Technology

Are Aussie retailers too late to the online shopping party?

Richard Parker /

You’ve got to hand it to the Yanks, they don’t do things by halves. They even found a way to bring Black Friday – a day of shoving, shopping and (occasionally) stabbing – to the internet. It’s called Cyber Monday, and it’s the one day a year when US stores offer the same ridiculous savings online as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

With the spread of online shopping to our island nation (the huge online UK fashion retailer ASOS even launched their latest summer collection here, so strong has the Australian reception been), it’s only natural that local retailers would try and secure a slice of the pie for themselves.

And so we created the Australian Cyber Monday. We called it Click Frenzy and it was a complete and utter fiasco. But I’ll get to that later. First, a little bit of background.

Australian retailers were late to the online shopping party. Not fashionably late either, but full-blown-cake’s-been-eaten-only-one-drunk-guy-left-on-the-dance-floor late. Local shops, especially the larger, more confident department stores (yes I’m looking at you Myer and David Jones), seemed to think online shopping was just a fad, and great customer service would always trump lower prices.

Alas, as University of Melbourne social and political lecturer Lauren Rosewarne points out, Aussie consumers got the taste for not paying Australian retail prices and the balance of power shifted pretty quickly.

In a post on abc.net.au Rosewarne explores the demise of department stores and asks the question:

What kind of businesses can afford to keep open massive buildings on Melbourne’s busiest thoroughfares just to allow people the luxury of browsing?

The answer, I would argue, is not many. And it’s because so many Australian retailers agree that Click Frenzy was created.

It was supposed to be ‘the sale that stopped the nation’, but all it achieved was reinforcing the widely held belief that Australian retailers just don’t get it. Local businesses should be looking overseas for inspiration; they’re the ones who educated Aussie consumers on the benefits of online shopping, after all.

Instead we got Click Frenzy, an odd, Frankenstein’s monster of a coordination effort. An idea that might work for a collection of smaller retailers (see Etsy), Click Frenzy (or #clickfail as the ever-watchful cynics of the twittersphere immediately dubbed it) lured consumers to a single digital marketplace to shop the big names. The result was not only individual stalls, but the entire online bazaar, crumbling under the weight of the numbers involved.

The_Fail

Social Media reacted predictably quickly to Click Frenzy’s failure

In order to even see the specials on offer you had to first provide an email address and phone number. Writers from the Herald-Sun revealed that consumers could be bombarded with advertising and promotions for up to five years as a consequence of signing up to Click Frenzy. This is perhaps the silver lining to Click Frenzy’s cloud: it was hugely successful as data-gathering exercise for retailers.

I hope it’s not too late for Aussie retailers. The barriers to entry in terms of costs of building a decent eCommerce website have come down hugely, but at the same time fierce overseas competition means that the backdrop to ASOS.com’s success – the untapped opportunity that was the mid-noughties online landscape – has changed hugely.

Nowadays, the barrier to entry is the serious advertising dollar required to get noticed – see homegrown online fashion retailer The Iconic, for example. For smaller Australian businesses though, online shopping (and I include mobile commerce under this catch-all) still offers a huge opportunity.

However, until more effective measures than Click Frenzy are introduced there’s little chance of local stores building organically to dethrone the overseas merchants. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think ASOS are having a sale.

Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.

 

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