Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has called for a cultural change in the Australian retail sector on the government’s Online Retail Forum.
Speaking at the forum, Conroy said that while the digital economy underpinned Australia’s future, the online retail sector continued to lag behind international competitors with some 58.5 per cent of small businesses yet to deploy an online presence and some 72.9 per cent yet to offer online transactions.
“This means there is a large per cent of Australian businesses are missing out on the opportunities of the digital economy,” he said.
Despite the potential of online retail to improve customer service and reduce logistics and other business costs, the shift from bricks-and-mortar to online sales posed a number of challenges for retailers.
“Many businesses still continue to have worries about the introduction of e-commerce to their business… these centre on security, skills and cost-related issues, and can potentially be seen as barriers to business maximising the benefits of participation online,” he said.
While challenges exist, many Australian companies had managed to embrace online retail and benefit from a preference to purchase from domestic online providers, Conroy said.
He noted Australian swimwear producer, aussieBum, which he claimed had been able to embrace the online retail model, starting online and since growing to a global customer base of 200,000.
Birdsnest, based in Cooma NSW and started in 2004, went online in late 2008. Since then the online portion of its business had grown to generate 80 per cent of all revenues and staff had grown from three to 40.
The company’s site is currently featured in the top 50 most-visited Australian sites, Conroy said.
Conroy noted the recent fracas surrounding the application of the GST to online overseas purchases, but said the purpose of the forum was not to pre-empt the Productivity Commission’s review into the issue.
“What we want to do is facilitate dialogue, and networking, that will open the door to the benefits of fully participating in the digital economy,” he said.
Former Communications Alliance chief executive officer, Anne Hurley, also said the Online Retail Forum was more than just a political exercise prompted by the GST debate.
“The purpose of today is not to rehash a public debate, but to recognise what the opportunities and challenges are for online retail in Australia,” she said.
“It is important that Australian retailers and consumers and all participants in the supply chain — particularly post and logistical companies —are well placed to enjoy … growth.”
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