Australian retailers have their heads in the sand: small-world thinking and fear of technology has blinded them from a huge opportunity to lead the next generation of global technology development in the industry.
Instead, companies such as Harvey Norman, David Jones and Woolworths appear doomed to follow the lead of technology pioneer and American corporate giant Walmart.
Retailers such as Harvey Norman, David Jones and Myer often complain about the perils of the internet and the need for the government to protect the local industry. Woolworths and Coles have long had a cushy duopoly over the groceries market, which is being closely observed by the corporate watchdog. Changes are also being driven by tech-savvy competitors such as Aldi and new online models.
Overseas, American corporate giant Walmart pioneered the use of technology as a way to develop highly efficient distribution models and significantly reduce costs for consumers. This has underpinned its growth as one of the world's biggest businesses, which continues to expand its reach into established and emerging markets.
The latest manifestation of this is an acquisition by its research and development arm Walmart Labs. It recently snapped up Wollongong-developed technology Grabble, which sends receipts to customers' phones, avoiding the need to keep track of paper receipts.
The technology and its founders Anthony Marcar and Stuart Argue will unfortunately leave Australia to join Walmart, which quickly recognised the powerful potential of a technology that connects a sale with a specific consumer.
Combined with Walmart's huge number of retail transactions, Grabble would no doubt give terrific insights into consumer behaviour, as well as give Walmart a more prominent presence in the user's digital head-space via smartphone apps. By adding some data analytics tools and even payments technology, Walmart could potentially develop a platform that provide more information to consumers and smaller, niche retailers.
It's a shame Aussie retailers' lack of tech-savvy forced the boys to go overseas to find an opportunity to scale their technology. For the record, I think it's a remarkable achievement for an Aussie start-up to be acquired by one of the world's biggest companies.
There is no doubt the technology will one day be imported back to our shores but it's truly ironic that it had to be exported first.
Local retailers need to put aside their petty local squabbles over 12¢ chickens and preserving the local status quo, instead thinking global and embracing the unique commercial opportunity enabled by home-grown technologies such as Grabble.