Alan Gray is the editor of NewsBlaze.com.au and also NewsBlaze.com

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As Australians start to understand the great benefits of the hyperconnected online world, Australian businesses are looking at their online presence and wondering if they are doing it right. Having a physical store is nice, because people can browse and discover things they might not have thought about, and in some stores, they can touch and feel the merchandise, look at it in the light, feel the texture and inhale the aroma. The downside of a store is needing to open it, staff it, keep it clean and well-arranged, keep it safe, pay the staff, rent, insurance, and other overheads, plus too many other things the non-businessowner does not understand.

Not all businesses have an internet presence, and of those that do, many are little more than an internet business card or postcard, getting their feet wet setting up a website that is a lot like an online advertisement. Sometimes they don’t even allocate enough time to make this work well, and the only value it has is to give information the out-of-hours visitor needs to locate or call the business when it is staffed. Over time, if they see some success, or they hear advice from someone who advanced more quickly, a business might experiment with ecommerce, and actually sell their stock online.

It is too soon yet to tell whether retail malls and business parks will fade out, but a small number of brick and mortar businesses are working on a new model that says you don’t really need a physical retail presence at all. It does depend on the business itself, and the people it serves. Obviously, an eat-in restaurant or a golf club can’t be 100% online.

While working on this story today, I saw an interesting press release, about Australian Woodwork, one of Australia’s top woodcraft companies. They recently decided to completely move their business to the Internet. Their aim is to be exclusively online, so they can appeal to and reach a larger online market. Over the past few years, this company has advanced well past the business card/advertisement type of website.

I spoke to Sarah Davidson, at Australian Woodwork, about the reason they decided to make this move, and it lined up fairly closely with what I said earlier, about staffing and the challenges of a physical presence. Australian Woodwork already has an ecommerce website, and it has proven a few business ideas for them, allowing them to reach a wider audience. Their new website is still a work in progress, hidden from us right now, and not expected to be completed for another 4-5 months, but they have obviously learned from their previous online phases and that is feeding into the strategy and design for the new online presence, a presence that will see them with no retail locations at all.

“The website will become a place for customers to view and purchase furniture and one-off items, as well as talk to company representatives in real time. Australian Woodwork is also developing an advanced virtual showroom for customers who wish to visualize the company’s selection of products.”

The company’s current extensive physical presence means this is quite a radical shift, having grown to five retail locations, a purpose-built gallery in the Hunter Valley, plus the online e-commerce shop. Their focus is on the quality of the product, not on the expensive and difficult-to-manage physical retail presence, hence their decision to evolve. “Australian Woodwork will stay at the forefront of retailing the best Australian craftwork made of sustainable handmade woodworks,” they said.

Australian Woodwork’s existing online store was a good initial foray into ecommerce, as customers can attest, selling bowls, wooden jewellery boxes, accessories, games, toys, kitchenware and homeware, but there were things it could not do. According to what Sarah Davidson said, the new store will be much better, and it will utilise social sharing, an idea that businesses are starting to understand and use.

Once a bricks and mortar business starts to grow, and it controls more retail locations, the need for management of the business grows exponentially, not linearly. While there are still challenges growing an online business, the growth in management and bookkeeping is not exponential. This is a great motivator for businesses, and it is much more efficient. The downside is not being able to walk around the store, touching, feeling, smelling, spying something different out of the corner of your eye and actually being part of the buying experience.

After the new store opens, I will review it to see what they learned, and ask if they like their new mode of operation.

See the current Australian Woodwork store on the web at: www.australianwoodwork.com.au

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