The Australian retailers beating their online rivals

The Australian retailers beating their online rivals

Steeped in the traditions of old world service, it may come as a surprise to find menswear retailer Henry Bucks, which opened its first Melbourne store in 1890, engaged in a far-from-musty foray into the world of online and digital marketing.

But Henry Bucks managing director Tim Cecil says the writing is on the wall for retailers that have not adapted to the new retail environment, which is why over the past few years Henry Bucks has invested heavily in its online offerings.

“At the minimum, from a marketing perspective, you need to be in the digital space because this is where people are absorbing information. So, yes, it’s a very conscious thing and we will continue to develop that area,” Cecil tells SmartCompany.

Australian retailers such as Henry Bucks, lifestyle retailer Deus Ex Machina and stationery brand Smiggle have embraced the lessons of the digital age and started to develop an effective “omni-channel” offering, leveraging their bricks-and mortar presence while successfully playing the online game.

SmartCompany spoke to Tim Cecil of Henry Bucks, Deus Ex Machina general manager Ben Monroe and retail experts Brian Walker and Kevin Moore about how smart Australian retailers have weathered online and overseas competition to emerge as potential global retail players.

Having a strong brand voice

Deus Ex Machina co-founder Dare Jennings knows how to create a brand that resonates with its customers. As the founder of Mambo, he created a retail brand that evoked the salty irreverence of Australia’s surf culture.

Deus general manager Ben Monroe says Jennings’ fingerprints are visible on Deus, a company that successfully dips into products and services as diverse as customised motorbikes, cafes and apparel.

“I guess, given Dare’s history in creating Mambo many years ago, the same philosophy somewhat extends through to Deus and the people who have been involved in it,” Monroe tells SmartCompany.

“Deus is more about an idea, an engaging idea that brings about a natural enthusiasm, almost spontaneous enthusiasm, for getting together community and celebrating culture. Woven into that are products, events and ideas of Deus branded pieces – it’s a lifestyle brand in that sense,” he says.

The chairman of retail consultancy firm Crossmark Asia-Pacific Holdings, Kevin Moore, says Deus speaks naturally to its mostly middle-aged male customer base.

“People are attracted to the honesty, the authenticity. It started with 40-50-something blokes saying, ‘I remember Dare from when I was a youngster, have you seen what he’s doing now’ and the kids came along and said ‘this is pretty cool’,” retail expert Moore says.

The chief executive of retail consultancy firm Retail Doctor Group, Brian Walker, says retailers need to develop a strong brand to cut through the fog of messages consumers are exposed to every day.

“We’re moving increasingly into the power of the brand. There’s the brand being omnipresent; the brand representing values and causes; the brand being accessible via retail stores, via online and via social media, and creating ‘cause’ retailing,” Walker says.

Walker says “cause” retailers – taking cues from pioneers such as Anita Roddick of The Body Shop – are using social media to have a direct conversation with customers that opens up new paths to innovation in process and product.

“These days I think Nike do a pretty great job at that. I think closer to home [women’s fitness clothing brand] Lorna Jane do a great job at that. What they build are communities of followers,” he says.

“Great brands, in my view, exclude who they want to sell their product to. Everyone talks about the brand being inclusive. The really powerful brands are the ones that are exclusive.”

Cecil says Henry Bucks is conscious of how its brand translates into digital marketing and online.

“With any of the marketing we do, it’s important there is a consistency and a language, a voice, that represents the image and sensibility of the Henry Bucks brand,” Cecil says.

Presenting the brand effectively across platforms also means thinking about how overseas shoppers online may perceive it. This is important for Henry Bucks, as it has started to garner more interest from Asia, especially from shoppers in places like Hong Kong.

“With our social media, we’re starting to get quite a good following from people all around the world, and I think that’s the beauty of things like the blogosphere and social media.”

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