Saturday, April 10, 2010

Online retail in Australia sucks

I'm going to a wedding in a few weeks time and the bride and groom have a gift registry with David Jones, a retailer who position themselves in the Australia market as the top department store in the country, with 37 department stores and a market cap of $2.4 billion. "Excellent" I thought, Jodie and I can go online, have a browse through the registry and pick something from the registry for them.

No we can't.

We can view the list of products on the gift registry but if we'd like to make a purchase we can do so in store, by phone or by fax! I can't purchase from the registry online? Nope. And I can't even view images or detailed descriptions of the product, instead I get to view helpful information like the bar code number of the product and a David Jones ID number, great.

I suppose I should be pleased. If this is the effort that arguably one of Australia's best retailers is putting in to their website, there's obviously plenty of room for startup retailers like us to succeed. The downside though is if consumers can't buy online from our country's 'top' retailers then they're less likely to be in the habit of shopping online.


  1. Don't worry. I reckon Aussies are in the habit of shopping online. Just not at Australian sites. Shame. (Product of duopoly/small & remote population, no?)

  2. The David Jones website is a disgrace, indeed. So much potential revenue wasted, for a company that can afford to implement the latest and greatest in technology. Mind you the prices they would always find better deals from other online retailers anyway.

    I guess they assume most of their target audience is well-to-do people with little or no experience with the internet.

  3. Hi M F
    Please have a look at this site which does all of the above and offers personalized service-
    You can view the list of products on the gift registry and if you would like too- You can Purchase from the registry online- ..... And..... you can even view images or detailed descriptions of the product !! its not too late move the registry or if it is set up another registry.Hope this helps !

  4. I think the main purpose of the DJ's site is to acquire customers for American Express. Nothing to do with actually helping people shop....

  5. yeah, Australian businesses suck when it comes to online service. Like Telstra, why do I need my bill when going online to check my bill? Why can't I just use my phone number and a password? If I HAD the bill I wouldn't need to use your crappy site!

  6. David Jones now have a new head of ecommerce, so there is hope. The other site worth looking at is (you don't have to be in Melbourne, although it does help as they have a showroom).

  7. Ginerva - it's a good point re: lack of competition meaning our large retailers are less innovative. They should remember that retail is becoming a lot more global though, as you say, people can easily order products from overseas online now so hopefully that helps spur our local retailers on. Apparently a lot of them got burnt investing lots of money in e-commerce during the dot com boom and bust and a lot of the senior manager's at Australian retailers haven't gotten over that.

    Girl Startup - that's a good point. Online shoppers are going to know there are cheaper places than David Jones anyway, so perhaps they've decided their target audience isn't online shoppers. Fair enough if that's the case, though online retail is growing as a percentage of total retail so they might want to consider changing that view soon.

    Donne - look great, thanks for forwarding!

    Kristi - Haha, yeah, the Amex ad takes up 60% of their home page!

    James - couldn't agree more.

    Chris - look great, thanks and it's good to hear that David Jones have a new head of ecommerce. Hopefully he's able to make some changes there. And it's great that there are innovators like Get Price in the Australian online retail market! :D

  8. It really does. Truly surprising that you can't purchase online from the registry though. Surely that's an easy get?! I bought xmas presents every year for 4 years from UK online stores like net-a-porte,;, topshop, john lewis, and even marks and spencer. I want the next step in online retailing to involve online issues of the big magazines (Vogue etc), with a hyperlink over each product that they feature and a "buy now" link. Or maybe that would be just too dangerous on a quiet day in the office.

    Hope all continues to go well.

  9. Michael - enjoyed your post.

    Is there a chance that David Jones and other large Australia retailers have "missed the boat" and are now so heavily reliant on traditional retail that eComm might not return the PBT required to make it viable?

  10. Nicole - there's definitely some great online fashion retailers out there. I'm particularly interested to see what happens in the space with the release of the iPad and more mobile computing devices. Imagine a step further than your suggestion where you can photograph someone in the street, then image recognition software points you to stores that sell those products. So much cool stuff to come in this space...

    Mike - an interesting thought. One issue they'll likely have is integrating an online store with their existing systems. Supercheap Auto were looking into it a little when I was working there but 2 big issues they had:

    1. Their enterprise software needed to be upgraded before it could support an online store. Without this their online store wouldn't have known what was in stock at a particular time = no good for an online store.

    2. Their warehouse wasn't set up to pick, pack and ship products to individual consumers and would have required a pretty significant redesign to accomodate this. Alternatively, Supercheap would have had to run their online store out of one of their existing stores, but there were issues with that too.

    These things are fairly simple for a nimble startup to solve, but much harder for a big, established not so innovative company to solve. I wouldn't think it's too late for them, but I image their new head of eCommerce is going to have some fun talking to all the different people across the David Jones business to get them on board to solve these sorts of problems. I hope they can do it.

  11. I just read this and your more recent post. I agree 100%! Coming from the US, the land of shopping convenience, it's always boggled my mind how relatively inconvenient shopping is here. You would think that because the offline shopping hours are so restricted (compared to the US), online sites would capture all of this after-work traffic. David Jones is a great example of this not happening. Also, I recently bought a book from a local online bookstore, and it took ages to deliver, because they shipped the book from the UK! It seems like only the most popular book titles are actually stocked in Australia.

  12. Couldn't agree more Vanessa. I ordered quite a few things online when I spent 2 months in the US a few years ago and it was so convenient and delivered quickly. Hopefully we catch up in Australia and hey, at least you can order custom made shoes in Australia now. ;)

  13. Thinking about this more: To me the Internet allows us to overcome the "tyranny of distance". Whilst I've had a lot of trouble with foreign companies not shipping to Australia/only shipping (airmail) on a 3 month delay (for things like wool, knitting needles, sewing patterns) it's a pity Australia can't lead on the Internet, we don't have a NATURAL, LONG-RUNNING disadvantage, only a mindset...

  14. There are many challenges that make online retail in australia unattractive for most companies:
    - gst: online retailers are required to charge an additional 10% to item prices. this makes it hard to compete against overseas retailers that do not charge gst
    - distributors and wholesalers take big chunks of the industry profit leaving retailers with a very low profit pool to share or fight for. This is particularly evident in IT and consumer electronics where most of the profit is taken by companies like Ingram leaving the multitude of retailers that buy from them to fight for the rest.
    - most retailers compete solely on price (assisted by the proliferation of price comparison websites) which again takes alot of the profit from the industry and passes it on to the consumer.
    - a lot of people still buy offline.
    - Most online shoppers only shop on eBay.
    - some consumers are buying stuff directly from china etc themselves and are not willing to pay retailers to get stuff for them

    What all this means is that it is hard to be profitable online even for big brands. That is why there has been a lot of exits and big brands thinking of moving their online businesses overseas to position their businesses better.

  15. I recently came across your posts when I angrily typed Doing business in Australia sucks after spending a lot of time looking for the best payment gateway for my business, and I have to say I agree with you on all your points. I also have to add that, in my experience anyway, there are a number of fundamental flaws in this country that will retard any growth of online offerings in the foreseeable future.

    Unfortunately in Australia we are swimming in a sea of complex and in many cases superfluous legislation and taxation requirements that makes doing business, especially online business, almost impossible. Due to many of these limitations I am investigating moving my technology business overseas.

    Just thought I'd add my two cents and hopefully show you are not alone in your frustrations.