What Click Frenzy reveals about our risk averse enterprise culture

It was interesting, though not unsurprising, to see the media coverage on the launch of Click Frenzy last week. Click Frenzy Australia was an idea hatched in less than eight weeks to harness the groundswell of enthusiasm Australian shoppers are finally showing to online shopping. It was based on the similar ‘Cyber Monday’ event in the US.

The Australian Financial Review and SmartCompany took a balanced approach to the high number of online shoppers wanting to take part in Click Frenzy, which led to the site crashing, and both outlets pointed out that the organisers need to improve the efficacy of the website for future events.

The rest of the media focused on what a huge failure Click Frenzy was and pointed the finger at the man behind it: Grant Arnott, and his many interests – his water skiing, helicopter flying, and many entrepreneurial business ventures – and not in a positive way.

This coverage cast Arnott in the light of an enthusiastic amateur simply because the site he and his team built crashed under greater shopper demand than they had envisaged. Remember, according to mainstream media, Australian retailers provide a poor online shopping experience for consumers, so online retailing hasn’t taken off here like it has in other countries.

So, the Click Frenzy organisers planned for up to 500,000 shoppers to hit the site at any one time. Not many Australian retail sites handle 500,000 shoppers transacting all at once. The Click Frenzy site reportedly peaked at more than two million shoppers trying to access it at the same time. And it was reported a failure.

It’s been said many times over many years that Australian culture doesn’t support risk-taking, innovation and all things new. It’s also been said many times for many years that we are slow to adopt new ideas until they are proven. The hubris around how late and how poor the Australian retailing sector has been to adopt online retailing has been loud, damning, judgmental to the point of a celebration of the art of demeaning, and parades those retailers that try, whether successful or not, in a pale light.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that few Australian business people are willing to take as much risk as other country’s business communities when it comes to online retailing. Imagine if Australian retailers had had a go at online retailing in any meaningful way five years ago. Doing that would have been like turning up to the car park at a V8 race in one of the first models of the Toyota Prius. If you valued your life and reputation you wouldn’t do it.

There are two types of risk in life: operational risk and social risk. Operational risk in a business venture, construction project or government policy is about failing to deliver what it set out to. Operational risk is about time and money and whether things work. Social risk is the human downside for the people who choose to lead that change. It’s about embarrassment, failure and public humiliation in the eyes of friends, family and strangers. It’s the “I told you it wouldn’t work” and “I see Billy stuffed up that shop/website he opened”.

And with the benefits of social media and the internet, the aspect of social risk is not only published in traditional media, but “clicked into a frenzy” by cyber experts with names like eric72, slasher and OMGthatwasdumb.

Why do I write about this? Here’s why: American, Spanish, German and Chinese retailers don’t operate in the same anti-risk/publish failure culture as Australian operators do. There are hundreds of thousands of people in northern California and south-western China taking risks with new online retail initiatives every day.

They celebrate success and take risk. If one idea doesn’t work they learn from it and make it better, or ditch it fast and try another way. Our international retailers face time and money risk, not personal humiliation risk. These retailers have no need to agree to interviews with, or buy advertising space from, traditional Australian media where there may be a greater focus on accentuating the negative. Nor do they need to appear on websites and have to face the ‘feedback’ from anonymous ‘experts’.

If we want a vibrant retail sector with Australian-grown brands, both online and bricks and mortar, then we must support Australians who take risks. And that includes Grant Arnott. If we can’t do that, then look forward to a market dominated by successful non-Australian retailers like ALDI and Zara, and… wait for Walmart to arrive.

As CROSSMARK CEO, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia and across the world. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for businesses in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands.

CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.

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