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We've seen the future and it's scary for retailers

IT started as an online bookstore in 1994.

Fast forward to 2017, and Amazon has put US bricks and mortar retailers on their collective knees.

In the US, Sears is closing 150 stores.

Macy another 68 stores.

As thousands checked out the latest Amazon and Alexa powered appliances at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the headlines of the weekend edition of USA Today told of the new endangered species: department stores.

The sweeping changes in shopping, which have seen more of us going online, has resulted in tens of thousands of job losses in the retail sector.

And with Amazon set to come to Australia later this year, retailers here must be fearing the worst.

Walking around CES 2017, you only have to see the number of fridges and other devices with Amazon and Alexa tech built into them to know they have something to worry about.

Dozens of gadgets can be controlled using voice commands via Amazon's Alexa personal assistant.

Alexa is a virtual personal assistant that's been available for about two years.

Like Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Google Assistant, you can ask it the weather, set alarms, read the news, and ask it to control some smart devices, like vacuum bots, around the home.

With an Amazon-enabled smart fridge, you can order groceries, all via voice control.

Founded by Jeff Bezos and based in Seattle, Washington, Amazon's expansion has been mind-blowing.

Not only does it now sell everything from DVDS to furniture, toys and jewellery, it produces its own electronics, the Amazon Kindle, Fire tablets and Fire TV among them.

Just two years ago, Amazon surpassed US retail giant Walmart as the most valuable retailer by market capitalisation.

Former top US retail executive Steve Odland told The Australian Financial Review that bricks and mortar retailers were heading for a "slow moving train wreck".

Second-tier shopping malls, he said, would become 'white elephants'.

Shopping in Las Vegas, you can understand a little why department stores are dying.

I had a very specific order from my wife for shoes.

It would have been so easy to order them online and have them delivered to my hotel room.

Instead, I (foolishly) did it the old fashioned way.

Some 30,000 plus steps later - I kid you not - I was still looking.

LG Electronics’ vice president David VanderWaal and Amazon Echo vice president Mike George present the LG Smart InstaView Door-in-Door Refrigerator to CES 2017 attendees Featuring InstaView technology and a smart touchscreen enabled with Amazon Alexa, users can simply knock twice to see what’s inside.
LG Electronics’ vice president David VanderWaal and Amazon Echo vice president Mike George present the LG Smart InstaView Door-in-Door Refrigerator to CES 2017 attendees Featuring InstaView technology and a smart touchscreen enabled with Amazon Alexa, users can simply knock twice to see what’s inside.

At one department store, an assistant suggested I do a Google search.

Good advice. But not clever when you're a retailer.

At the stores I went to, staff were friendly enough. There was just not enough of them. In Macy's I could only spot one staff member in an entire section.

While online, the choices are endless. In the department store, there were about four shoes to choose from - all in the same style.

Experts says the only way retailers can compete is if they offer better service and a niche product.

According to the Australian Financial Review, Amazon has big ambitions for Australia's $222 billion retail sector, having lodged more than 250 local trademark applications.

Wesfarmers' Richard Goyder, who oversees Coles, Kmart and Target, warned last year that Amazon will "eat all our breakfasts, lunches and dinners" unless retailers become more innovative.

Amazon last week reported its "best ever" Christmas-New Year season, shipping more than one billion items worldwide.

If the trend continues, it will be anything but 'ho, ho, ho' for Australian retailers in coming holiday seasons.

The writer travelled to CES 2017 in Las Vegas as a guest of Samsung Australia

Topics:  amazon ces 2017 online shopping retailer



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