A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

Washington Post: Every week, two more newspapers close — and ‘news deserts’ grow larger

The Washington Post published a story a few days ago about newspaper closures in the US.

Every week, two more newspapers close — and ‘news deserts’ grow larger

In poorer, less-wired parts of the U.S., it’s harder to find credible news about your local community. That has dire implications for democracy.

Perspective by Margaret Sullivan
June 29, 2022 at 10:30 a.m. EDT

Penelope Muse Abernathy may be the nation’s foremost expert on what media researchers call “news deserts”— and she’s worried.

News deserts are communities lacking a news source that provides meaningful and trustworthy local reporting on issues such as health, government and the environment. It’s a vacuum that leaves residents ignorant of what’s going on in their world, incapable of fully participating as informed citizens. What’s their local government up to? Who deserves their vote? How are their tax dollars being spent? All are questions that go unanswered in a news desert.

Local newspapers are hardly the only news sources that can do the job, but they are the ones that have traditionally filled that role. And they are disappearing.

One-third of American newspapers that existed roughly two decades ago will be out of business by 2025, according to research made public Wednesday from Northwestern University’s Medill School, where Abernathy is a visiting professor.

Already, some 2,500 dailies and weeklies have shuttered since 2005; there are fewer than 6,500 left. Every week, two more disappear. And although many digital-only news sites have cropped up around the nation, most communities that lost a local newspaper will not get a print or digital replacement.

“What’s discouraging is that this trend plays into, and worsens, the whole divide we see in America,” Abernathy, the report’s principal author, told me this week.

The neediest areas — those that are more remote, poorer and less wired — are the ones that get hurt the worst. Most of the new investment and innovation pouring into the media sector, as valuable and needed as it is, doesn’t reach these regions.

Be sure to read the article.

Here in Australia, when I would write about challenges to newspapers, some from publishing companies would respond saying I was ignorant, wrong or irrelevant. Whatever. The reality is that the purpose of newspapers has changed. What we are witnessing is the management of the softest crash landing they can manage – for themselves. yes, they are focussed on the impact on their businesses, with little or no regard to the businesses that have partnered with them for 100+ years.

Media disruption

Collecting data for a 6 month newsagency sales benchmark study

Yesterday I put out a call for data for a jan – June 2022 to 2021 newsagency sales comparison benchmark study and the responses have been flowing in.

I am collating data for a benchmark study This time we are looking at how 2022 is travelling so far compared to last year.

How to participate.

  1. Please run a Monthly Sales Comparison Report for 01/01/2022 – 30/06/2022  compared to 01/01/2021 – 30/06/2021.

  2. Tick the category box. IMPORTANT.

  3. Tick to exclude home delivery and sub agent data.

  4. DO NOT tick the supplier box.

  5. Preview the report on the screen. Save as a PDF.

  6. Email these reports direct to me at mark@towersystems.com.au.

  7. Read the report yourself and see what it shows you about your business.

I decided to check our this year is compared to last, and ignore a comparison to pre-Covid 2019 because I am interested in the more recent changes in what is selling in newsagencies, to see if Covid changes stuck.

Newsagency benchmark

Newsagents: always scan out greeting cards you return

If you do not scan greeting cards that are being returned you negatively impact the quality of your stock on hand data. You also condemn the business to relying on card companies for performance data, when this should 100% be managed within your business.

It doesn’t take long and adds value to your data asset.

Once you take down cards for return, take a brief moment to scan them out using your POS software. Then, you can rely on your data for business planning and decisions.

Seriously, this is any easy win for any newsagent.

Newsagents who do not scan out returns out themselves as disinterested in accurate data and that lays a negative cloud over their business in my view, it leaves their card suppliers as having the most complete data, which may not always be in the best interests of the retail business.

Newsagency management

Websites for newsagents

Here is a video I made last week in which I and a colleague discuss websites for newsagents and how the newsXpress / Tower partnership delivers.

Being online is critical, but maybe not for the reason you think. People use websites to browse. Not being online means you’re not reaching those browsers. I have heard of people driving hours to pickup something they found online.

When people search online they are searching for an outcome, not for a business. Think on that … many small business retailers go online with the goal of making their physical business easily found. My advice is focus of what the shopper wants, what they will search for.

The other comment I’d make is you are not your customer. What you might do re online shopping is not what others might do re online. I would never have any retail business today without an online presence.

newsagency of the future

Time running out on lower cost card postage overseas

While newsagents with LPOs will know about this, it could be news to others:

On Tuesday, 31May to 31 July 2022, a promotion will commence at all Post Offices nationally of an International Greeting Card postage rate of $3.00, this will apply to greetings cards and post cards.

The purpose of the promotion is to address feedback from Post Office teams and customers regarding lightweight envelopes and greeting cards sent internationally being charged as a large letter, which is a significantly higher rate than the small letter rate.

To be eligible for the International Greeting Card postage rate of $3.00, the envelope must,
·                Be no heavier than a maximum 50gm
·                Be no thicker than a maximum of 5mm
·                Be no larger than 260mm x 360mm
·                Have contents that are card(s) only. Note, multiple cards can be included however the maximum weight, thickness and size restrictions must not be exceeded.
·                Be endorsed with Card Only or similar on the envelope by the sender.

Please note,
·                If one of the above conditions is exceeded, the large letter rate will apply.
·                If the card(s) is not heavier than 50gms, small letter rate should apply for Zone 1 ($2.50) and Zone 2 ($2.70) customers.

Postage can be provided by using international stamps or by generating a label via Postage Assessment and the International greeting card should be streamed as a standard letter.

This is a good message to promote.

Greeting Cards

The People’s Friend delayed

Thankfully, the UK publisher shared this on Twitter.

The People’s Friend

If you’re in Australia, unfortunately there has been some shipment delays. We’ve been advised that #7916 will be on sale June 30 and it will resume weekly after that.

The People’s Friend often outsells several other weekly magazines in plenty of newsagencies. It’s readers are loyal, and valuable beyond d the purchase of the title. It’s an efficient item to stock.


Shopping WH Smith at Perth airport

I got to shop at the WS Smith shop at Perth airport earlier this week. Here are some comments and photos. First up, they areas challenged with recruiting staff as many in retail are:

Their coffee offer was popular.

They offered a pick yourself candy and nut selection, which I thought was odd given Covid. This photo doesn’t even show half the range available in-store.

Their time to serve commitment at their food counter was interesting. I wondered if it was in response to something.

Their signage for each category of product is terrific, it makes shopping easier.

Leading to the main register area, their pitch of magazines for impulse purchase is good, as I have seen in plenty of other WH Smith outlets in trains locations overseas.

I checked myself out, and was surprised that they charge a surcharge for credit card use given that the cost of processing credit card payments is less than the cost of handling cash. Anyway, I used a card and, sure enough, they charged me 3 cents extra for this. What makes it more galling is that I bought a candy product and paid double what I would have paid in a supermarket. More fool me.

Overall, the shop is well laid out, clean, neat … what’s it needs to be in a transit location. The credit card surcharge is the only blemish from the visit.


VIC newsagents: you have 1 more day to improve ventilation in-store to access a $500 grant

Victorian businesses have until tomorrow to to spend on ventilation improvements to be eligible for the state government $500 ventilation rebate.

I urge all Victorian small business retailers to consider this. A HEPA filter, for example, in-store makes it a safe space, and more appealing to shoppers concerned about safety.

Here is the link to the state government details on the program: https://business.vic.gov.au/grants-and-programs/small-business-ventilation-program/ventilation-rebate

Why is ventilation important?
Good ventilation is important because COVID-19 is airborne and primarily spread between people breathing in very small droplets or aerosols containing the virus. The risk of aerosol transmission is higher in a poorly ventilated space because fine aerosol spray from an infected person can remain circulating, linger and spread more easily.

The Victorian Government has released a Small Business Ventilation Guide to help businesses improve ventilation and reduce the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging air flow from outside. Business owners are encouraged to read this guide before applying.

Types of air ventilation and how they can be improved:

  • Natural ventilation – brings air from outside through and around an indoor occupied space, or to make airflow improvements to a covered outdoor space used by customers
  • Mechanical ventilation – uses mechanical equipment to increase airflow by replacing or diluting indoor air with outside air
  • Augmented ventilation – uses portable filtration units to catch particles in a filter to increase the clean air delivery rate and reduce the concentration of viral particles in the air.

Business owners must use their judgement and make decisions that are appropriate for their business to improve ventilation and air quality. This may involve seeking professional advice before committing to a purchase.

We have had HEPA filters in our office since early 2021.

With Covid infections and deaths at concerning levels and new variants concerning doctors and scientists, anything we can do in people facing businesses makes sense. A HEPA filter or better ventilation are good moves in that they are passive – shoppers themselves are not required to do anything.

Social responsibility

Questions from newsagents on websites

Since I sent the invitation Monday for the newsagent website workshop tomorrow, I’ve received some questions. Here they are, with answers:

  1. What’s the typical cost for a website? Tower offers a fixed price of $6,600.00, or $550.00 a month paid for 14 months.
  2. Is there newsXpress half price offer still available? Yes, newsXpress members who use Tower can get the same fixed price website service for $3,300.00.
  3. How long does it take to get we website setup? If your data (stock descriptions and images) is all setup, it could be live in a few weeks.
  4. Do I have to sell online or can the website show what I have in the shop? It’s easy to have the website show what you have in the shop but not sell online. Plenty of retailers do this.
  5. Do I have to sell online what I have in the shop today? No, you can sell anything you want online, as long as it is legal.
  6. Why Shopify? It’s easier to use ands maintain than WooCommerce and other platforms. But, WooCommerce developers will disagree as they make money maintaining sites. With Shopify it’s that easy that you can do it yourself.
  7. How can I get my website to be ranked high in Google? Hard work, consistent hard work. There is no shortcut.
  8. How much can I expect to make online? That all depends on your niche and the time (and money) you invest. I know newsagents making $3400,000 a year online, others easily making $50,000 a year and others making nothing.

Again, tomorrow’s workshop is not a sales pitch. I plan to share and discuss information you can use regardless of the web development path you choose. 

Free online workshop: Websites for newsagents

Thursday June 23 @ 2pm.

This free workshop on websites for newsagents will look at:

  • how newsagents can be successful online
  • why this matters
  • pot holes to watch out for
  • what it costs
  • what about after you are live
  • easy steps you can take today to prepare

I’ll be hosting the session and sharing plenty of lessons from the last few years: websites I have launched that have failed and websites I have launched that have been successful.

I’ll discuss full time websites, and seasonal websites too.

Please have your camera on so people can see who you are. Please come with questions, too. Here’s how you can connect:


Meeting ID: 863 4228 4316 Passcode: 586410

Thursday June 23 @ 2pm Melbourne time.

I will record the session for people keen and who cannot make it.

Being online is as important today as having a photocopier in your newsagency was 10 or 15 years ago. The biggest challenge I see confronting newsagents in particular is what to sell online. I’ve seen some spin their wheels over this for months. Some take the approach of putting as much of their shop online as the can while others treat the new website as a start-up business. I am more from the latter camp.

I am not hosting this workshop to try and sell you anything. Rather, I am keen to share experiences so that you can make more informed decisions. I see too many retailers, including newsagents, making decisions about websites that waste money.

Just about any local Aussie newsagency is perfectly placed to host a successful online business.

Having a realistic view of being online is critical to being successful online. A website can be a hungry beast and I’ll explain how.

I will, for context, touch on the group connected websites newsXpress runs that offer the easiest path to selling online. Any marketing group can do this.

If you can spare an hour Thursday I am sure it will be worth your while.

Mark Fletcher
Managing Director
newsXpress and Tower Systems
0418 321 338

PS. If you’d like to know more about what newsXpress offers newsagents: Click here for what is included in our $175.00 a month (or $1,680.00 (inc GST) per year paid in advance) membership offer.. Please email help@newsxpress.com.au or call Michael on 0400 331 055 with any questions about newsXpress..

newsagency of the future

Google needs to do better in managing business reviews

A colleague retailer recently experienced someone posting a negative review for their business based on an incident that had occurred more that a year prior.

The review was unfair given that it related to a customer complaining about the business following the public health mask guidelines at the time.

The reviewer used an email address that does not work and did not use their real name.

The review was clearly posted to harm the reputation of the newsagency, and done so anonymously.

I have seen plenty of local retail businesses unfairly attacked through Google reviews. It’s time Google provided a transparent process for managing them, to ensure fairness for all concerned.

In my own case I have had a couple of different people using fake names, and who were never customers, post negative reviews for my software company.

That Google allows anonymous reviews to be posted and does not engage in reasonable discussion as to the facts as claimed in a review damages the reputation of reviews overall. The company needs to provide checks and balances given the commercial harm that negative reviews can cause.

Social responsibility

Free online workshop: Websites for newsagents

You’re invited to a free online workshop Thursday this week @ 2pm.

Websites for newsagents will look at:

  • how newsagents can be successful online
  • why this matters
  • pot holes to watch out for
  • what it costs
  • what about after you are live
  • easy steps you can take today to prepare

I’ll be hosting the session and sharing plenty of lessons from the last few years.

Please have your camera on so people can see who you are. Please come with questions, too. Here’s how you can connect. :


Meeting ID: 863 4228 4316 Passcode: 586410

Thursday June 23 @ 2pm Melbourne time.

I will record the session for people keen and who cannot make it.

Being online is as important today as having a photocopier in your newsagency was 10 or 15 years ago. The biggest challenge I see confronting newsagents in particular is what to sell online. I’ve seen some spin their wheels over this for months. Some take the approach of putting as much of their shop online as the can while others treat the new website as a start up business. I am more from the latter camp.

In this workshop my goal is to not try and sell you anything. rather, I am keen to share experiences so that you can make more informed decisions. I see too many retailers, including newsagents, making decisions about websites that waste money.

If you can spare an hour Thursday I am sure it will be worth your while.

Newsagency management

The nursery opportunity for Aussie newsagents

Nursery related sales are strong in newsagencies strong in this segment. It stands to reason since our shops are the go-to shops for baby cards.

Too often, though, newsagents with strong baby card sales fail to leverage the gifting opportunity. This is true across the card captions – we have excellent data indicating purchase intent that we miss to leverage for gifting sales.

In my own shops, nursery product sales are terrific. This is driven in part by out of store marketing, but very effectively through in-store product placement and display. Like this feature display.

And this one.

These displays are not what shoppers expect to see in a newsagency, in terms of the displays themselves and the range of products on offer. These displays have been done by a team member with a gift for creating visually appealing and engaging displays, ensuring they are shapable, and enticing.

The displays in the photos are next to each other, with related products the same shopper may find appealing on the wall behind – to maximise the visit value for us.

Currently in Australia, there are 200,000 searches online each month for baby and nursery related gifts, placing the segment among top performers of retail related product searches. This search engine dataset is useful in that it reinforces the value of the segment, proves interest among shoppers. But, we can see that ourselves in our greeting card data, as I noted above.

For me, greeting card data is key to exploring other product segments we could expand in. We have used it for years, and benefited commercially from its use.

Any newsagent can do what I have described here. It’s easy:

  • Look at your card data.
  • Expand, with a modest budget, based on shopper intent opportunities.
  • Pull together existing product and modestly supplement with new product.
  • Create visually appealing displays.
  • Measure and adjust to need.

It’s all basic retail management really. It’s essential, especially in 2022 when we have the pandemic led opportunity to play outside what has been usual for our channel and when so many more people are living and working locally than prior to the pandemic.

If you’re not offering nursery related products check card sales in your newsagency … if they show opportunity, dive in.

Newsagency management

Promoting magazine range

It is disappointing that there is no marketing of magazine range in Australia. The only marketing is modest spends for some titles. The category itself is ignored. We make our own. Here’s one we launched for one of my shop in Malvern, VIC, yesterday.

I’m pretty happy with 1,800 views in 24 hours.


The battle for early toy sales

Big W kicked off their annual toy sale yesterday with some massive discounts including claims of up to 50% off some LEGO, Barbie, NERF, Bluey, Disney, Marvel and more.

Their goals here are to drive traffic in a usually quiet time for retail, and to capture early Christmas shoppers.

Given the reach of the Big W marketing spend across a range of media, including a strong social media presence, the toy sale presents a challenge to indie retailers in the toy space.

I think this is what the back half of 2022 looks like: big retailers promotive massive sales. Advertising discounts is the only tool they seem to know.

At local indie retailer level there are smarter moves we can make. For example, offering genuine in-store experiences, safe LayBy, Christmas wrapping parties, special orders, local delivery and more.

It is easy to get caught up in a price fight. The thing is though, local indie retailers done;t win from a price fight. Discounting is a no-win situation.

If you sell products that compete with mass retailers, the next few months will be challenging. The more you play away from their red ocean the better.

Newsagency management

How small business retailers can manage and be prepared for the increase in labour cost

The Fair Work Commission decision to increase award wages yesterday is being reported in some media outlets as a blow to small business owners.

The increase in wages is still less than the increase in rent. I mention that solely as a reference point – given that retailers sign leases with those increases locked in.

To deal with rising business costs, it’s appropriate that businesses increase what they charge where they can. Here are some things newsagents can do:

  • Cards. review the average sell price of cards you stock and consider whether your supplier could help you stock more expensive cards without negatively impacting sales.
  • Photocopying. Most newsagents undercharge for this. It’s a convenience service. Charge as such.
  • Stationery. The common mark up is 100%. Consider increasing that to 105%. In many newsagencies, stationery sales are convenience based. Charging a convenience premium is fair.
  • Gifts. Your target gift revenue should be at least 3 times your card revenue. This is a category over which you have more control on price. Reach beyond what you have been doing.
  • Be serious about a loyalty offer. The more people purchase in a visit, the more valuable the visit. It takes work, but can easily fund itself and enhance the bottom line.
  • Review the roster. An hour trimmed each week funds 20 hours of the increase.

This list is a start. Smart newsagents will already be doing these things and more.

On balance, the actions need to include increasing margin where you can, getting existing shoppers spending more, attracting new shoppers and driving total floorspace efficiency. These are all retail management 101 steps, all achievable. Those focussed as agents may struggle, but that is the lot of an agent. retailers, engaged retailers, will be in good shape.

Talk to your marketing group, seek their advice. They should already be onto this with you.

Any local retail business managed well can digest the modest hourly rate increase without missing a beat.

This is an opportunity for us to show some business journos and some in big business retail trade groups that dealing with the wage rise can be done successfully in local small business retail.

Newsagency management

ACM announces significant price increases to regional newspapers

Daily and weekly regional newspapers published by Rural Press’ Australian Community Media will cost more from the end of this month. Here is the announcement sent yesterday afternoon to newsagents:

Dear Retail Outlet

The cover price of most of our print titles will increase from Monday June 27, 2022.

This is only the second increase we have had in the past four years, and whilst the last increase was just 12 months ago, there have been significant cost changes for our business recently.

We here at ACM want to let you know why this change is necessary so that you and your staff are fully informed.

We want you to be able to engage meaningfully with customers about this change because it is our firm belief that we all – our readers, our advertisers, our staff and our retail partners – recognise the continuing value of trusted local news coverage that serves our communities.

As our publications have reported in recent weeks, Australia’s regional newspapers have been hit with an unexpected 80 per cent increase in the cost of newsprint.

These higher costs begin to take effect from July 1, 2022.

With rising fuel and energy prices and other supply chain pressures adding further unavoidable costs to the production and distribution of our products, we are asking our readers to support their favourite local newspaper by paying a higher cover price.

This will be a vital contribution towards keeping our publications in print, and it will help sustain local journalism, our business and in turn yours, by keeping our products available in the local marketplace.

The cover price rise will go some way towards offsetting the higher cost of newsprint but it won’t fully cover it.

That’s why we have also sought government support to protect local newspapers, regional news coverage and journalism jobs.

As we told our readers in May, ACM’s 140 mastheads around the country have joined with Country Press Australia, representing 190 other smaller titles, to seek emergency relief from the newsprint price shock.

The new Labor government’s commitment to deliver a $10 million “crisis response” package for the sector is most welcome.

As we await details of the promised funding measures from newly sworn-in Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland, we will be explaining fully to our readers why this cover price rise is unavoidable and essential for the future of their favourite local newspaper.

For the readers of our 14 daily titles, we will also be offering the chance to win fuel for a year.

This promotion runs for two weeks from June 27. In every day’s paper we’ll be publishing a different secret code word. With the purchase of each day’s paper, you get a new code word to be able to enter the draw to win one of 10 x $4000 Fuel for a year prizes, plus additional minor prizes of $500 fuel cards.

A similar competition last year was enthusiastically received by our readers and we look forward to our network of retail partners backing this year’s promotion with point-of-sale displays and word-of-mouth endorsement over the counter.

As always, thank you for your continuing support for our products and the vital service they provide the local community.

Increasing prices is fraught in any business. Keys to acceptance are the value of the product and how you communicate around the increase. I think ACM management have done a pretty good job in this email to newsagents.


Local school parent groups and charities need to change their approach to asking small business retailers for donations

Local small business retailers are asked several times week by school parent groups and other local community groups and charities for donations. Here is one example I saw yesterday. I share it as it demonstrates what not to do. It’s lazy, ignorant and disrespectful. It’s one-way. While I’m sure they think acknowledging the business on advertising has value, it does not.

If I was speaking with this school parent group I’d tell them the one thing they could do to get engagement from local retailers:

Shop with them.

Yes, it’s that simple.

Now, this could work a couple of ways. Getting parents to shop with local retailers could be leveraged to get local retailers to donate to the parents group. Better still,  local retailers could set up a mutual loyalty program in their POS software. each purchase could reward the parents and the parent’s group. It’s easy to track this, to trade with local retailers to build a bank that is donated to the parent’s group.

Local retail businesses are only able to donate to community groups if they have the financial capacity. The only way they achieve that is when people;e spend money in their shops. This is why the starting point for any charity or community group putting their hand out to any business is to ask: What are we doing for them? What are we doing to enable them to donate to us? If the answer is nothing, then fix that first.

Big businesses say yes to donations as they budget for it and because they see it as easy marketing. They have a corporate umbrella cover bring them. A family owned local retail business is stand-alone. It relies on day to day trade. This is why any donation needs to be considered transactionally.

Local small business retailers could be on the front foot about this. They could setup a mutual loyalty program so it’s all set and ready to go, so next time a charity or community group puts out their hand they, instead, pitch the loyalty program that, if engaged with, could be more financially rewarding for the community group or charity.

Now, there may be some in the community groups or charities who say it’s too complex or challenge why they have to shop in a shop to get it to donate. If you hear that, it shows ignorance, and it demonstrates how little they actually value you.

I’d written about this topic before. It is frustrating seeing the ignorance displayed by some groups when they ask for donations. Their approach, like the example above, demonstrates a lack of understanding about how business works.

Social responsibility

Appalling editorial decision by the Sydney Morning Herald in seeking to out Rebel Wilson

So, it was an abundance of caution and respect that this media outlet emailed Rebel Wilson’s representatives on Thursday morning, giving her two days to comment on her new relationship with another woman, LA leisure wear designer Ramona Agruma, before publishing a single word.

Big mistake. Wilson opted to gazump the story, posting about her new “Disney Princess” on Instagram early Friday morning, the same platform she had previously used to brag about her handsome ex-boyfriend, wealthy American beer baron Jacob Busch.

This ‘story‘ in The Sydney Morning Herald reflects, in my opinion, poorly on the editorial decisions of the newspaper.

They are upset that Rebel Wilson decided to come out, ahead of their story. While we will never know if Rebel would have made the announcement as and when she did, what we do know is that the enquiry from the SMH and their advice they would run the story preceded it.

In the SMH story they try and justify their behaviour.

Considering how bitterly Wilson had complained about poor journalism standards when she successfully sued Woman’s Day for defamation, her choice to ignore our discreet, genuine and honest queries was, in our view, underwhelming.

This, in a story that reflects poor journalism, poor editorial decisions and reads like bullying.

No news outlet, no person has the right to out anyone. It is no one else’s business until the person or people directly involved decide. When it is done it is hurtful, harmful and, too often, dangerous.

There is no newsworthiness in Rebel Wilson’s personal life, unless your business model is predicated on making money off of gossip.

The story in the SMH makes them the story, their editorial choices and how they treat gay people, threaten them, bully them. That’s how I see it. And, yes, I have a vested interest in that it happened to me years ago, not in the SMH or any newspaper, but my agency was taken from me by gossips and others.

How the SMH has handled the story could impact others in the closet, famous or not as it shows anyone that outing someone is okay and that pressuring them about their sexuality is okay. It is not okay to out someone and it is not okay to pressure someone to come out.

The SMH has diminished itself through its behaviour on this. The masthead owes an apology to Rebel Wilson.

Why does this matter here? We sell this stuff and some days I hate that I do.


Not all shopping centres are recovering from Covid the same

While high street shopping appears to be strong and better than pre-Covid, for at least most of the stores I have seen data for, in shopping centres it is a different story.

Retailers in some centres are doing well while some in other centres are down significantly on 2019 trade.

I’d like to see state and federal governments work together to capture accurate data to assess the situation, to help us understand how shopping centres, overall, are performing in 2022 compared to pre-Covid and, then, how each centre is performing. 

I suspect an independent study would reveal significant differences in the performance of each centre. I am sure we would see some centres have bounced back while others have not. It is in that second group, where tenants are dealing with annual rental increases of 5% and more where we may find significant financial pressure, brought on by Covid.

Any study should only be about understanding the situation, and not about laying blame. If one centre is performing poorly while another is performing well, it does not mean the poorly performing centre is being run poorly. There are many factors that could be driving the different results. We can’t consider that until we have the data. That’s why a government-led study would be useful.

While landlords have sales data, their interests are too vested, too narrow, for that to be of value nationally. An independent assessment of the situation would be helpful, especially for the independent retailers in these centres.

In one situation I was looking at this week, revenue is stubbornly sitting at 20% less than in 2019 for a vibrant and appealing business that is engaged on social media and undertaking other marketing to attract shoppers. Their business is in a category that is strong out on the high street.

In another situation, revenue is down 15% which nearby retailers in the same category are up 20% … and the nearby retailers are doing less marketing and offer a less appealing (in any opinion) experience than in the shopping centre.

But this post is not about specific retailers. Rather, it is a call for a national assessment of retail performance in shopping centres so that we can understand if there is a problem, and if so, the centres in which the problem is amplified. Again, landlords are unlikely to drive this. That’s why I hope governments engage.

With most of the Covid support now gone, small business retailers have few options. Those in shopping centres that are yet to be back at pre-Covid trading levels are facing operating costs that, for some, will be unsustainable. No one wins from that – the landlord, governments, the community, the owners. The sooner we have data to understand if there is an issue and the scope of it the better.

Newsagency management

With Covid impacting staffing and other aspects of retail

Here’s our approach to mitigating to Covid challenge in our shops:

  • Screens at the counter. We have retained these as they offer protection for us and customers. There is zero customer push-back.
  • Masks. We urge team members to wear masks when working.
  • Sanitiser. Remains freely available in-store.
  • Cleaning. Remains at peak Covid levels. All common touchpoint are cleaned on a regular cycle.
  • Vaccination. All team members are asked to get vaccination boosters as soon as they are eligible.

This pandemic has a ways to go yet. The reported infection rate is high, meaning the real rate is much higher. Worse, the death rate is tragic.

Social responsibility