Online shopping – just another competitor?

photo-3 The online shopping sector is taking the world by storm and our local retailers can choose to embrace it, or ignore it.

Without having an online presence, it is hard to stay competitive in the retail sector and it has shown with several Geraldton retailers having to close their doors.

However, then there tends to be an uproar about the lack of retailers here in Geraldton, the Kmart saga being one of the most infamous of late.

But with online shopping stats on the rise everyday, how can we expect our retailers to stay profitable without the support of our community?

Our local retailers are working tirelessly just to stay profitable and everyday they compete with the online sector, and elements such as better prices, wider variety and of course - the comfort of sitting in your own home and shopping, and having it delivered straight to your door.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012–13, over three quarters (76%) of Australia's 15.4 million internet users made a purchase or order over the internet, up from 64% in 2009.
How are our local retailers to compete with this?

Mid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MWCCI) CEO, Rob Jefferies, said that online shopping is a reality that local retailers must adjust to.

“We are in a very dynamic changing environment but it doesn't have to be negative, it can be positive for a lot of businesses,” he said.

“If retailers are able to brand their market or offer unique products and services then the world is their market.

“It is part of the reality we have to face and it is somewhat similar to how businesses and communities had to adjust to changes that come through the introduction of technology.”

Long-time Geraldton retailer Marilyn McLeod has owned and run the Geraldton CD Centre for over 30 years.

She has been one of the retailers who have had to adjust with the changing times especially with the introduction of digital music downloads.

But despite this, Marilyn says that there is still life left in her shop.

“Business has dropped somewhat and times are not as flush as they were when there was no digital downloading,” she said.

“I think it has mainly effected the younger generation because older people still like to buy CDs.”

Marilyn expressed the importance of shopping local and said the popularity of online shopping was becoming disheartening for many local retailers.

“It is absolutely critical for people to shop local, the reason being it gives the consumer a choice,” she said.

“But the arrogance of some consumers is really saddening and some people are as rude as to use the local stores for their research only to go and buy the product online.

“It really is heartbreaking for a lot of shop owners.”

Well known dress shop Pazellies haven’t fared so well with the convergence of online shopping and they will shut their doors next month after 13 years of business.

Shop owner Liz Poot said it was disappointing that the online sector had affected not just her business, but other many local businesses.

“I think the solution is having a bricks and mortar store but also putting the time and effort into going into the online space as well,” she said.

“You have to be prepared to put staff onto do that so it is a lot of time, effort and money.

“I’m not prepared to do that and I’m not tech savvy enough so it is just time to move onto other things.”

Mr Jefferies said it was a priority for the MWCCI to educate local retailers in how they can utilise the online sector.

“There’s already a range of support services that are available for those who are interested in moving into the online space,” he said.

“One of the things that we are currently doing is planning a forum with a retail expert who has worked all over the world, to do a workshop with local retailers.”

Mr Jefferies hopes to involve rural areas in the engagement also.

“We are really keen to get people in from the rural areas around the Mid West and we are still putting that together,” he said.

“We do see it as a challenge but the other side of it is that it creates new job opportunities as well."

Mr Jefferies said it was crucial for retailers to fast establish an online presence.

“There’s different things that are popping up in Geraldton and a lot of those new and converging businesses are leveraging IT quite extensively because it gives them the ability to enter into a market and establish their presence and brand very cost effectively,” he said.

“That is a challenge that existing retailers face but they need to be ahead of the game. I think its fair to say that we need to move beyond just having a Facebook presence.

“There’s probably a first step that has been taken by a lot of businesses and they use Facebook platforms like that, but there really is a limitless range of tools out there to assist and promote businesses.

“Online shopping is just another competitor - not a threat.”