Online Should be Saving Australian Retail, Not Killing It

Recent financial reports regarding our biggest retailers in Australia paint a picture of dire straits. David Jones, Myer and Harvey Norman all publish concerns that profits may be down as much as 15 percent by the end of the year and this is on the back of a previous poor year.

Such bad financial news is not that uncommon in today’s current financial climate. All over the world businesses are struggling and looking at ways to maintain profitability – some local importers even going to extreme measures to form cartels, potentially alienating customers in the process.

It would also be of little surprise that the previous mentioned businesses receive less than 1 percent of their total sales from online. Which should make you wonder; if online retail is predicted by NAB Online Retail survey to keep growing as much as 20 percent year-on-year over the next few years, why is there not more interest and emphasis on online? As a shareholder in these businesses shouldn’t you be demanding online effort and mobile phone presence over and above the $300 million store upgrades?

Macy’s, the giant US retailer, recently announced a retail sales increase of 7.3 percent for comparable store sales for the first quarter of the year, with online sales raising by 35 percent – some incredible sales figures indeed from an economy often touted as not even being as strong as ours at the moment.

Overall online sales for Macy’s are estimated to be between 7-8 percent of total retail sales. It is little wonder that Macy’s are able to survive tough economic conditions better than some of our local traders. Macy’s, perhaps through tougher economic conditions and perhaps due to increased competition, has recently taken on some drastic changes to the business to try and ensure profitability and long term survival. Integrating operations, consolidating divisions, providing customer-centric local initiatives and developing an e-commerce business and online order fulfilment have been the schemes implemented to help achieve this growth.

So why can’t it be done locally? Why do big bricks-and-mortar traders have to continually offer tired and old arguments about not moving online and not embracing the future? When we look over the world to other well established bricks-and-mortar sellers (some of the sales percentage from their online efforts are very impressive, John Lewis in the UK over 16 percent, Saks over 9 percent and Marks & Spencer nearly 6 percent) and will surely continue to grow and add not only profits, but brand value and an engagement with the next generations of shoppers.

The worry is that the longer change takes to occur the more overseas sellers will strategically target Australian consumers and the more potential job losses we might see. To the bricks-and-mortar guys I say, “Online isn’t the enemy”. It might actually be the best friend you have.

3 thoughts on “Online Should be Saving Australian Retail, Not Killing It

    • Mia
    • 4th June

    I think you’re missing the fundamental reasons why online isn’t successful from local business’. They have to abide by local trading laws, taxes and duties where the UK sites in particular do not. One of (if not the) single largest online retailer into Oz markets is Asos. Why would they focus so heavily and even go as far as to make site if not for the ability to exploit the market. Disappointing you bias your argument in such a way, or are unable to see the trends in the markets you speak of. I don’t disagree that local business needs to change but to rally shareholders against the companies is very sensationalist to put it nicely.

    • Chris Morley
    • 5th June

    Hi Mia,
    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. One of the reasons ASOS entered the Australian market is because of lack of local options – local traders have been typically slow to embrace online, hence a demand exists for variety of options online – and the longer local traders take to emerge online the more you will see overseas based traders target Australian consumers. It may be a little sensationalist to rally shareholders (and sometimes writers need to be). Myer recently spent $300 million upgrading their flagship Melbourne store – in a time where traditional retail is declining and online is growing at double digits; if I was a shareholder I would be questioning such an outlay.

  1. Very, Very, interesting article. Our team really believes that Australian Retailers can use a combination of “Bricks and Mortar” and “Clicks and Mortar” to beat the “on-line only” retailers.
    We are convinced that there are simple, cost effective ways in which the on-line technologies can enhance the existing businesses. The only trouble is that retailers have to change the way that they think about using the on-line concepts. We are making headway into this region with some spectaular results. Exciting Times!!


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