Westfield Group is the second major Australian retailer to launch an online shopping platform, following David Jones’ move into eCommerce earlier this month.
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It is Westfield’s second attempt at launching a “virtual mall” after backing out of a proposal about a decade ago.
According to Westfield, a number a retailers have already signed up including clothing lines Farage and Glue, makeup brand Napoleon Perdis, Peep Toe Shoes and JB Hi-Fi.
The success of the group’s online shopping website will determine how successful it is in signing up more retailers.
Colin McLeod, executive director at the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, says he’s not surprised by the retail giants’ online ambitions.
“The number of retailers who plan to go online virtually doubled in the last 12 months. I can’t imagine that there’s a major retailer who’s not thinking about their online strategy,” McLeod says.
“The challenge for smaller retailers [already] online is going to be pretty simple: how do I engage with my customers?”
“How do I move from just operating a space where people buy and sell products to actually making it interesting, relevant and engaging?”
“We know that people are going to use social media to get other opinions. That’s what we see customers wanting when they go online.”
McLeod says bricks-and-mortar retailers will be hardest hit as they are increasingly treated like “electronic brochures”.
“You’ve been to the store, you’ve tried the product and you know you like it. But next time you buy it, you may actually want the convenience of being able to go online and get it,” he says.
“We see that in lots of categories – things like cosmetics, perfumes, skincare and even optometry products.”
According to McLeod, traditional retailers should focus on the layout of their store and the customer’s experience in addition to the products.
“There’s a lot of research at the moment being done around what’s called haptic research, which is the importance of touch,” he says.
“This idea of touching things in the store is highly valued by consumers. Touch is probably the most informative of the senses because it tells you lots of different things.”