Love them or loathe them, private label products are taking over supermarket shelves



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Supermarkets are stocking more of their own brands even as they shrink stores.
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Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology and Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania

Coles is aiming to have private label products make up 40% of its product range over the next five years. This increase will apply across multiple tiers of products, with a focus on quality, innovation and new strategic global relationships.

More supermarket-owned brands will mean lower prices for consumers and greater margins for the retailer. But the move could significantly impact Australian suppliers as their branded products are delisted and supermarkets seek out cheaper manufacturers overseas.




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Phantom brands haunting our supermarket shelves as home brand in disguise


In Australia, private label products currently account for 18.1% of all retail dollar sales. The proportion is similar in North America (17.7%).

This is significantly less than supermarkets in other countries. Private label products account for 41% of supermarket sales in the UK, 42% in Spain, 36% in Germany and between 27 and 32% in most other European countries.

Why private labels?

In one academic study, 85% of the retailers surveyed said “improved margins” was their main reason for investing in private label products.

A private label product with features and quality parity with national brands may cost retailers 40% to 50% less to manufacture and distribute to customers.

Some American convenience stores claim gross margins of up to 72% on private label bottled water, for instance, compared to 45% on branded alternatives.




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Woolies private label strategy will play directly into the hands of Aldi


Overall, supermarkets see an 8-10% premium on margins for private label products over branded ones.

Private label products also help retailers differentiate themselves from competitors by giving them unique products.

Private labels have increased their footprint across many retailers, including discount department stores, liquor and convenience stores and traditional full-line department stores like Myer.

The flipside of private label expansion

The main fears about the continued growth of private label brands are that it could discourage suppliers from innovating with their products, jeopardise the livelihoods of smaller, independent suppliers, and ultimately result in less choice for consumers.

Consumers are currently benefiting from increased competition. Progressively higher-quality private label products are available at much lower prices than branded products.

Just a few years ago then Woolworths CEO Grant O’Brien said the company would put customers “before” suppliers.

Some researchers suggest that increasing private label ranges could impede innovation in the food industry. This is largely because branded manufacturers will have less incentive to invest in new products only to have them copied by the contract manufacturers who produce private label goods.

But a recent report from the European Commission actually found innovation in the food supply chain is not under pressure. And a quick wander through any major supermarket will illustrate the effort supermarkets are making to improve quality and introduce new product lines.




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Woolworths and Coles should heed simplicity lesson from Aldi


Smaller, local independent brand manufacturers and wholesalers could be exposed to “delisting” – where a supermarket does not renew a supply contract in order to free up shelf space for its own private label alternatives.

Naturally, if Coles is aiming to increase the proportion of its own branded products, minor brands will be the ones to disappear from shelves, not major brands like Coke, Cadbury or Nescafe.

As for less choice, most shoppers will not notice the difference, or may enjoy the shopping experience more.

Supermarket shopping is notoriously a low-involvement, mundane and habitual task. Shoppers often visit the same supermarkets, buy the same products and browse the same aisle. In fact, studies continue to demonstrate that the “abundance of choice” is problematic for many shoppers, who simply seek an “optimal choice”.

Research shows that when faced with a “good, better and best” option, people choose the one in the middle. This is why we see supermarkets offering very basic generic private label products all the way through to “select” and “finest” options.

Accordingly, a successful private label strategy hinges on leveraging perceptions of both price and value. Private label products are a key weapon for Coles and Woolworths to compete with Aldi and Kaufland for price-sensitive customers.




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House-brand push boils down to capitalism’s crisis


Australian supermarkets previously looked to local manufacturers to produce their private label ranges. However, Aldi, Kaufland, Costco and Lidl have found success by leveraging their global sourcing strategies, providing both quality and economies of scale, and so lower prices.

This appears to be on the cards for Coles. It has also announced a wish to develop new strategic global relationships to realise its 40% private label target.

This suggests that Coles may overlook local manufacturers, instead seeking out international manufacturers to produce some ranges.




Read more:
‘Honey, I shrunk the store’: Why your local supermarket is getting smaller


Coles’s announcement comes as supermarkets are getting smaller in the face of rising costs. Together, these trends could have long-term implications for the Australian grocery industry.

The ConversationThe presence of more private label goods will likely require domestic manufacturers to themselves produce more private label goods to minimise offshoring. But, in doing so, manufactuers will commoditise themselves, thereby giving retailers even more power.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology and Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Fear not, shoppers: Amazon’s Australian geoblock won’t cramp your style



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Will there be fewer of these on Australian doorsteps?
Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com

Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

Online retail giant Amazon’s decision to block Australian shoppers from its US website has prompted an outpouring of anger from its customers. However, economic statistics indicate the actual value of online purchased products entering Australia from international marketplaces is relatively low. While some shoppers will be disappointed by Amazon’s decision, others will simply find ways around the geoblock.

The federal government has been under pressure from legacy retailers like Gerry Harvey, who have called for an end to the GST exemption on overseas online purchases worth less than A$1,000.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison last year introduced legislation for this measure, arguing it will “establish a level playing field for our domestic retailers”. From July 1, 2018, GST will apply to all overseas online purchases.

The Australian Retailers Association has proposed a “vendor collection model” under which foreign retailers would collect the GST at the time of purchase and then pay it to the Australian Taxation Office.

But the fact is that these measures won’t level the playing field. Overseas online prices for many items are so low that that even if GST were added, they would still be far cheaper than they are in Australia. For example, a recent search showed Levi’s 510 jeans for A$115 at Myer, compared with A$74.85 in the United States; and a Uniqlo Women’s ultralight down jacket for A$200 here, versus A$154.10 over there.




Read more:
Three holes in Hockey’s plan to levy GST on overseas purchases


In 2017 Australians spent an estimated A$24.2 billion online. Yet this is just 7.8% of the amount spent at bricks-and-mortar shops. And more than 80% of online spending was through domestic retailers, which are subject to GST.

With only A$4.84 billion spent via overseas retailers, a quick calculation indicates that adding 10% GST to those purchases would have added A$484 million to the government’s coffers last year.

Why has Amazon blocked Australia?

Amazon has blamed the new GST rules for its decision to bar Australian shoppers, arguing that the vendor collection model would create significant operational difficulties:

While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites.

Yet rival online seller eBay seems to have managed to implement the vendor collection model without undue trouble. It looks as if Amazon, which generated almost US$180 billion in sales last year, views the Australian market as just too small to justify the hassle. In fact, one study has estimated that Amazon will only gain a 16% share of Australian online retail sales by 2025.

Amazon’s view on Australia’s red tape may well be right. Modelling by Australia Post suggests that if the postal service were tasked with assessing and collecting the GST on international deliveries, it would cost almost A$900 million to collect A$300 million in revenue.

Who are the winners and losers?

As mentioned above, Amazon probably won’t suffer much from cutting loose its relatively small Australian customer base. But what about the customers themselves, and Amazon’s competitors?

When Amazon Australia (not to be confused with the now geoblocked US site) launched in December 2017, just in time for the Christmas rush, 3.8 million Australians visited the site during that month alone. But this is well short of the 11 million Australian shoppers who visit eBay each month.

Amazon’s withdrawal will undoubtedly benefit eBay and other sites such as Alibaba, which look set to attract shoppers who are still hungry for an international bargain.

While some dedicated fans of Amazon’s US site are understandably annoyed, most customers simply won’t notice the difference. Customers will be automatically directed to Amazon’s domestic offering, which claims to stock more than 60 million products.




Read more:
Amazon in Australia might not be the end of retail as we know it


For Australia’s traditional retailers, the playing field still isn’t really “level”, even without access to Amazon US. Don’t expect everyone to suddenly start banging down Harvey Norman’s doors come July 1. In reality the impact will be minimal.

How to get around the geoblock

For the very determined shopper who demands access to Amazon US, there are naturally ways around geoblocking technology, such as re-shipping services, freight forwarders, and VPNs.

The ConversationBut given that the average online shopping basket was worth A$145 in 2017, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to avoid paying A$14.50.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: why Wesfarmers is ditching Coles



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Whoever buys Coles will have a huge store network.
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Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

Coles will soon be an independent company again, with more than 800 supermarkets, nearly 900 liquor stores, 700 service stations, and 88 hotels.

Spinning off Coles is a great example of how good Wesfarmers is at entering and exiting markets. Buying the ailing Coles in 2007 was a smart move.

But the supermarket sector has changed dramatically in the past decade in relation to intense competition, with the growth of discounters like Aldi and the emergence of price-conscious shoppers who simply shop across multiple brands of supermarket each week.

Customers have benefited from price deflation, but it is a different story for suppliers.

The nature of these relationships has regularly been criticised and investigated.

A new owner will bring these matters back to the forefront. Ultimately, private equity firms and global businesses only purchase companies and enter markets where considerable return on investments can be made.




Read more:
Why Australian supermarkets continue to look to the UK for leadership


Cash cows and dogs

Most first-year business students deal with these conundrums and often rely on simple models like the classic Boston Consulting Group’s Matrix.

Boston Consulting Group’s growth share matrix.
CC BY

Businesses move around in these quadrants, depending upon external, macro-level impacts. A stronger Kmart will push Target from a “Star” into the “Dog” category very quickly.

Wesfarmers has successfully moved Coles from “Dog” status 10 years ago to “Cash Cow”, but profits have slid in recent years.

Coles also accounts for a staggering 61% of the capital deployed in Wesfarmers’ entire portfolio (which includes other retail brands, industrial, mining and energy businesses), but contributes just 34% of earnings before interest and tax.

The supermarket sector has seen a huge increase in competition in recent years, with the growth of discounters like Aldi. There is also a possibility of more international competition from the German discounters Kaufland and Lidl.

This month, Fred Harrison, chief executive of Ritchies, Australia’s largest chain of independent supermarkets, called for an end to the “price wars”. Metcash, a wholesaler for independent supermarkets, recently delivered a loss in its food and grocery business.

Coles itself has signalled a move away from its strategy of slashing prices.




Read more:
Down, down but not different: Australia’s supermarkets in a race to the bottom


Other than putting cash back on Wesfarmers’ balance sheet, spinning off Coles creates two long-term revenue streams for Wesfarmers.

To begin with, Wesfarmers will aim to a hold 20% stake in Coles. So some profits will continue to flow back to Wesfarmers.

More importantly, Wesfarmers intends to retain “substantial” ownership in Flybuys, Coles’ loyalty program.

The value of loyalty programs is best highlighted by Woolworths’ purchase of Quantium in 2013 for almost A$20 million.

These programs hold a vast amount of data, giving Wesfarmers huge customer analytics capabilities with which to tailor promotions, product ranges and store layouts across all of its other retail businesses.

The new owners of Coles will also be eager to access this data.

Who will buy Coles?

While Wesfarmers will remain a minor shareholder, there will be plenty of interest in the majority share among private equity investors and international players (such as Walmart and Carrefour).

Walmart entered Canada through an acquisition, Mexico through a 50-50 joint venture with Cifra (Mexico’s largest retailer), and Brazil through a joint 60-40 (in favour of Walmart) with Lojas Americana.

Likewise, French retail giant Carrefour has adopted a range of approaches to international expansion, including joint ventures and acquisitions.




Read more:
Can Coles (Fly) buy shopper loyalty?


Ultimately, private equity investors and global businesses will only buy companies and enter markets where they can make a considerable return on investment.

Considering the declining margins in supermarkets, driven by low-cost operators like Aldi, it is likely that this will be done by squeezing suppliers.

On the other hand, a new Coles will no longer be constrained by Wesfarmers’ conglomerate ownership model. One of the challenges faced by large conglomerates is “strategic inertia”.

The ConversationA separate business will lead to faster innovation, greater investment and potentially another battle for market share between Australia’s two big supermarkets.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Down down’ and ‘cheap cheap’ are gone gone: why supermarkets are moving away from price



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Coles was once the market leader thanks to its ‘down down’ low pricing marketing.
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Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology and Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania

On January 26, 2011, Coles fired the first shot in what would soon be dubbed the “supermarket price wars” by reducing the price of its own-brand milk to A$1 per litre. Woolworths fired back, triggering seven years of intense price competition.

But now Coles has waved the white flag, indicating a move away from price-based marketing, to a focus on other attributes, such as sustainability, local produce and community.

Coles’ new ad campaign.

Research shows if price is the main selling point, shopper loyalty decreases and customers become more conscious of price. Price wars are also costly for retailers.

While operational costs (wages, rent, bills) remain fixed or go up, prices can’t keep coming down. You eventually run out of margin.

Coles recent half yearly results reflect this, with a drop in earnings of 14.1% from A$920 million to A$790 million.

In contrast, Woolworths announced an 11.1% increase in earnings for their supermarket business. But Woolworths dropped their “cheap, cheap” price cutting campaign nearly two years ago.




Read more:
Down, down but not different: Australia’s supermarkets in a race to the bottom


Other retailers also get caught in the cross fire of price cutting. Case in point is Aussie Farmers Direct, which fell into administration this week saying they were:

…no longer able to compete against the domination of the major two supermarkets.

While it may be overly simplistic to blame the two big supermarkets for the downfall of Aussie Farmers Direct, price conscious consumers and thin grocery margins certainly contributed.

How this strategy came about

Supermarkets are now looking beyond price to stand out.

Both Coles and Woolworths are very similar in the brands they offer, prices, layouts, weekly specials and online channels. The move away from price gets shoppers thinking about what is unique to each chain.

So, rather than price, the focus has shifted to service quality, social programs and connecting with the community.




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Unit pricing saves money but is the forgotten shopping tool


Shoppers who are continually exposed to loyalty program logos, may eventually stop noticing these logos, or “switch off”. This is because of a behavioural tendency called “habituation”.

What these new strategies are trying to sell

So, if Coles are no longer selling themselves on price, what are they selling?

Coles’ new approach is more subtle, selling themselves through aspirational stories and employing classic advertising techniques to do it.

These techniques are used in advertising to convey positive feelings and emotions associated with a particular experience. A simple way to achieve this in advertising is to feature people telling their own stories – as seen in the new Coles advert launched this week.

Woolworths ad campaign.

With the Commonwealth Games near, both supermarkets are also featuring sports stars in their marketing. Woolworths new campaign features athletes and their connection with fresh food, positions the company, once again, as “Australia’s Fresh Food People”.

Meanwhile, Coles have partnered with Uncle Toby’s for their Sports for Schools campaign. Their advertisements feature an array of young, fit, attractive and successful athletes linking the athletic success with the purchase of products from Coles.

By moving away from price and focusing on a story telling strategy, both supermarkets can engage consumers with a process called “internalisation”. This is where people accept the endorser’s position on an issue as their own.

Internalisation is a powerful psychological mechanism because even if the source used in the campaign is forgotten, the internalised attitude usually remains. Price doesn’t create this effect.

While food prices won’t necessarily go up any time soon, consumers shouldn’t expect to see any further significant price drops. Instead, Coles and Woolworths will draw attention to other important attributes.

The ConversationFaced with the expansion of Aldi across South Australia and Western Australia and the entry of German supermarket Kaufland, Coles has recognised they can’t keep fighting a battle on price alone.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology and Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Amazon poses a double threat to Australian retailers



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Amazon is a low-margin retailer sitting on other higher-margin businesses.
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David Bond, University of Technology Sydney

E-commerce giant Amazon has struck a deal to acquire Whole Foods Market, an American supermarket chain with more than 400 stores. The move has put even more pressure on Australian retailers as Amazon sets up shop in Australia.

But the real threat to Australian retail lies in Amazon’s business model. It is a low-margin retailer that owns several other highly profitable and fast-growing businesses, such as cloud services. These other businesses can and do cross-subsidise its retail operations.

JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman have suggested they will compete with Amazon on price, but given the cost structure of Australian retailers this may not be possible.

Amazon is very lean

While Amazon is extremely large, it is very lean. In 2016 alone, Amazon sold US$94.7 billion of product globally. But the cost of buying (or manufacturing) these products was US$88.3 billion, leading to a gross profit of just US$6.4 billion.

This means the mark-up Amazon puts on its products is very small. For example, in 2016 Amazon’s gross profit margin (gross profit divided by sales revenue) was just 6.8%. JB Hi-Fi had a margin of 21.9%, Woolworths 26.8%, Wesfarmers 31.0%, Harvey Norman 31.4%, Myer 42.1% and Super Retail Group a whopping 43.4%.

But Australian retailers also face high operational costs (wages, advertising, marketing and leases). The two largest, Wesfarmers and Woolworths, both have operating expenses in excess of 24.0% of sales revenue, while Myer, Super Retail Group and Harvey Norman are all around 40.0%. JB Hi-Fi is an outlier at just 16.3%.

Another important measure to consider is the net profit margin. This shows what percentage of each dollar of sales the company ultimately earns after all costs (including tax) are factored in. Net margin is calculated by dividing net profit after tax by sales revenue.

The net profit margins for Australian retailers are, for the most part, quite low – around 2-3%. This means they don’t have much room to move on price. If they drop prices, many will become unprofitable. So even if Amazon doesn’t start a price war in Australia, its business model is such that prices will be extremely competitive.

Amazon has other businesses

Most Australian retailers are only retailers. Some of the larger groups, such as Myer and Wesfarmers, operate across a few industries. But they ultimately still earn nearly all their revenue from buying and then re-selling physical products.

Amazon, on the other hand, has a profitable and booming services business. Its “services sales” represents about US$41.3 billion in sales, or 30% of its revenue. This covers third-party seller fees (Amazon charges other companies for access to its marketplace and warehouses), Amazon Web Services (a fast-growing provider of cloud services), digital subscriptions, advertising services and co-branded credit card fees.

In its 2016 annual report, Amazon reported US$12.2 billion in revenue from Amazon Web Services alone. The scariest thing for Australian retailers is that this has increased four-fold since 2013, and is responsible for nearly 75% of Amazon’s operating profit.

Amazon, then, not only has a large, low-margin online retail offering, but is supported by a fast-growing, high-margin cloud service.

Finding new ways to compete

Most Australian retailers will need to look at other ways of saving costs if they are to remain competitive with Amazon. For example, Coles and Woolworths can put even more pressure on suppliers to reduce their costs. Coles has recently signalled that it will pursue this strategy. And all of our retailers can try to reduce the cost of leases, and shift or reduce staff.

The small margins of most Australian retailers mean reducing prices alone isn’t a viable long-term strategy, especially as Amazon Web Services gains steam and Amazon is profitable in other countries.

Not every retailer will come under the same pressure, though. In the short term at least, groceries are still likely to be purchased in stores. But the same can’t be said of clothing and electronics. This means Woolworths and Wesfarmers should not be as concerned as Myer, Super Retail Group and JB Hi-Fi.

The ConversationThe answer for retailers may be to look past price and compete on other aspects of the shopping experience, such as convenience or customer service. But only time will tell if that’s what the Australian public wants.

David Bond, Senior Lecturer, Accounting Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet the man behind New York’s other billion dollar internet company. This one makes money


Gigaom

The technology industry these days has taken on the veneer of a glam-rock festival — lots of venture capitalists, founders and executives taking center stage and enjoying the bright lights — or quips on social media and hamming it up on video shows. And perhaps that’s why someone like Chad Dickerson, chief executive officer of Etsy, a Brooklyn, New York-based global marketplace for arts and crafts goods, is a breath of fresh air. A quiet man who speaks very softly, Dickerson is an unlikely success story in the razzle-dazzle world of ecommerce.

Dickerson, who started his life in the media world (he worked for Salon), and spent time at Yahoo, ended up joining Etsy in 2008 as its chief technology officer. Etsy, which was started in 2005 by Jared Tarbell and Rob Kalin, had gone through a series of management upheavals and from the outside felt like a temperamental…

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Islamic Groups in Indonesia Demonstrate against Worship in Mall


Permission for church services in shopping center not necessary, rights advocates say.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, December 2 (CDN) — After closing churches in West Java, South Sulawesi, Sumatra, and other provinces, hard-line Islamic organizations are now attempting to stop Christian worship in or near shopping malls.

Dozens of people from Islamic organizations demonstrated in front of the Gandaria City Mall in south Jakarta on Nov. 19, protesting worship of an unnamed church at the shopping center. After about an hour, mall management in the presence of the sector police chief spoke with demonstrators, who said they opposed the services because there is a Quranic boarding school nearby.

“In front of the mall is a Quranic school that has been there for dozens of years,” said demonstrator Hamdani, according to Poskota newspaper.

The head of the mall, identified only as Ridwan, denied that there was any church or worship service there. He told Poskota that the demonstrators were misinformed and that he had resolved the matter with them.

Jeirry Sumampouw, executive secretary of the diakonia department of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches, said that no one has the right to forbid worship in a mall. He said a mall is a public space that can be used for any purpose, including worship.

“A mall is multifunctional and can be used in any manner, as long as it is good and doesn’t disturb things,” he said. “The government must be firm with demonstrators who tried to forbid worship services at Gandaria City Mall, because if nothing is done, this can spread to other places.”

The difficulty of getting building permits for churches has caused an increase of worship in malls, Sumampouw said.

“Because of this, many churches are using malls as places of worship,” he said.

He said the state should protect every citizen that worships, especially those in malls or shopping centers.

“Mall managers are often frightened so much that they will forbid worship activities in their malls,” he added.

Citing the Quranic school as a reason to forbid worship at the Gandaria City Mall is without legal basis and highly subjective, Sumampouw said. Raw emotion without consideration of justice motivates those who wish to stop Christian worship, he said, adding that they merely oppose any appearance of Christianity.

“Remember, this is not a country of one religion only,” he said. “These motives are wrong. The reasons to forbid worship are fabricated.”

Sumampouw said opponents’ motives go beyond mere anti-Christian sentiment – there are hoodlums who are intolerant of minority religions, including those who extort money, seize land, and oppose Christians because of personal grievances.

Saor Siagian, coordinator of the Religious Freedom Defense Team, said that Islamic prohibition of worship in malls urgently needed to be addressed.

“If demonstrators are able to prohibit worship activities, it means that they are able to forbid constitutional rights of citizens, because the constitution states that every citizen is free to practice his faith,” he said.

Forcing worship to stop, Siagian said, not only violates the constitution but is also a criminal offense.

“Because of this, the police must act decisively,” he said.

Demonstrators must understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, he said, because no one has the right to forbid people to practice their faith in Indonesia.

“Because of this, I urge any Christian congregation that is the object of a demonstration to report it to police and lodge a complaint that there is a threat of force,” he said. “It is also fair to see if the demonstrators have a permit or have notified police. There should be no illegal demonstrations.”

Siagian advised all congregations that as citizens they must not give in to vigilantes, including “anyone wearing a robe,” a reference to Muslim extremists from the Islamic Defenders Front and other hard-line groups that wear long white robes.

There is no need to obtain a permit to worship in a mall under Indonesian law, he said. If a worship service took place at Gandaria City Mall, Saor said, the congregation could continue to meet there.

“If a congregation bows to the wishes of a mob, then it is the same as vigilante rule, which violates the constitution,” he said.

Mall managers are not obliged to reject Christian worship, he said, because Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution states that every citizen is free to worship. Siagian added that if Christians were forbidden to worship once a week in a mall, then demonstrators need to be consistent and press for a ban of all forms of worship at malls, including Islamic prayers said five times a day.

“Those would also need to be forbidden,” he said.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice president of the Setara Institute for Justice and Peace, said he was surprised at opposition to worship at Gandaria City Mall. Malls are public spaces where many different activities may take place, he said.

“Because it’s a public space, there is no relationship between permits and worship,” he said. “It’s different if you want to erect a church [building] on your own property.”

Naipospos said churches are meeting in malls because obtaining permits is so difficult. The government and the Interfaith Harmony Forum should quickly resolve the conflict, he said.

“I fear that this incident will become a model that will be imitated by intolerant gangs in other places,” he said.

The demonstrators’ reasoning that worship cannot be held because of the nearby Quranic school is not rational, Naipospos said. Because a mall is a public place, he said, it is not beholden to any particular community or religion.

If there happened to be a worship service in Gandaria Mall, Bonar would urge them to continue meeting.

“Let’s not bow to any intolerant hoodlums,” he said. “We don’t need to worry.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Christmas commercialism combated by "Advent Conspiracy"


A growing number of Christian churches are joining forces with a grass-roots movement known as the Advent Conspiracy, which is seeking to "do away with the frenzied activity and extravagant gift-giving of a commercial Christmas," reports Thaddeus M. Baklinski, LifeSiteNews.com.

The group was founded by Portland pastor Rick McKinley, who with a group of fellow pastors realized that their own, and their congregations’, focus during the time of Advent revolved more around secular consumerism than preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ.

"What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists," McKinley observed.

"And when it’s all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?"

"None of us like Christmas," McKinley said in a Time.com report, adding, "That’s sort of bad if you’re a pastor. It’s the shopping, the going into debt, the worrying that if I don’t spend enough money, someone will think I don’t love them."

McKinley, whose church donates money to dig wells in developing countries through Living Water International and other organizations, saw that a fraction of the money Americans spend at retailers in the month of December could supply the entire world with clean water.

As a result he and his friends embarked on a plan to urge their congregations to spend less on presents for friends and family, and to consider donating the money they saved to support practical and tangible charitable works.

"If more Christians changed how they thought about giving at Christmas," he argued, "the holiday could be transformative in a religious and practical sense."

McKinley observed that at first church members were uncertain. "Some people were terrified," McKinley recalled. "They said, ‘My gosh, you’re ruining Christmas. What do we tell our kids?’"

Soon though, the idea caught on and McKinley found that not only were people "relieved to be given permission to slow down and buy less" but were "expressing their love through something more meaningful than a gift card. Once church members adjusted to this new conception of Christmas, they found that they loved it."

According to the Time.com report the Advent Conspiracy movement has exploded, counting hundreds of churches on four continents and in at least 17 countries as participants.

The Advent Conspiracy video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube and the movement boasts nearly 45,000 fans on Facebook.

To find out more about the Advent Conspiracy, click here.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

TERRORISTS CONTROL LARGE PORTIONS OF PAKISTANI TERRITORY


Serious charges about security in Pakistan have been provided to ANS by a reliable source in Pakistan speaking on condition of anonymity, reports Jeremy Reynalds, correspondent for ASSIST News Service.

The anonymous source said in an e-mail that Pakistan’s government needs to make clear its real intentions.

He said that while Pakistan tells India, the U.S. and the rest of the world that the country doesn’t allow terrorists to operate internally, the Taliban has successfully consolidated its control in the Swat Valley during the last year.

The source charged the Taliban in Swat with an ongoing reign of terror.

He said, “They have banned women from the marketplace, killed dozens of innocent people everyday and left their bodies in the street or hanging on a pole in a busy shopping area, some of them headless.”

He said among other atrocities, Taliban members in Swat have also “bombed 200 schools, banned girls’ education in the whole valley (preventing 80,000 girls from going to school), killed politicians, policeman and their relatives, destroyed dozens of homes, destroyed barber shops where men had their beards trimmed, blown up music shops and threatened bus drivers with suicide bombers if they do not stop playing music on their buses.”

The source told ANS that police officers are rarely seen in public and when they travel, they have a military escort. In addition, he said, the Peshawar High Court has said it plans to close its courts in Swat because of an inability to function under current conditions. There is also a plan, he said, as a result of pressure from the Taliban, to legalize Shariah (Islamic) law in much of the province.

“In light of this,” the source said, “people need to know what the prime minister, president and others in leadership positions mean when they say that they will not allow terrorists to operate on its soil. If they are so concerned about other countries respecting their sovereignty, they should explain to the rest of us why they allow these evil men to continue to flagrantly violate the constitution of Pakistan.”

The source asked, “When will these leaders, who were elected less than a year ago, finally decide to take a stand and protect the very people who elected them to office?”

The source concluded his comments by saying the international media need to put a spotlight on this issue, and start asking the government hard questions.

ANS discovered that some media are already drawing attention to the situation. In a story by Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich in Britain’s Independent newspaper, the writers reported that Taliban members in the Swat Valley are issuing “wanted lists” for four dozen people they plan to bring before makeshift Shariah courts.

The Independent said that in one of his “notorious” radio broadcasts, Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah named politicians and government officials “wanted” by the militants.

“These people encouraged military operations in the area and are responsible for the killings of Taliban and civilians,” the Independent reported the cleric said.

The Independent said the list’s creation is the latest threat from the militants who now control more than three-quarters of the Swat Valley, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated tourist areas.

In recent weeks, the Independent said, their brutality has increased with a series of public executions and the issuing of a number of edicts.

The Independent reported that a spokesman for the Taliban said the wanted list was drawn up following a meeting chaired by Fazlullah.

“All of them will have to appear before the Taliban court, or they will face action,” the Independent reported Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Swat Taliban, told The News newspaper.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

Christian Confusion Collected


Today, on the way home from work, I decided to do a little shopping. So I went and bought this and then that. I then thought, ‘Well, I’m over this way I might as well pop into that new Christian bookshop and see what it is like.’

So I arrived and popped in for a look – it is quite a set-up. It is all very impressive and has a very well researched approach to marketing in the bookshop setting. This mob could sure teach some of the ‘more secular’ bookshops a thing or two about setting up a store to entice people in and to buy.

Then the moment of truth arrived – I began to wander (or is that ‘wonder’) among the bookshelves and view what was on offer. It didn’t take me long to think that here was a wonderful example of ‘Christian Confusion Collected.’ Is the person/persons/group behind this bookshop a Christian (or a group of Christians) or just a seller of books under the collective title of ‘Christian Books.’ Is this person Protestant or Roman Catholic, Evangelical or Liberal, Reformed or Arminian, Charismatic/Pentecostal or … ? The question has to be asked, because books of all types were here represented. Perhaps the title ‘Christian’ was enough to get a book on the shelves here.

In a short time I had found a book on Mother Teresa, one by Karl Marx and a whole host of other uncomfortably united authors – you could almost feel the tension as they each jostled for shelf space. There was Mother Teresa, warming herself by the fire of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, with all her innocence and saintly arraignment for all to see. What an odd group of fellows were some of these authors.

Alongside the foolish waste of natural resources that is the Purpose Driven Church, was a book entitled, ‘This little church went to market – Is the modern church reaching out or selling out (which I actually bought for a read).’ What an interesting juxtaposition there for all to see ~ one wonders if the incongruity of the two books was picked up by the one filling the shelves – yes, I agree, unlikely.

Then of course my mind turned to the customers – what a pious looking group of people, pontificating on the excellence of the goods on offer. I found myself relating more to the girl who couldn’t contain her amusement at some of the titles she saw lining the shelves – a fellow vulgar vagrant perhaps, not yet filled with the spirit of the place.

So to end my visit it was necessary to make my way past the various trinkets, obviously there for those customers with more indulgent tastes, figuring I had spent enough time in my present world purgatory and pay the bill for some other misfit occupants of the store – the book warning of the market driven approach to ‘church,’ a book on unconditional election and another on John Wyclif, who seemed to peer out from the cover of the book, seemingly embarrassed by being among those with whom he was sharing a shelf – perhaps it was time for John to re-establish Lollardism in another setting than that to which he was used to. Still, I had liberated these three books from their imprisonment and they were soon to join brethren of a similar mind in other shelves at another place where their fellowship would be much sweeter indeed.

Hugh Latimer - Burnt at the stake as described in Foxe's Book of Martyrs
ABOVE: Hugh Latimer … Burnt at the Stake Under Queen Mary
(As described in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)

To look at Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs