SmartCompany’s challenge: Show us the retail magic

Good news, consumers of Australia. David Jones has a new online retail store – and it’s an absolute stunner.

That was how last week’s headline was supposed to look, if the executives at DJs had their way. Their new site looks just OK and does represent a big step into the brave new world of online retailing for the austere department store chain.

But this is 2012, not 1999. Forgive me if I don’t get too excited that one our oldest retailers has just managed to get its act together online. Paul Zahra, a DJs executive since 1998, should be sheepish rather than celebratory.

Still, let’s not be too hard on Zahra – his great rival Myer has only got its online store to an acceptable level this year and plenty of other listed retailers – including successful ones like RCG Corporation, the company behind Athlete’s Foot,  and of course Harvey Norman – have only pressed “go” on serious online offerings in the last 12 months.

And don’t think consumers haven’t noticed.

While many of Australia’s great fortunes and businesses are built on retail, I don’t think there’s a harder sector to try and make a quid in. The pressure, the hours, the margins, the vulnerability to things you can’t control, like consumer confidence – retailing is not for the faint-hearted, and I tip my hat to each and every one of them.

My empathy and support even extends to the GST-free threshold issue. While I know that putting the GST on overseas goods under $1,000 won’t stop people shopping online overseas – the price differentials are still too big – I do have sympathy for the level playing field argument.

But if the comments we receive on our recent stories about the retail sector are anything to go by, consumers have little empathy left for retailers.

They see the retail sector’s sudden love of “omni-channel” selling as too little and way too late.

They see the whinging over the GST threshold as an attempt to whack online shoppers with an extra tax slug in what is a global market.

They see David Jones announce price reductions up of to 50% through “price harmonisation” with overseas suppliers and they wonder why Australian shoppers were copping high prices for so long.

Picture it like a love affair. At some level, Australians seem to have fallen out of love with their retailers. Consumers have moved on and while retailers are crying “I can change, I can change”, the message isn’t getting through.

We think it’s time to change that. We want to restart the romance.

SmartCompany knows there are lots of clever, innovative, experienced retailers out there who are doing great things.

So over the next few weeks, we are going hunting. With the help of our retail experts Kevin Moore and Brian Walker we will be looking for examples of retailers who are keeping the magic alive and taking retail forward – whether it is online, in store or in new formats.

But we also want your help. We want you to give us some examples of retailers that you love who are pushing the boundaries or serving their customers well.

You can start by commenting below or by sending your examples to [email protected] .com.au.

Let’s find the retail magic!

James Thomson is a former editor of BRW’s Rich 200 and the publisher of SmartCompany and LeadingCompany.

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