Rob Buckingham's Blog

Australia’s Retail Dilemma

Now I don’t doubt that some retailers are struggling and I understand their call for GST, customs charges and duties to be added to online purchases under $1000.  However, a Productivity Commission Report found the cost of tax collection would exceed revenue raised.  The Federal Government’s retail task force is still examining this issue.

Australians are not going to stop buying certain goods online.  Each household only has so much discretionary money and although we try and buy Australian, we also need to make wise financial decisions.  So, Australian retailers have some work to do to encourage us to buy from them.

In recent weeks I’ve needed to update my wardrobe for Bayside TV.  I’ve chosen to buy the clothes in local shops but it’s been a very mixed experience.  In general the department stores offered atrocious service.  One in particular had three staff members standing around talking while customers were waiting.  I asked them for help but was told they worked in another department and so could not assist me.  When I asked who could help me I was told that someone would be there shortly.  Fifteen minutes later a staff member arrived.  In the meantime customers had walked out.  I had planned to spend more in that store, but chose not to because of my experience.

The best service was given in the smaller boutique shops although that was not always the case.  One men’s clothing shop I went into had some really nice shirts but the girl “working” there spent ten minutes talking to a friend on her mobile phone.  She didn’t once acknowledge me. I had several hundred dollars to spend and I would have spent it in that shop but I walked out and bought the shirts elsewhere.

Good service has got to be the number one key to the survival of Australian retail.  No wonder Apple is now the world’s most valuable company.  You walk into an Apple store and a friendly person comes to you straight away, asks your name and how they can help you.  The service is amazing – and so are the products.  If good service isn’t offered why shouldn’t we buy online?  What value is added by shopping in a store?

And so, as a shopper, I give this advice to retailers:

• Train your staff well so they know how to serve well.  And give your staff incentives for good results.
• Give something for nothing – a discount voucher or frequent shopper bonus; buy two get one free or discounts for large purchases.
• Develop online buying yourself. If people want to buy your products online why not give them the opportunity.
• Keep up to date with current trends, innovations and technology. Remember Kodak, the company that pioneered the digital camera was eventually brought down by its failure to invest in its own ground-breaking invention.  It became a fossil because it came to a point of change and failed to make the transition.

It’s not good enough for retailers to complain about competition and expect the government to bail them out.  It’s time for all retailers to realise the world has changed and to do the hard work of remaining competitive and give us, the shoppers, good reasons to buy from you.

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