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Wake up, Australian retailers, eCommerce merchants are leaving you behind

by Tim Rimington | October 12, 2012

A new CBA study estimates that online spending in this country grew by a reported 30 per cent this past financial year compared to just over 2 per cent for retail trade as a whole. I won’t quote the bulk of the articlebut it suggests that bricks and mortar retailers are finally shifting their focus to online. Frankly speaking, I feel that traditional retailers could be doing more to protect their sales from online websites. Poor training is at the heart of the retail problem in this country, not online competition (although it could be said that this contributes to the ‘problem’).

I just returned from a 4-week break overseas. Lots of shopping, chatting to market stall-holders (and using my terrible attempts at French) and observing how European retailers go about their business. From small country villages to large cities, I experienced (mostly) good service, helpful staff, and my wife and I opened our wallets accordingly.

We returned to Australia and went to our local 'multi-level' shopping centre to look for clothes. We walked into at least a dozen different stores, most of them name brands from well-known fashion designers. What struck us was the difference in attitude by sales staff here compared to stores overseas. Staff here ignored us and we walked in and out of empty stores (it was late Sunday afternoon – the centre was near empty) without a greeting or acknowledgement of our presence. Australian retailers are struggling? It's no wonder.

What annoys me the most about posted retail figures is how Australian retailers say that business is slow and how people aren’t spending. My experience with many Australian retailers is typically the same; disinterested staff with little or no training and an owner either sitting at home or sitting in the back office lamenting how slow sales are. Wake up!

Retailing comes naturally to me. I worked in retail, in one form or another, for more than 20 years and I guess I was lucky to have been trained by people who cared about the business we were in and who knew what it took to be successful. At the heart of this was customer service which turned indifferent shoppers into loyal customers – and in some cases, friends. I could write a book about the things Australian retail staff do wrong – and as I’ve written previously this year, I lay blame at the feet of retail store owners for not training or hiring appropriately. I know that retail's problem isn't this simple, but it's a huge contributer.

eCommerce retailers have so much in their favour but it’s not always roses - many are struggling like their traditional counterparts. If you don’t understand customer service (and sadly, many online retailers don’t) and how to apply that to an online environment, then you’re going to suffer like traditional retailers. Build loyalty through good service and loyalty programs. Provide outstanding product information (which demonstrates good product knowledge), great photos and text, and write about your products in your blog to establish your business as the authority in your industry. Consumers stick to where the strength is - heck, I'll pay slightly higher prices if I know I'm going to be looked after time again. Plenty of shoppers are loyal to a brand or their favourite stores.

Don’t forget that if you struggle with aspects of online retailing or digital marketing in general, sign up to the SiteChallenge program to get your online business chugging along in the way it should be! Visit for more information.






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