Director of the Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash Uni, Steve Ogden-Barnes,says Australian retailers are averse to risk and second class in many ways. “When we look at good practice in retail we have trouble finding examples here” he says. We tend to have a lackadaisical approach to customer relations and suppliers to the retail industry are taking it on themselves to educate shop owners about what consumers want, how to sell more product and count inventory.
Danks, one of Australia’s biggest distributors of hardware (owns Home Timber & Hardware, Thrifty Link and Plants Plus) has for some years sponsored training sessions for franchisees, teaching simple techniques such as how to greet people, how to foster loyalty and get them to buy more. 18 months ago they launched a management development program for shop owners. These conferences pay off for Danks as their independent retailers trade successfully against Wesfarmers’ Bunnings, channelling more goods through the Danks wholesale and distribution system.
Foster’s Group is also helping its customers – the pubs, clubs, liquor chains and small grocery stores – with Project i-Nova that is identifying consumer lifestyle trends. It looks at things like:
(1) What role might pubs play in society 10 years from now?
(2)Why do young drinkers choose candy-coloured mixers over beer?
(3)What would happen if supermarkets end up dominating the packaged
(4)Worldwide smoking trends; sporting, fashion and furnishing trends
(5)How individuals are shunning mass-produced items, looking for
something that will set them apart from their peers.
Stephen Tighe, CUB’s Foresight Manager, a leader in the i-Nova team, is finding retailers quite desperate for this info…they want to be shown where the consumer is going.
Concept stores are sweeping the world with retailers experimenting with ways to keep customers in the store longer – in Australia we have Ishka, Ikea, Country Road and Freedom Furniture with Kathmandu for travel/outdoor types and Billabong for surfies. However, the bureaucracy of mega-retailers Coles Myer and Woolworths often stifles creativity and you find innovation usually coming from smaller retailers not afraid of making mistakes – they embrace change to stay in touch with their customers.
Steve Ogden-Barnes says Australian retailers are years behind the northern hemisphere where imaginative retailers are not afraid to challenge tradition. Some stores there are setting one third floorspace aside to ‘enchant customers’, to keep them lingering longer so they are more likely to buy something whereas retailers in small markets like Australia tend to focus on countering what rivals across the mall are doing rather than testing new approaches. This probably explains why there is so much fixation on price and price promotion and not a lot of ‘knock’em dead, creative entrepreneurial promotion…where is that Aussie quirkiness?