On 24 December we launched the Shoes of Prey store on Westfield's new online shopping mall. We're selling a range of ready made shoes which we've developed based on the popular styles and colours that are ordered from our website.
I must admit we were all a little sceptical when Westfield first approached us about their online mall:
- Do customers really want to shop from an 'online mall'?
- Why not just search for the specific product they're looking for and purchase it from a retailers site?
- Aren't there already shopping aggregators like eBay and don't they only work when they're either early to market like eBay or highly specialised like Etsy?
- Won't this be a half hearted attempt from Westfield designed to protect market share?
We met with Westfield and were impressed:
- Westfield are making a very large investment in their online mall, equivalent to what they would spend on a small physical mall. They have a huge team of people with great online retail experience working on the project.
- This isn't a short term play, Westfield have a 10 year plan for their online mall.
- There are some good ways they add value for the customer. A customer can go to westfield.com.au and easily search for 'red shoes'. They'll see red shoes from a number of different retailers. They can then cut the results in otherwise like shoe type or size so they're presented with a number of options from a number of retailers with exactly what they want.
- The site has a premium feel to it. Unlike eBay, Westfield are only working with a small number of retailers, you can't just sign up and sell on their site. This ensures a certain level of quality for the customer.
- Product imagery is consistent across all retailers. All product shots must be high quality and taken with a white background. This provides a much nicer experience for the customer when compared with looking at product shots on sites like eBay.
- The Westfield brand is recognised, trusted and associated with shopping. This will make it much easier for them to market and gain traction for their online mall.
- They're launching at a time when online retail in Australia is starting to gain some traction and traditional retailers are starting to take it more seriously.
I should add that I love eBay, it's been a very successful company and provides an excellent shopping experience. My point with making the comparisons above is that Westfield's offering is different to eBay's. That said, Westfield have some challenges:
- Purchases are made directly from the retailers, so if a customer buys products from 3 different retailers they'll need to pay for shipping 3 times and will receive 3 different parcels. That said this is not different to what happens when shopping on eBay or Etsy.
- Customer support is also provided by the retailer, so if there are any issues the customer must deal with the retailer. The logic here is that the online mall is like a traditional mall, Westfield are providing the framework but the customer deals with each retailer directly. This may prove to be confusing to customers as shopping online is quite different to shopping in a traditional mall and the Westfield mall is heavily branded as Westfield, so customers may think they're dealing directly with Westfield.
- Westfield have an API so retailers can provide a live stock feed to Westfield, but not all retailers are using it. So a customer might buy something from westfield.com.au only to be contacted by the retailer to be told they're out of stock. This shouldn't happen to often if retailers are manually updating their stock file regularly, but it's not an ideal situation.
- It remains to be seen whether customers will want to shop in this fashion. Customer's shop from aggregators on eBay and Etsy but both those businesses have a proven, compelling offer, for eBay it's price and breadth of range and for Etsy it's buying handmade products. Westfield's offer is different, but because it's new it remains to be seen whether it's compelling for customers.
I really hope the mall is successful. If Westfield market it properly and it gains traction it's going to introduce a lot more Australians to online shopping and contribute to the growth of the industry.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, what do you think of this move by Westfield and the Shoes of Prey store?