Last Friday I attended the Australian Government's Online Retail Forum in Sydney on behalf of Shoes of Prey to talk about the state of e-commerce in Australia.
The event was attended by representatives from a wide range of companies, from the likes of Australia Post all the way to Harvey Norman (a company who, in the past, has been dismissive of the internet as a sales channel).
Our particular panel consisted of Paul Greenberg from DealsDirect, Cameron Poolman from Grays Online, and Peter Strong from the Council of Small Business of Australia and myself.
Some of the insights from our panel included:
- E-tail is retail -- sure, it's a different channel with its own peculiar mechanics, but the fundamentals remain the same. As Paul Greenberg likes to say, "retail is detail", whether online or offline.
- The customer is king. Great customer service is critical to running a successful online business. Zappos was called out multiple times for their strong customer service culture.
- Online business in Australia is on the rise. Deals Direct for instance has shipped to over 1.3 million unique addresses, and Grays Online is a $300m+ business.
- We should keep looking to the US for inspiration. (Paul and Cameron travel to the US once a year to keep abreast of new e-commerce developments.)
Two points I made specifically:
- Australia Post needs to lift their game to improve the reliability of their package delivery. Pleasingly, the representatives from Australia Post told me they are currently working on a number of exciting initiatives, including the ability of consumers to register their details electronically and then re-direct packages while still in transit. This is going to be a killer feature if it gets off the ground.
- There needs to be more competition in the payments arena if Australia is going to start exporting globally. Currently there is only one bank in the entire country that will allow you to charge credit cards in foreign currencies (the National Australia bank). And, as we've already found, their product is not easy to use, or cheap to setup -- in fact they required us to hand over a $10,000 deposit in order to get started. (Side note: We currently use PayPal for 100% of our payment processing, and love them. That said, we'd love to see more competition and innovation in this space, as payment processing is a critical piece of infrastructure.)
Despite not entirely hitting the desired mark with the press -- resulting media reports tended to focus on possible job losses caused by e-commerce -- the event overall was very positive. It demonstrated a clear commitment from the Government to encourage investment and innovation in the sector; and hopefully should pave the way for more programs aimed at encouraging Australian businesses to start transacting online. That's great for consumers, and great for companies like ours.