A challenging local retail market did not deter some of the biggest brand names on the planet from landing on Australian soil in 2017.
From limited-edition sports shoes to designer-brand focused department stores, there were plenty of new kids on the block for SMEs to compete against in a landscape shadowed by the spectre of Amazon Australia.
Here’s a timeline of when eight of the biggest players announced they were coming Down Under this year – and what they hope to gain.
Alibaba opens Melbourne headquarters
The Chinese retail giant cemented its commitment to forming partnerships in the Australian market in February, opening its Australia and New Zealand regional headquarters in Melbourne.
The Australian operation, headed up by managing director Maggie Zhou, is now focused on a long-term strategy to bring local brands on board its Tmall sales platforms.
“Longer term, Alibaba Group’s vision for the ANZ region is to build the entire operating infrastructure needed to enable local businesses to expand globally,” Zhou said on the office’s launch earlier this year.
TK Maxx sets up shop
In March US retail giant TJK announced plans to convert 35 Trade Secret stores into TK Maxx-branded fashion outlets.
TJK bought the Trade Secrets brand in 2015 for $80 million, beginning the process of converting the stores into cut-price fashion warehouses this year.
The brand said it was hoping to capture Australian shoppers who are “extremely savvy and value orientated”, claiming there was no other similar bargain-hunter model in the local market.
JD Sports launches Melbourne flagship
Retail stalwart Hilton Seskin, founder of Rebel Sport, brought UK footwear brand JD Sports to Australia in April, determined to provide a range of “athleisure” clothing available nowhere else in the country.
The company said it wanted to dominate “the sport lifestyle market” in Australia. Reporting initial success at the Melbourne store, the brand has gone on to open another four shopfronts along the east coast since April.
Kaufland buys up real estate
German “hypermarket” Kaufland followed up its March pledge to open Australian operations by purchasing its first store sight in October.
The retailer bought the famous Le Cornu furniture store site in Adelaide for a reported $25 million, prompting retail experts to warn the supermarkets and discount department store space were in for a new type of competition.
While stores don’t appear to be set to open for some time, the retailer followed up its first purchase with a second in November, when it reportedly bought a former Bunnings site in Melbourne’s Dandenong for $16.4 million.
UK department store Debenhams says it still sees value in Australia’s challenging department store market, opening a new-concept store in Melbourne’s St Collins Lane precinct in October.
The retailer promised it could beat out competition from Myer and David Jones by delivering a seamless purchasing experience to shoppers.
Managing director Graham Dean told SmartCompany at the time of the store’s launch that the overall strategy was about “queue busting”.
JD.com unveils office plans
The largest e-commerce retailer in China by revenue announced in November that it plans to open an Australian office, with the company continuing to court Australian producers to sell through its platforms.
The company told Inside Retail last month it is looking to amp up local recruitment ahead of an Australian office launch in the “near future”.
Decathlon opens in Sydney
Australian shoppers got another option for sports and leisure purchases this week when French 0utdoor goods warehouse brand Decathlon opened its first store in New South Wales.
The company’s Australian chief executive has said shoppers should expect the retailer to feel like ‘Aldi, Ikea, Amazon and Bunnings’, with a focus on a “try before you buy” approach for the sporting goods on offer.
Amazon Australia officially launches
And of course, after months of speculation and dissection, Amazon lifted the lid on its local product offering this week.
The initial setup includes 23 product categories controlled by Amazon, as well as the Amazon Marketplace of third-party sellers. While several voices have criticised the retailer for its product offering and delivery times this week, others have warned the global giant is merely playing the long game in capturing the hearts of Australians.
“They are incredibly cunning, the greed is unlimited, and they are in control of everything they are doing,” Australian businessman Dick Smith warned this week.