday, June 03, 2016

by Angela Catterns

This week on the long and winding election road, The Prime Minister went to River City Labs - a not for profit Brisbane co-working community (not sure what that is) for tech startups and early stage mobile ventures. He and Wyatt Roy announced a further $15 million to support new ventures in this sector.

Their visit coincided with the release of the Mary Meeker 2016 Internet Trends Report.

Mary Meeker is a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, whose primary work is on the Internet and new technologies. Her annual report is regarded as the fastest way to learn everything that’s going on in tech right now. And how it will evolve in the future.

Here are some of her key findings:

  • There are currently 3 billion users on the net - 42% of the world’s population - but the internet adoption rate has flat-lined.
  • Fewer people are buying Smartphones. Android has a growing market share, but their average selling price is dropping.
  • Video viewership is exploding, with visual apps like Snapchat and Facebook Live showing the way, instead of text-heavy ones like LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Messaging is evolving from simple text communication to become our new home screen with options for vivid self-expression and commerce.
  • Advertisers still spend way too much on radio, TV and print, and not enough on the web. Especially mobile. Businesses that use mobile could now get a big head-start.

And here are some of her predictions:

  • The rise and rise of voice interface with the computer (instead of using a keyboard) because it’s fast, easy, personalised, hands-free, and cheap. Google is now seeing 20% of searches by voice alone.
  • The USA could become the home of the auto industry again, thanks to innovation by Tesla and Google. Car ownership will wane as its high costs and inefficiency give way to ride-sharing.
  • China’s internet trends look better than those of the US, while internet giants around the world continue to grow more powerful.
  • Non-tech companies are buying tech companies instead of building their way into digital.

Mary’s report makes us realise the future is almost upon us. It also makes me wonder why we continue down the path of building massive new freeways and why we have to convince ourselves we’re better off with a less than top-of-the-range NBN.

There was also some more interesting mobile research released recently by market research company Neilsen.

They found with more than a million apps to buy from the app store, we consumers use only about 26 or 27 of these per month.

And the majority of our time – 84% of it – is spent using just 5 apps we’ve installed from the App Store.

So there appears to be an upper-limit to how many apps we actually engage with each month.

This is all interesting news for young companies trying to establish a foothold in the tech sector. These are the companies most likely to benefit from the PM’s new ‘Incubation Support Program’.

Today, for most of us, mobile has emerged as a way of life. As it continues to grow in importance, so have consumers’ expectations for it.

Neilsen says businesses haven’t innovated at a fast enough rate and they believe there’s a bit of a mobile-engagement crisis.

Despite accepted wisdom, usage by older people is still quite significant. Those aged 55+ spend more than 21 hours across 22 apps per month. This trend is having an impact outside of the app universe as well, because apps have begun stealing away the time we would have spent on other leisure activities, like reading books, going to the movies, or watching TV.

On my phone, I just counted 80 apps. Apart from messages, mail and internet browser apps, the so-called ‘native apps’, I reckon I’ve used just a handful in the past month.

I love the iPhone wallet, where you can have your boarding pass stored and it’s scanned on the way into the plane. My other favourite is WeatherAU, which tells you the forecast complete with radar and tides.

But seriously, what was I thinking when I installed 'Don't Sweat', the meditation app? Or 'What Knot?!'


6-star marketing

Friday, May 27, 2016

By Angela Catterns

“Lead me into temptation …”, says Charlize Theron in a deep sexy voice. The South African- born, US-based movie star is not spruiking a new movie, she’s the 3 million dollar face of Capitol Grand, a new high-rise apartment and retail development in Melbourne.

Charlize is floating through an artist’s rendition of the inside of the penthouse, on the promo video on their website.

She’s wearing an amazing see-through sparkly couture gown with thigh-high split. God knows when she’ll get the opportunity to wear that frock again in Melbourne, where everyone’s wearing footy scarves, boots and vintage skirts.

In the course of 4 minutes, she has a couple of costume changes and indulges in a spot of sexy, come-hither posturing while lying down on a bed.

The video cuts to an artist’s impression of the opulent details of the apartment interior, then shows us what’s allegedly going on outside. Expensive cars drive by, hip young people shop for high-end fashion, shoes, watches and jewellery.

And we see a few shots of ‘authentic’ Melbourne … a couple of rowers, a few ducks, cyclists, joggers and some nice old Victorian street lamps.

Back in the apartment, Charlize is now reclining on a bed of food; a sumptuous feast of fruit and vegies, laid out medieval banquet style. There are cutaways of luscious cakes, chilled champagne and fine wines. As if a plate of cakes is going to convince you to spend a million dollars on a flat.

The building itself is massive. It’ll be 50 storeys high, comprising 390 apartments, to be built on the corner of Chapel St & Toorak Rd, South Yarra. Which once was the home of The Capitol bakery and in recent decades, the Fun Factory, where old style youngsters went roller-skating, ate ice creams and played pinball.

Prices are hefty.The penthouses and apartments above the 43rd floor are expected to fetch up to and perhaps in excess of $25 million.

Eddie McGuire visited the display centre but has not confirmed if he’s a buyer or not.

According to the developer Larry Kestelman, Group Executive Director of the LK Property Group (and founder of Dodo), it’s the only six-star residential tower in the entire city. He calls it “the most luxurious building in Australia“.

It’s an irony that up until now, hotels have strived to create that ‘home away from home’ feeling. And now, here are luxury apartments that aspire to looking and feeling like a 6 star hotel.

I hope Larry’s not feeling nervous. This week, the Macquarie Bank released a list of suburbs it says are becoming risky for apartment loans - and South Yarra is on the list. Macquarie Bank is putting special conditions on loans in 120 postcodes, because of over-supply and the possibility of a glut.

Recent sales data shows apartments in central Melbourne are being resold at discounts of up to 30% from their original off the plan purchase price. And an industry report predicts Victoria will be the most oversupplied market in the country by next year. Led by high-density apartment development in the inner and middle ring.

So to rise above the ordinary, the marketing campaign for this development is extraordinary.

Apart from the promise of Charlize Theron stopping by sometime, you can earn a huge parcel of Qantas Frequent Flyer points if you buy off the plan.

A 3-bedroom apartment will earn you 2 million Qantas Frequent Flyer points. Enough to get you to and from London or New York 5 times, flying first-class (are you sure you’ll even need the apartment if you’re going to be away from home that often?)

I drove by the site two days ago. Massive billboards feature a huge picture of Charlize and that eye-catching offer “Buy an Apartment, Earn 2 Million Qantas Frequent Flyer Points”.

There was another unmissable sign, which almost caused me to drive off the road. It said  “Demolition has now been Completed”. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come!


Myer gets real with virtual reality shopping

Friday, May 20, 2016

By Angela Catterns

This week the Myer department store announced that it’s built the world’s first virtual reality department store.

The retailer and eBay are giving away what they call ‘Shopticals’ - 15,000 virtual reality headsets made of cardboard. You get them from eBay and from Myer stores.

Once you’ve got hold of your Shoptical, you download the eBay VR Department Store app on your phone and insert your phone into the VR gadget to start virtual shopping.

Inside the virtual store, more than 12,500 products from Myer can be browsed, selected and added to a cart using Sight Search, a way to navigate and make selections and decisions by just looking at an item. Apparently, you just look down at your feet to view your basket – and checkout.

CEO Richard Umbers says the collaboration with eBay creates another dimension to omni-channel marketing.

“Our customers can now immerse themselves in the experience of shopping inside a Myer store from wherever they may be, with product information updated in real time”, he said.

On the demonstration video I watched, Sharyn, from Cedar Creek Qld. says “You could flip the items around so you could see the top bottom and sides!” 

“This is freaky. OMG!” says Simon, from Bondi NSW.  

Jason, from Ferntree Gully Vic. says “This makes it too easy … to spend far too much money!”

That must be music to Myer’s ears!

VR is an acronym I’m hearing on pretty much a daily basis. Virtual Reality is the next big thing.

If you’ve never put on a VR headset, you have to give it a go. It’s mind-bending, as we used to say in the 60’s.

A year or so ago, tech expert and broadcaster Trevor Long came into my radio studio with a preview VR headset from Samsung. When I put it on it fit snugly enough, but felt a bit clunky and slightly heavy, because of course there’s a smart phone inserted at the front of the thing and the whole goggle-like contraption is made of plastic. Google’s goggles, like eBay’s, are made out of cardboard.

I was looking at an underwater scene. In fact I was part of the underwater scene. I WAS underwater. I was a scuba diver! 

It’s awesome, amazing technology, certainly beyond my understanding, but I don’t doubt the VR future is huge.

Everyone’s got skin in the game. Google, Microsoft, Samsung, PlayStation. Facebook’s ‘Oculus Rift’ is the virtual reality headset that started the current VR hysteria. Developed by Palmer Luckey, a 23 year old Californian, it was funded via Kickstarter in 2014 and snapped up by Facebook 2 years later for a whopping $2 billion.

Deloitte Global predicts that VR will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content. VR is likely to have multiple applications; both consumer and enterprise in the longer term, but for now they say the vast majority of commercial activity will focus on video games. 

They don’t expect VR to be used to any great extent in television or movies. Yet.

Mainly because there’s not much VR content around. Yet. 

But the possibilities are endless: VR meetings, conferences, training, real estate inspections, tourism experiences and retail. 

This technology is getting close to being able to teleport us wherever we want to go, just by whacking on a pair of goggles. According to Deloitte Global again, this ambition is enough to keep many companies investing in VR.

On the downside, technologies that require you to wear something on your face have not proven to be mass-market successes. Remember 3D TV and the accompanying glasses? It’s dead. Samsung is not including 3D in any of its new televisions, while LG is only adding 3D to its most expensive models and reducing production of 3D TVs. 

Also on the downside is that you have to change your behaviour to start wearing a VR headset. After a while they wreak havoc with your hair and they can make your face get hot and sweaty.

So 2016 is being seen as a year of VR experimentation, with a number of companies dabbling in VR for sales and marketing purposes. On his website, Trevor Long wonders why you would use the Myer VR Shoptical when you could just as easily use their perfectly good eBay store.

I can answer that. Because just around the corner will surely be the VR app into which you enter your vital statistics - even an image of yourself - and become immersed in trying on piles and racks of clothes. No queuing for a fitting room, no restrictions on the number of items you can take in there, no feeling guilty for taking your time. 

In the VR fitting room, you could check yourself out from every angle for as long as you like and then decide if you want to make the purchase. 

All in the privacy of your own head.


The Grim signs of global warming

Friday, May 13, 2016

By Angela Catterns

The most depressing news of the week came from a remote part of north-western Tasmania.

Cape Grim - in the teeth of the Roaring Forties - is one of the world’s three Baseline Air Pollution Stations. It has the cleanest air in the world, which is monitored and measured to determine how much, if any, pollution is in it.

The baseline data there draws on winds reaching Cape Grim from the south-west, often from Antarctica. The air at Cape Grim has been completely unaffected by obvious pollution sources because, of course, there are no nearby cities or industry that could contaminate the air quality.

It’s the gold standard against which air quality is measured.

Since the station first began measurements in 1976, carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 15%.

And this week the CSIRO team pointed out that, any day now, the air quality at Cape Grim will reach a dreadful milestone - 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. CO2 is, of course, the primary greenhouse gas which is leading to the warming of the atmosphere. 

They say 400 ppm is the point of no return.

Even with a worldwide reduction in emissions, perhaps even negative emissions for many years, it will likely take decades to push CO2 levels back below 400 ppm.

So global warming is here to stay. Will it hurt the economy? 

It already is. 

At the grass roots level, shoppers are in no mood for winter coats or boots. Certainly not in Sydney, where we’re still experiencing summer temperatures at the end of autumn.

Pity the poor sellers of leather coats! Or woollen jumpers.

According to one of the enduring, independent fashion boutiques on my local strip, sales this season have hit rock bottom. And it’s the same up and down the high street.

No one is buying heavy-weight coats or knitwear. Their windows have been displaying rugged up mannequins with scarves and tights and gloves and hats for months.

But no-one’s buying them. What’s the point? 

Customers just aren’t interested in winter stock and besides, there’s an election coming. That has a huge impact, she told me, with shoppers holding off spending money.

They’re also holding off buying now because they’re waiting for the sales to begin.

The owner tells me everyone’s the same, everyone’s struggling.

It was a similar scene in New York at the end of their last summer season. 

Shoppers shunned winter clothes due to the unseasonably high temperatures. Sales of outerwear in the U.S. fell by at least 10% and sales of hats, gloves and scarves plunged by 32%. That represented something like $700 million in lost business. 

Experts estimate that between 2% and 8% of all retail revenues are affected by the weather. But when it comes to highly seasonal items, such as winter clothes, the number can be as high as 40%.

Stuart Greenberg, a seller of luxury furs in New York, felt the pinch. His business slumped 30%. “For the first 10 years of our business,” he told the New York Times, “we never even paid attention to the weather. It always just got cold.” 

There is an upside to the endless summer of course. The local marine and boating accessories shop has never had it so good. 

Shops still selling light clothing, even swimwear, are making hay while the sun shines. Some restaurants with outdoor eating areas are having a bumper season with diners happy to eat outdoors while the evenings are still warm.

These days, we can’t be so sure it’s just going to get cold.

Now, it seems, the changing of the seasons has gone from a reliable constant to an unpredictable factor that can upset the best plans of even the most astute retailer.

Soon, perhaps, retailers will need to be meteorologists too.


The $1.3 billion Mother’s Day industry

Friday, May 06, 2016

By Angela Catterns

’Is been a big week in Canberra. Yuuuge (huge), as Donald Trump would say.

A conga line of politicians is heading for the Parliament House exit door and making stirring and not-so-stirring speeches on their way out.

Phillip Ruddock, Clive Palmer, Bronwyn Bishop, Sharman Stone, Bernie Ripoll, Andrew Robb and Anna Burke are among the 22 MPs and senators who are retiring and not re-contesting the upcoming election. A majority of these will be entitled to the pre-2014 pollie pension scheme, courtesy of us, their employers. They can expect a minimum annual payment of at least $118,000.

Tuesday evening we heard the budget delivered, and then the budget aftermath, in which the PM and Treasurer hit the airwaves and received blanket media coverage. Apart from the problem of not being able to explain the cost of their key, 10-year company tax cut plan, it seems to have gone over pretty well.

Then there was the budget reply from our emboldened opposition leader and a brief class warfare skirmish. Any day now, the Prime Minister will make his trip to Yarralumla and ask the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of Parliament. And the focus will shift to that most important date on our calendars, 2nd July - the federal election.

But I’d like to talk about another important date on the calendar - the 2nd Sunday in May.  Mother’s Day.

So much marketing material has been bombarding my inbox, it’s been hard to ignore the volume of special offers and suggested “gifts for Mum”. Give Mum the gift of theatre. Of music. Of a symphony concert. 15% off winter fashions, 20% off homewares, 25% off autumn styles.

Footwear, camping gear, movies. Online newspaper subscriptions.

Everything’s the perfect gift for Mother’s Day.

An email arrived this morning from an expensive homewares shop, with the headline “Just for Mum on Mothers’ Day”. It featured a photo of a young model who must be about 23. She’s wearing a beautiful cashmere sweater, which I must say I fancy. The cost?  $759. Yeah right. No child of a 23 year old is going to shell out almost a thousand bucks on a sweater for their Mum on Mothers Day.

When surveyed by market research company IBISWorld, half of Australian respondents said they planned to give their mother ‘something she likes’ such as flowers, new clothes or jewellery. Funnily enough, only 22% of mums said they actually wanted to receive these things.

General Manager of IBISWorld Australia, Karen Dobie, says “gift cards – in particular, online vouchers from group buying websites like CatchOfTheDay and Ozsale – will top the list of Mothers Day gifts for the second year running.” 

She predicts overall retail spending for Mothers Day this year will be around $1.36 billion, up 3.9%.

This figure is based on an average spend of $88, compared to $85 dollars last year.  Men and younger adults are the biggest spenders. In fact men outspend women by around 60% when it comes to buying gifts for Mothers Day. But are they buying gifts for their mothers or their wives?

My mother, god bless her, is about to turn 94 and still lives at home. Her mother’s day needs are simple. A phone call in the morning, a card and maybe a visit to her place. My daughter, god bless her too, is now 24. She’s an independent, questioning type who believes mothers’ and fathers’ days are nothing more than marketing opportunities and of course she’s absolutely right.

But when she was little, she made me a mother’s day gift, which is one of my most prized possessions.

It’s a little square of gingham cotton, with red stitching and some tiny beads sewn in the middle that say “I love you”. It cost nothing and I’ll keep it forever.

These days, my wish for mothers’ day is simple, as it is for most mothers. We really want nothing more than a smile and a heart-felt “thankyou”.   

And maybe a cashmere sweater.



Learning from our gun control laws

PM’s cyber hygiene and avoiding the scams

Problems in the new sharing economy

Ditch state governments

Any value in loyalty programs?

Trump just might unite America!

Tony Windsor is back!

Politics hits the wall

“Unrepresentative swill” can serve us well

What class do you belong to?

Gold? Bitcoin? Handbag?

The crazy march of Trump

The nanny state

Wheels of fortune

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A happy customer

Present ideas

The trends of 2015

Out of the comfort zone

Goodbye to the macho men

Prime shopping time

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Pack of cards

Total recall

Spare coin

Accentuate the positive

Is it time to leave long-service leave behind?

The shopping strip effect

The grand auto lie

One man’s trash …

Queue logic - last in best dressed

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Why we need movies at school

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How to win at auction

The pain of moving

Get the power to save hundreds on electricity bills

Why politicians need an employment agreement

Shopping for a nursing home

Is Colesworth ready for the real war?

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Paul Keating, big ideas and the longevity issue