Monday, December 15, 2014

The real tragedy of the Sydney Siege

Seriously. I am not making this up. This is the decline and fall of civilization as we know it.

Sydney siege casts pall over Christmas shopping

December 15, 2014 - 4:33PM

Sue Mitchell and Carolyn Cummins

Police have sealed off part of the Sydney CBD. Photo: Getty Images

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Retailers fear the siege in Sydney could further dampen already subdued consumer sentiment in the countdown to Christmas.

"I don't want to be prophet of doom and gloom but you do worry about how this could affect spending," Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russell Zimmerman said.

While major retailers such as Myer and Woolworths said their stores in Sydney's CBD were trading as normal, David Jones closed the doors of its flagship Elizabeth Street store - which is less than two blocks from the besieged Lindt cafe - and customers and staff left the building.

Many specialty retailers in the area around Martin Place were also forced to close and consumers have been prevented from accessing the centre of the city.

"For Sydney city retailers it's going to be a huge drain on cash flow and a huge issue for them," Mr Zimmerman said.

"In the short term people will question whether they go into the city to do their shopping," he said.

"You could also get people questioning whether to shop where there are major crowds. They're going to miss out on a lot of business - this is the time you want people to get out and spend money." (Italics mine.)

The siege is likely to further dampen consumer sentiment, which has fallen this month to the lowest level in more than three years.

Many retailers are already under pressure and have been forced to step up the frequency and depth of discounting.

The Australian National Retailers had forecast that consumers would spend a record $8.3 billion nationally this week but those forecasts could now be in doubt.

"One would hope consumers would look at this and say it's a once only event and its not going to happen again," Mr Zimmerman said. (Oh?)

"I suspect that retailers will need to reassess various aspects of their business moving forward, such as security," he said. (But if it ain't going to move merchandise, forget about it. Hostage-taking happens.)

About 100 stores in Westfield Sydney in Pitt Street Mall were closed, and other main shopping centres in the CBD were empty of people.

Priceline Pharmacy chief executive Stephen Roche said its stores in Westfield Sydney and Pitt Street were closed to allow staff to leave the city.

The seige in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe comes with only a week to go before Christmas, which is the time when retailers make a significant amount of their yearly turnover. (Do you seriously think the hostage-takers are too stupid to know about this?)

Westfield said tenants in its Pitt Street shopping centre were given the option to close and send staff home.

A store operator in the shopping centre confirmed most of the shops had closed, while Martin Place jewellers Tiffany & Co and Fairfax & Roberts also shut and sent staff home.

Global cosmetics chain Sephora was one of the retailers to close for safety reasons. Its first Australian store in Pitt Street opened less than two weeks ago.

Stockland and AMP Capital also told retailers in the city malls and arcades they could close for the day.

"Our advice to all centre managers remains the same: to maintain high awareness and vigilance," a Stockland spokesman said.

With the recent bad weather in Sydney and job-security concerns, retailers had already been feeling the pressure of weak consumer sentiment.

Many shops have been quietly discounting before the traditional post-Christmas sales officially start to entice shoppers.

The retailers say they had been predicting a busy season, but the poor weather along the eastern seaboard had hit them, and they expect the latest round of discounting to continue well into the new year.

It's great to know that at this festive time of year, the malignant spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well. After all, commerce should always trump safety, shouldn't it? It won't happen again, will it? Well, maybe not here, and maybe not now. So get out there and go shopping, you ignorant people! Don't ruin our holiday profit margin with your ridiculous concerns about survival. Surely buying perfume and ties and chocolate is more important than making sure your kids are OK. Or at least, it should be. Don't you know "values" refers to sale prices and not some lame attempt at a moral compass?

I'd say this would all come home to haunt them, but it probably won't. Increasingly, I see a numbing of compassion and concern in the human race that is the real villain in a dehumanized, hostage-oriented world. This is the thing that will finish us, and a lot sooner than we realize.