Westfield launches online shopping portal but experts take wait and see approach

Property giant Westfield has finally launched its online shopping centre with dozens of brands including JB Hi-Fi, Borders and a range of fashion retailers all involved, with customers now able to buy products directly from the site itself.

The opening comes after months of speculation regarding a Westfield online shopping centre, and just after department store giant David Jones has launched an online retail store of its own.

But while some retail experts say the introduction of a new online shopping centre will help push people into eCommerce, some warn that brands need to be careful as they may lose control over their image.

Reseo chief executive Chris Thomas, who has some clients listing products on the Westfield site, says the portal is a “logical extension” for Westfield and, on face value, is a good move.

“It’s a logical extension for them because they have a lot of traffic going to their website. The argument is that you have these great brands on there and so, why not be on there? You get another channel to market your products.”

But Thomas also warns this type of site could impact on a brand’s image.

“The issue I would argue is that you may be diluting your brand a bit if you hand over control to this website. You would want to know how you’re going to appear on the site.”

While Thomas says the site is well-designed and has a good user-interface, businesses also need to be aware of how their graphics and other logos are appearing.

“I’m not sure who’s doing this stuff. Is it Westfield, or are they uploading it themselves? I think they need to be aware of all the details surrounding that.”

Right now there are over 150,000 products available on the store from 3,000 brands, available through 50 different retailers. However, Westfield says this is only the first stage of the program and more retailers will be signing on.

The site itself, Thomas says, is well-designed and has some good elements, including the ability to search via category and pricing. But he also identifies some issues consumers might have if they shop on the Westfield site as opposed to a dedicated online store.

“The thing here is that Westfield is taking a cut here, and some percentage of that will be going to them. So retailers need to keep that in mind.”

“The other part is that Westfield only takes the order and then passes it on, so for consumers it’s interesting because you could order from Jeans West, or whatever, and from JB Hi-Fi, and you’ll receive the parcels from those two companies.”

Retail Doctor chief executive Brian Walker says the exposure is good for retailers, given they’ll be showing up in at least one more place online, but also recognises issues around pricing.

“Westfield sees this as a service to the broader public and for their retailers, but it’s also a revenue stream for them and so they are very much looking at it from that perspective.”

“One of the interesting issues here is the pricing difference between the Westfield site and retailers’ own sites. Take JB Hi-Fi for example, those two channels may have two different prices. It will be interesting to see how retailers use them. They might give only a select range on Westfield and the rest in-store or online.”

Walker says he was working at Westfield when the company attempted the venture back in 2000, but says the market simply wasn’t ready for such a big change.

“Then, it was well ahead of its time. The market wasn’t anywhere near ready, but now it’s a necessity. Retailers need to be in as many areas as possible.”

Thomas says the site looks good, but for now it’s “wait and see”.

“Really I think we’re just going to wait and see what the fallout is. We’ll have our retailers start telling us whether they’re doing it or not and how much attention they’re getting, and until then we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.”

Yesterday Westfield managing director of Australia and New Zealand Robert Jordan said the online portal will help broaden the company’s reach.

“The online mall will serve not only these existing Westfield shoppers, but an entirely new market that currently does not have access to a Westfield shopping centre.”

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