The Australian retail scene is in the doldrums, as witnessed by the succession of closures of once-dominant retail brands.
Our increasing infatuation with online shopping, and very tight spending patterns due to giant mortgages and climbing bills means fewer and fewer of us are making the trek to local shops.
The main victim of this pincer movement is the shopping mall.
Once a community hub where the big fashion and homewares brands sat profitably beside the supermarket and department store chains, the failing malls now struggle to survive, with a diminishing customer base and an air of irreversible decline.
Few epitomise the Australia’s retail apocalypse quite like one failing mall in Melbourne, with empty store fronts, dirty floors and next to no customers.
The Northcote Plaza will soon lose its Kmart department store – the latest of a string of businesses to abandon the centre.
Often catering to an older crowd, its corridors are empty as shoppers turn their backs on the traditional shopping centre to order cheaper goods online.
The Northcote Plaza (pictured), 5km from Melbourne’s CBD, has been open for decades but is suffering a decline in footfall
Shewete Chawla, who owns clothing store Fashion Queen inside the mall, blamed the downturn in shoppers on the online retail boom.
‘Slowly it’s becoming quieter, and sales are decreasing,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Even during this last Christmas, sales were not what you would expect.
‘And it’s not just me, I’ve been talking to all the other shops and they’re also telling me the sales are going low, very low.’
But she hoped shoppers would return, as they often don’t get good quality online, she said.
The Northcote Plaza (pictured) is often featured in amusing social media posts about its lack of frills and sometimes dreary scenes
Several stores sit empty (pictured) as the Melbourne shopping mall struggles with a decline in footfall
‘It’s because of the online shopping,’ she said.
‘But many of my customers say the stuff they buy online is not good quality, the sizes aren’t right, and it’s not as it looks in the photos.
A window is seen smashed (pictured) at Northcote Plaza, which is now losing its popular Kmart
‘So I think maybe shoppers will come back from online.’
Kmart Northcote Plaza will shut its doors for good on November 22 2020 when its lease ends.
It helped to transform the local area in 1981, being built on a former brickworks site.
The closure comes as Amazon and other online retailers force Australian brands out of the market, spelling the end for many beloved stores.
But despite its uninspiring looks, Northcote Plaza, which boats two Coles supermarkets, has developed a dedicated online fan base.
It has reached near cult status in Melbourne, and even has its own appreciation society on Facebook with nearly 3,000 members.
The shopping plaza (pictured) has seen a decline in visitors, which some shopkeepers blame on the rise of online retailers
A shopping trolley is seen abandoned outside Northcote Plaza (pictured) in Melbourne
With some comparing it to Libya, enthusiastic fans regularly pictures of its spiritless looks, with one rather over-zealous customer having its name inked onto his body.
One fan praised the mall’s ‘gorgeous older Greek women’.
He wrote: ‘Your classic plaza. There’s two supermarkets, Coles and its competition, another Coles. Easy to get to.
‘Full of gorgeous older Greek women and their fantastic hair. What more could you ask? Probably heaps, but I come here for food. And there are two choices.’
The shopping mall has attracted an unlikely legion of online fans, one of whom even got its name tattooed to his leg (pictured)
Another supporter said: ‘Has a bit of a ”land that time forgot” feel to it. Which was unexpected.’
The mall is emblematic of Australia’s retail crisis.
In the past year alone Harris Scarfe, Bardot, Roger David and Napoleon Perdis have collapsed, followed by Jeanswest, Colette Hayman, and Co-op bookstore.
But for Northcote Plaza, its regular shoppers are refusing to give up, sharing pictures and posts about the mall online every day.
The shopping mall also boasts a mysterious gold statue of an unknown man’s head (pictured), which has proved to be a draw for customers
THE VICTIMS OF AUSTRALIA’S RETAIL APOCALYPSE
2016: Dick Smith, Masters hardware, Payless Shoes
2017: Topshop Australia
2018: Avon, Espirit, Toys ‘R’ Us, Max Brenner, Roger David
2019: Ed Harry, Diana Ferrari, Napoleon Perdis, Ziera, Bardot, Harris Scarfe
2020: Jeanswest, Collete Hayman, EB Games, Co-op bookstore
The mall even has its own bizarre golden statue of a man’s head, which is regularly dressed up by shoppers.
The mysterious figure delighted customers, with no one sure of its purpose or origin – until it recently fell over and was removed.
Fans are divided over whether the head is supposed to honour late singer David Bowie, Eggs Boy, or even TV presenter Dylan Lewis
More than 350 people have signed a petition to get the mystery head reinstated, with fans having made pilgrimages to see it.
‘You guys are very focused on Coles, but you’re missing the real story,’ one fan wrote.
Shopfronts sit empty inside Northcote Plaza (pictured), but it does have two Coles stores
The outside of the shopping centre (pictured) is not much more inspiring, with clothes strewn across the ground
‘Two hearing care centres? Obviously fronts for government intelligence gathering agencies. Possibly rivals. A’la spy vs spy.’
Australian retail growth is at its worst level since the early 1990s recession as Amazon and other online retailers driving local brands out of the market.
Harris Scarfe, founded in 1849, took consumers by surprise when it entered administration in December and is now about to close at least 21 stores.
Days later the country’s sixth-largest wine company McWilliam’s Wines, which has been around for 140 years, announced it appointed voluntary administrators.
Popular video game chain EB Games was the next to announce it had gone bust.
Major fashion chain Bardot revealed plans to close 58 stores nationwide before March.
The beloved shopping centre (pictured) could face an uncertain future as Australia’s malls are hit by the online shopping boom
One of the many pictures shared on social media of the dreary conditions (pictured) inside Northcote Plaza
Queensland University of Technology retail expert Dr Gary Mortimer said Australian companies were not being quick enough to adapt to the changing retail landscape and consumer preference.
‘We’ve seen a lot of market changes in Australia over the last decade, with global fashion retailers entering the market base and Aldi almost 20 years ago,’ he told 9news.
‘We have consumer changes and too much choice out there in the marketplace.’
In January popular jewellery and accessories chain Colette by Colette Hayman was placed into voluntary administration despite making $140million last year.
Administrators from Deloitte Restructuring Services said the country’s dire retail climate was at the centre of the business’s failure.
AUSTRALIA’S RETAIL APOCALYPSE: WHY YOUR FAVOURITE STORE COULD BE NEXT
Amazon and other online retailers are driving local brands out of the market by taking advantage of Australian businesses whose products are easy to copy, a retail expert has warned.
In the past year Australian brands including Harris Scarfe, Bardot, Roger David and Napoleon Perdis have failed and closed dozens of outlets as they fall victim to huge overseas competitors.
Now the chief executive of a leading market research company has told Daily Mail Australia that businesses which cannot carve out a niche will remain under threat from foreign giants.
‘The ones that are going to survive are the ones that have captured something special,’ Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said.
‘The whole logic of this is if you don’t have something really special, you could be in trouble.
‘Some discount stores may have a special niche which keeps customers going, but if they don’t have that then they might struggle.’
Ms Levine did not name any particular companies who could be the next to close.
But in 2016 the managing director of Wesfarmers Richard Goyder said the Amazon Fresh grocery service would ‘eat all our breakfasts lunch and dinners’ if it opened in Australia.
Last year, Retail Doctor Group chairman David Kindl said Amazon was ‘a definite threat to retailers like Kmart and Big W and Myer and all specialty stores’.
Legendary entrepreneur Dick Smith has also warned Amazon could send Australian companies bankrupt.
He cited the online giant’s lower overheads and ability to operate more cheaply than Australian companies as a major contributor to the country’s retail downturn.
In 2018 he warned the huge American Walmart corporation could take over Australia’s Kmart department store chain within five years.
‘They’ll take Kmart, that will go first, in the next four or five years,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.