The Giant Is Coming: The True Cost of Amazon to Australia's Retailers and Workers

Down Dandenong way, on the outskirts of Melbourne, Amazon is staking out a beachhead for the invasion.

The Giant Is Coming: The True Cost of Amazon to Australia's Retailers and Workers

Strategically located near freeway connections to Australia's busiest cargo seaport, the $465bn retail superpower's cavernous new fulfilment centre is gearing up to house hundreds of thousands of products shipped in from all over the world.

Citibank analysts predict Amazon will hit Australia this month, although the business itself is tight-lipped about the details. In the lead-up this 24,000 square metre warehouse is shedding the red-and-green branding of former tenant Bunnings for Amazon yellow, as it gears up to serve as a staging ground for a highly automated online retail operation that has deftly outmanoeuvred competitors, unions and tax authorities all over the globe — and promises to unleash the biggest disruption to the Australian market since the rise of department stores.

The incoming arrival of Amazon has seen the share value of major Australian retailers plunge, with local business leaders only helping fuel the panic. Amazon this year has been variously described as “the worst possible corporate citizen,” “Attila the Hun,” “a parasite” that “pays no tax” and threatens to “send everyone broke” — and that’s just by Gerry Harvey, the chairman of the electrical retail chain Harvey Norman, which in May had its profit forecasts downgraded by 30 percent by Citibank after analysis of Amazon’s impact in the U.S.

The colourful entrepreneur’s rhetoric has struck some as a little rich: the Retail Global founder, Phil Leahy, observed that Harvey’s “contradictions are breathtaking, given he has beaten competitors in building his own empire.”

Formerly the backbone of the Australian economy, small businesses were eaten up during the latter half of the 20th century by franchise-packed shopping centres and towering superstores like those of Harvey Norman that offered lower prices and greater range in a single location.

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