Aussie retailers should get into the silicon

Aussie retailers should get into the silicon

Summary: 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.


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.

Topics: Start-Ups, E-Commerce, Emerging Tech

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  • Its very disapointing that views like this get so much publicity and traction. The debate as distinct from argument has of course two equal sides. No-one is stopping the development of new technology and indeed by not having to pay 10% GST in Australia new age developers ARE getting a significant advantage. In the case of historical business entities the loss of that income disadvantages a whole raft of 2nd and 3rd tier business opportunities like factory/office rental , machinery/office furniture , a plethora of support services and a central place where customers can look and touch products or discuss services in person and determine other aspects of the selection process. Indeed electronic purchasing can hide a myriad of production faults , deception and dishonesty far more obvious when seen for real and so the views expressed that mainstream business like Gerry Harvey are outdated is very one sided and terribly biased. Much of what is online is of poor quality and inferior and not always a so-called bargain. Also to be balanced sometimes retail stores have an asking price that is also unrealistic but they always start from a position of being 10% worse off because they MUST include GST , hire staff , pay for workers compensation and payroll tax and make a significant contribution in this country. The fact that virtually EVERY online purchase under $1,000 does not by default re-invest in the Australian economy means precious dollars are often going offshore to encourage a raft of less than savoury activities is an appalling state of affairs. IF Australians will not stand up for their own industries and their own jobs then the country is already lost and it is only a matter of time when large retail spaces are empty , jobs are simply unavailable and the economy online is a waste of space because no-one has the money to buy anything.

    You see there is always another point of view and my interpretation is no more or less valid than the view that Australian retailers are out of touch. They are not any more out of touch than the views expressed in the lead article and they do operate in an unfair environment designed to hurt them quite deliberately by government and greedy new age startups. Much of new technology is based on churn and burn and lightening a customers wallet. The so called benefits are a myth.

    IT Director
  • Thanks ramnet, however I'm confused by your point. I think Walmart has demonstrated the value of using technology to drive efficiencies and lower cost, and it has continued this by the recent acquisition.
    I am saying Australian retailers should emulate this strategy.
    I'm sure Walmart faces the same cost pressures you've mentioned, but it has managed to thrive despite this.