Smarter Business

How e-commerce and omni-channel is transforming retail

- December 8, 2017 3 MIN READ

Though Australian shoppers may be excited about Amazon’s arrival down under – and the dramatic drop in shipping fees expected to come with it – the headlines announcing the imminent death of the local retail sector are somewhat melodramatic.

As it turns out, many local consumers still enjoy the bricks and mortar experience and will continue to do so even after Amazon comes to town; the numbers show that rather than betting it all on one or the other, it’s important for retailers both online and off to develop an omni-channel approach to selling.

At its core, omni-channel retail means providing the customer with an integrated and seamless shopping experience within and between various sales channels, from online via mobile or desktop, to in-person at a bricks and mortar store, via phone, and so on; for example, a customer could begin searching for products via their smartphone app and then complete the transaction in-store.

A recent study from the Australian Consumer, Retail, and Services Research Unit predicted that, in five years’ time, local shoppers will actually be splitting their time between online shopping and in-store, at 45 percent and 48 percent respectively1. Furthermore, 59 percent of local consumers will want an equal balance of interaction between technology and humans.

Interestingly, this goes for consumers both young and old.

A report from AMP Capital found 87 percent of Australia’s “future shoppers”, defined as those aged 18-22, like or love shopping in-store, however they incorporate online into their shopping experience: 61 per cent of future shoppers who prefer the in-store experience do online research while visiting a retail outlet, and 63 percent use online ‘wish list’ features to save items2.

With this in mind, there are a wealth of opportunities for small businesses to leverage tech tools to not only keep up with online-only retailers, but expand their reach beyond Main Street – and Australia.

It is now easier and cheaper than ever to get started; a small business owner can reap the benefits of using an integrated e-commerce platform, or easily test what works and what doesn’t by setting up on an existing global platform such as eBay – the potential for growth from there is unlimited.

For example, with e-commerce opening retailers up to markets beyond their town or suburb, Australian products do well internationally, with the ‘Australian Made’ tag maintaining a strong reputation internationally for clean, good quality products manufactured to a high standard. 

Often selling one-of-a-kind products, regional Australian sellers in particular are strong exporters. A report from eBay3 found 19 percent of its regionally-based sellers were seeing at least 40 percent of their sales were coming through exports, compared to just two percent in metropolitan areas.

A big eBay exporter is Victorian David O’Connor, of longtime footwear retail and wholesale business Boots4all. In an interview, O’Connor said they leveraged the eBay platform and its in-built marketing tools to test the waters around selling to international customers without the need for a huge investment.

Boots4all now exports to over 60 countries, including emerging markets across Asia, where there is a growing audience hungry for the Australian-owned and operated footwear brands the business stocks.

Also highlighting the importance of an omni-channel strategy – by going in the opposite direction – is Dawn Menke of regional Queensland business Deltas Dazzling Costumes. Starting off as a one-woman band with an online store in 2005, Menke was able to expand the business with a bricks and mortar store, which now employs 10 staff.

While there are, of course, differences in the way a business owner must approach selling on different mediums, the core wants of shoppers are universal no matter where they make their purchase, whether it’s through an online store or a physical shop – as Vinomofo cofounder Andre Eikmeier put it, “Just care. Care enough to make everything delightful.”

1 – Australian Consumer, Retail, and Services Research Unit – Bricks and Mortar not dead
2 – AMP Capital – A to Gen Z: Shopping with the Future Generation
3 – eBay Australia – The Opportunity Economy