Getting value for money in remote areas

Some time ago, I wrote about using Bush Orders to do grocery shopping.  This is how we avoid being ripped off by price-gouging remote area stores, as we pay normal supermarket prices for our groceries in a regional centre, then pay freight to get it to our home.  This compares very favourably with prices in our local supermarket, and vastly improves the range and quality of goods we can access.

In general, I support the concept “buy local”.  I’m even prepared to pay a premium to support a local store.  However, I am not prepared to support businesses who use a captive market to price-gouge, and often provide abysmal customer service as well.  It seems I am not alone in this.  A recent survey reported in CHOICE magazine found that NT has the highest per capita use of online shopping in Australia, and that’s despite a significant portion of the NT population having little or no access to online services.  No longer can NT businesses sit back and treat their customers with contempt while charging them a large premium for goods.  We will simply order them online, and when this proves to be a positive experience, as it almost always does, we are unlikely ever to go back to the local business.

In my case, I can choose whether to buy a part for my 4WD locally and pay 2 1/2 times more for it, or order it online and wait a week for it to arrive.  In rare cases, I’ll pay the extra because I can’t wait, but mostly (about 98% of the time) I will take the online option.  If the local business kept their mark-up to even 50% compared to city prices, I would but it from them every time.  But a 150% mark-up is stupid!  Especially when their customer service is surly, unhelpful and often downright hostile.  Even for basic food items that I can’t do without, I will wait a week to get them via freight from Alice Springs than buy them locally, mainly because the local supermarket charges between 200-400% more for many items.  Sure some items are as cheap as elesewhere, but they tend to be the junk food lines rather than the healthy foods.  Fruit and vegetables here are expensive and highly variable in quality, sometimes barely edible.  Yet the same items bought via Bush Orders from Woolworths in Alice Springs are fresh, excellent quality, and usually less than half the price even allowing for freight.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  I recently bought a tyre for the Transit van.  After days of searching online, I found 3 tyres that would do the job.  All were around $240, with between $30 and $100 freight to get the tyre to Tennant Creek.  I then went to the local tyre outlet to check what they had.  The pleasant helpful person on the front desk checked the computer and found the size I needed in a well-known brand for $250 including fitting and balancing, and it was in stock!  So here’s one business that managed to get it right:

  • Good customer service
  • Competitive price
  • Quality goods

So guess where my first stop for all my future tyre needs in Tennant Creek will be?  Yep, the local tyre outlet.  They could have charged another $100 for the tyre, and probably got away with it once, but this would have meant that all future tyres would be bought either online or while on a trip elsewhere.  By giving me value for money, they have ensured that I will support this particular local business.  And that’s probably worth more to them in the long run than a quick $100 once-off.

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