By Phoebes Garland, Garland & Garland Fashion
The invasion of global chain stores into the Australian market will hit a crescendo this year with the arrival of the Swedish retailer H&M and UNIQLO from Japan, not to mention the aggressive advertising by the likes of Matches.com, Farfetch.com, Net-a-Porter, Neiman Marcus and many others. It leads to the inevitable question: why aren’t Australian retailers fighting back by marketing themselves overseas?
The impact of these new players in the Australian market is already significant, even if it has only just become evident beyond rag traders. It’s early days, but the possible merger of Myer and David Jones, creating an ‘Australian retail champion’, should be seen as a first step in the majors creating a fortress against new market entrants which have untold economies of scale and market power. A retail war is inevitable and Australian retailers will need to carefully choose their battles – early signs are not encouraging.
Witness large retailers arguing against GST-free imports under $1000 ‘til they’re blue in the face. This is the wrong battle. Most consumers who shop overseas do so because the savings are significantly more than the 10 per cent they’re saving on GST, even taking into account (in some cases) absurdly high shipping costs to Australia. By fighting to extend the reach of GST to low-value imported items, Australian retailers aren’t hurting their foreign competition, they’re hurting Australian consumers by making them pay more tax!
Instead of making Australians pay more tax – an odd strategy, you’d think – retailers should utilise their energies into an all-out assault in major newspapers overseas, every overseas website and Google search engines to promote our Australian brands and our Australian retail sites, luring these overseas customers to shop in Australia, at Australian retail sites, selling Australian brands. It would seem a great natural progression for David Jones considering they have pioneered the development of Australian brands and nurtured Australian designers.
While I feel complete empathy for smaller retailers in the mainstream market who may not have large marketing budgets, I can’t help but feel many are not helping themselves in a lot of instances. Every season I hear how concerned they are about online, yet the majority have no Facebook or Instagram accounts, barely check their emails and wonder why business is tough. They are the first to blame online but what about doing something about it?
I well understand the mature customer struggles with purchasing online, and with advancing technology and exact measurements of garments it’s not always impossible to shop online, but working cleverly can overcome these challenges.
In my January piece with David Bush (ex GM of Womenswear, David Jones and now DBC Consulting) he said of mainstream retailers struggling to sell online: “Online retail is not always incremental but it is a gateway for communication to the retailer.”
There is so much smaller retailers can do to fight back and market their business overseas.
For as little as $8.00 a day, you can target worldwide advertising on your Facebook page to increase brand recognition among your target audience. Pinterest is free, as is Instagram. Digital experts have also realised that bespoke solutions are essential for small customers with limited budgets – and a happy customer will come back and become a larger customer. The world is your showroom.
Recently in an independent shop on Chapel Street in Melbourne my phone rang. It was a friend enquiring about my daughter who had to be taken to emergency the night before. I was an interested buyer so I remained on the phone while riffling through a handful of garments, as I didn’t want to leave the store. However, the sales assistant turned to me mid-conversation and said: “Do you really think I want to hear this?”
Offended and shocked by the blatant rudeness, I left without purchasing anything. Upon leaving, I observed the shop: what a mess. No merchandising. Stock was reduced to 70% (probably clearing of samples from a distributor). And, sure enough, no digital presence. No wonder she was angry and jaded. High rents and an inconsistent retail market, which has then resulted in not just bad service, but rude service. I walked away from her shop thinking she has just validated why I shop online.
Phoebes Garland is a Features Writer for EXPOSED Online and co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion with Robert Garland, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. Phoebe also owns Fashion Initiative an online fashion destination covering business of fashion, fashion, luxury and events. Described as a” Power Agent” by Ragtrader magazine. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising.
Garland & Garland Fashion is a respected leading boutique fashion agency based in Sydney, and they are regularly sought for comment from various media and the fashion industry on business fashion topics, fashion and issues. Phoebes was named as The Ones To Follow In 2014: The Top 20 Fashionista Hot List of 2013.
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