I’ve been watching this whole GST on overseas purchases debate play out over the last day or so, and have to say – the whole thing seems crazy to me. It’s one of those times when I wonder if there is some bigger story at play here… but I just don’t know.

What I do know is that retailing in Australia is undergoing a radical change. However, this ‘radical’ change is gradual, and I don’t yet think the Bricks and Mortar companies have lost the chance to be part of the future.

Click Continue Reading for my rambling thoughts

Big chain stores are here to stay – we will always enjoy the sense of touch and real life look of almost any type of retail product – the question is simply around the Point of Purchase (PoP). This is where the Retailers are suffering, we’re browsing stores, walking the streets and in some cases then we’re buying online.

How though is that different to me looking at the same item in three stores, and only going back to one of them to make the purchase. Something is drawing me back there. The in-store presentation, the customer service, the warranty or guarantee, and the price – all factors, small or large in my final choice.

There will be areas that simply cannot beat the online rush – Buying music for example, the decline is obvious, and the physical purchase in store will cease. The only remnants of this will be perhaps the ability to plug in a device or stick and ‘buy/download’ the track/album in a retail store – Just like photo booths are now in every second electrical store where as they used to be the exclusive domain of photo printing shops.

However, a TV, Microwave, GPS unit or Cordless phone will always require a physical connection. It’s that connection the retailers need to analyse and be part of the change toward.

Yep, some people enjoy the pleasure of the online order, and the wait for delivery – I for one do not particularly. I hate missing a courier, I hate having to wait another day or drive to a depot because I missed it. I hate not knowing EXACTLY when it will arrive the minute I press PURCHASE.

My wife loves it, she buys all sorts of crafts and items online, rarely though, things we can easily get in a local store.

We’re not the minority – we’re the majority. Online shopping is just 5% or there abouts of Australian purchasing. Of that the Overseas aspect is something like 20-30% (not quoted figures, just ones that come to mind from things I’ve read recently).

What Australian retailers need to do is look at that other 95% and work out how they can use the Internet to enhance their customer experience.

Let’s say I’m looking for a 55inch Television. I’m going to go to JB Hi-Fi, Bing Lee, Harvey Norman, The Good Guys and a few others. Then I’m going to look online to the online brands. I’ll see pretty quickly that the online brands are cheap – but they aren’t the brands I know and love. So my heart says go big brand, my hip pocket says go the online brand. What if, rather than just hoping I’m going to come back to the retail store, some effort goes into getting me back. If a sales rep on the floor strikes me as knowledgable on a product, and perahps offers a good price, what’s stopping him saying “if you’re interested, here’s a buyer card, pop onto our website, enter your details and I’ll knock the price down to $XXX and you can choose to pick it up at the time of your choice or we’ll deliver it to you”.

With that in mind, when I’m online shopping, I’m going to have my head telling me “hey, remember, goto XYZ website and pay, you can go pick it up NOW!” – plus, rather than the ‘list price’ using a code the rep wrote on the card, the price he offered me in store is available to me online also.

Now lets think clothes, apparently a lot of people are seeing great deals and using buyer agents even to get goods shipped from overseas. Again, you have the wait time, and the uncertainty of a guaranteed delivery date to contend with.

Just like in the Electrical store, the Clothes store can hand me a code which not only sets a value price, but also confirms the size and colour that I wanted, and reserves it for me for pickup or delivery.

In Both cases, the companies then have the chance to build a more robust retail relationship with me using e-Marketing and database management to help me get gifts for my family on their birthdays, but to take advantage of loyalty deals which are exclusive to me and other like minded shoppers.

Retailers need to embrace what is possible. I for one have NEVER been contacted by a major electrical goods retailer after a purchase. Never.

I bought a new car recently, the week later the manufacturer sent me a buyer survey, and I anticipate regular communication about loyalty programs, service options and in the years ahead, new car options.

I for one would find myself driving to my local Harvey Norman to pickup goods if I knew I was able to buy online, get the best deals that I’m able to get anywhere else in retail and generally get outstanding customer service.

Don’t use your website as a brochure, it’s a store like any other. It needs live people working on it, helping it’s shoppers, and offering them the same discounts available in stores.

Australian’s are smart people, we need to be treated that way, so let’s see some real work go into driving down prices – the longer the dollar stays at parity or near to it, the more questions will be asked about the margins. I don’t expect that to change overnight, but we’re a few months in now, so prices need to start flowing through – and fast.

This is a really difficult issue, and the minority here is vocal, however lets not muddy the waters – what these retailers are offering is very very similar to what was on offer 10 years ago – times change, so must we all!