Business stories of interest this week

Business stories from the past week, compiled by Jason Maywald:

1) ‘Spectacular growth’: $1 in every $20 now spent online

Online shopping giants are ripping the market away from local shops, accounting for half of all retail sales growth over the past year.

New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show online sales reached $1.3 billion in April, up from $510 million at the same time last year.

They come as Treasurer Scott Morrison and US behemoth Amazon go head-to-head over changes to GST on online shopping and as cash-strapped retailers grapple with an increase in the minimum wage for up to 1 million workers in the sector.


2) Woolworths, Coles vying for leadership in sustainability

A new front has developed in the battle between Coles and Woolworths as both chains rush to implement ambitious new environmental and sustainability targets amid growing pressure from customers to cut down on waste.

At a World Environment Day forum at Woolworths’ Bella Vista headquarters in Sydney on Monday, chief executive Brad Banducci detailed plans to remove 3.4 billion single-use plastic bags from stores and home deliver by June 20.


3) Technology that’s transforming how we manage our money

Imagine arriving home from work, saying hi to your house and immediately asking it to transfer money to a friend, pay some bills or check your insurance policy.

This new slant on home banking — using smart speakers such as Google Home or Amazon’s Echo — is among a range of technological advances about to change the way we manage money.

Financial institutions have been examining the potential use of smart speakers, also known as home assistants, for insurance and banking. However, privacy problems such as reports of family discussions being recorded and Facebook’s recent data collection scandal are likely to slow its development and take-up.


4) Banks could tighten screws on small business after royal commission 

Small businesses are tipped to face more hurdles in getting credit from a bank, with some marginal applicants at greater risk of being knocked back, following the royal commission’s scrutiny of lending to small enterprises.

Although counsel assisting the commission, Michael Hodge, QC, did not call for extra regulation in his closing address on Friday, analysts say it is still likely the scrutiny of the past fortnight will make banks more conservative in lending to businesses.

Customers could be forced to submit extra paperwork, and more marginal loans may not be approved, analysts predicted. However, small business advocates argued there was no need for a retreat by banks, saying lending to small firms remained lucrative for banks, and tightening the screws would damage a key part of the economy.

5) New Myer CEO John King vows to put customers first 

April retail sales figures have underlined the challenge ahead for new Myer chief executive John King, who started work on Monday by visiting stores in Melbourne.

While retail sales rose 0.4 per cent in April, an improvement on flat sales in March, spending fell sharply at department stores (down 0.9 per cent) and in clothing, footwear and accessories (down 0.8 per cent).

Annual spending at department stores was down 3.7 per cent – the worst outcome in 18 months – reflecting the 3.4 per cent fall in sales at Myer in the nine months ending April.

Taking up his new role on Monday Mr King, a former chief executive of storied UK department store chain House of Fraser, said Myer needed to put its customers first “in every decision we make and every action we take”.