Blog: Why retailers must embrace online & social networking

More than ever before, the debate around growing competition from overseas e-tailers has highlighted the need to get up to speed online, says Phoebe Garland.

Phoebe Garland is co-founder & co-owner of Garland & Garland Fashion Pty Ltd, a Sydney based fashion agency which also offers full project management of sales & marketing materials including sourcing, managing and appointing suppliers for digital campaigns and PR services for the fashion industry.

Phoebes_GarlandWhy are online presence and social networking so important?

In the Sydney Morning Herald (November 20, 2010) it was reported that The Australian National Retailers Association representing the big chains found 60 per cent of 18-24 year olds bought goods online and overseas.

This is now a serious problem for Australian retailers and there is currently significant coverage in the media on the debate over introducing GST on goods bought overseas online under $1000 as well as adding import duties to such goods.

Online retail is growing rapidly and if you think consumers won’t buy fashion online due to size and fit issue, or you believe that the mature age group won’t buy online – think again!

Consumers are using retail shops to try on garments, then purchasing them from overseas online shops for better prices. With most overseas online shops offering free returns, having high-quality images, clear sizing and measurements charts and with the Australian dollar being so strong, it’s a very alluring prospect for the customer, especially for designer goods which tend to be much cheaper and more varied. Online retailing is going to have serious consequences for local, traditional retail stores.

Little wonder that Westfield has launched westfield.com.au, where you can shop over 50 shops in Westfield centres. And they aren’t alone; David Jones, Marcs & Country Road (pictured) are also looking online retailing. If the big chains are starting to suffer, I can only imagine how smaller retailers are faring.

Phoebes_Garland.Country_RoadWhat should retailers do?
It’s imperative for any consumer business to have a great website, but aside from that, social networking is also key. A Facebook page can assist in driving sales and help brand your business. Used in conjunction with an existing website, this is a highly effective way of driving traffic to your site. Creating a Facebook page costs nothing and allows you to post links from your website, upload pictures of your latest collections, or run competitions and giveaways. It also allows you to invite people to “Like” your page, while you can invite them to in store events and special offers.

Urge your manufactures to supply you with modern product shots of the ranges you buy and start posting them on your website. Providing incentives for your existing fans to ‘invite your friends’ to their page, is a great way to build your client base. Offering free shipping is also worthwhile. I would also suggest discussing joint online marketing opportunities with your labels. After all it’s their label you are buying and you are helping to market it.

Twitter & LinkedIn are other well known social network mediums but I find they aren’t as interactive for selling products to consumers and work better for networking and branding.

In conclusion?
Make no mistake; online is growing rapidly. Marketing your business correctly is imperative and can make you stand out against your competition. The SMH reported that analysts Frost and Sullivan expect Australian online spending to grow by half over the next four years. Surely small retailers would like to be part of this business?

As well as boosting their online recall, any retailer wanting to secure a solid future for their business should familiarise themselves the debate over adding duties to imported online goods. If you think it’s creating unfair competition, get in touch with your local MP and lobby industry bodies for change.


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