Australian retailers shut down by foreign competition

| 21.02,19. 02:16 PM |

Australian retailers shut down by foreign competition

Australian retailers are currently going under at the rate of about one a month, making everyone in the industry nervous.

Over the last couple of years about two dozen chains have collapsed, with the makeup empire of Napoleon Perdis the latest in an increasingly long line of failures.

It is not just Australian-owned retailers that are struggling, but also some established local outlets of big international players.

Among the big names that have fallen are Roger David, Marcs, Pumpkin Patch, Metalicus, Laura Ashley, Ed Harry, Top Shop, Toys'R'Us, Doughnut Time, Blockbuster Video, David Lawrence, Herringbone and Rhodes & Beckett.

Not only is low wages growth starting to bite consumer spending, but a big wave of foreign raiders is also taking its toll.

"Long gone are the days when you just opened your doors and customers wandered in," observed Terri Winter, the owner of high-end homewares chain, top3 by design.

Ms Winter said the clean out in Australian retail had a long way to go.

"There's lots of chat about a lot of retailers in difficulty and things like that," she added.

"They scraped themselves through Christmas, so I would expect to see more of them going under this year, unfortunately."

Fashion faces biggest hit

Fashion has been the hardest-hit sector and for those who watch the industry, it is no surprise why.

"We've all of a sudden gone from a market that's been fairly protected, I would say, to one where we now not only have this kind of open border with online, where you can shop anywhere in the world, but equally on your high street or in your mall you now have international competition," Pippa Kulmar, a director of consultancy Retail Oasis, said.

The competition Ms Kulmar talks about comes in the form of international giants such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, Sephora and the like.

In the face of that competition, many Australian retailers have been found wanting, such as men's clothing chain Roger David.

"Fashion's changed, clothing changed, and Roger David didn't," was the blunt observation of Barry Urquhart, chief executive of retail marketing consultancy, Marketing Focus.

He said another chain in the same boat was women's fashion house Maggie T, which was created in the image of fashion icon Maggie Tabberer.

"Maggie T was something of the past," he argued.

"It was nice, it was quaint, but it wasn't resonating with the greater bulk of the Australian consuming public."

The numbers tell the story of the damage being done by the foreign invaders.

On the most recent figures, for 2017, Australians spent just over $19 billion on clothes.

Sales at Zara, Uniqlo, H&M and Amazon were up by nearly a third, to $700 million.

Whilst that is only 4 per cent of the market, it is still $700 million that has been lost to Australian shops.

Aussie fashion tied to four seasons, slow to react

One of the reasons — local fashion houses seem behind the times, still wedded to the four seasons of the year.

"We're putting winter stock into store in March, and we all know, it's never cold in March, you are never looking for a coat in March and therefore by the time we get to April we are discounting product that we should be able to sell at full price," Ms Kulmar said.

Something the foreign invaders know only too well as they refresh their offering every few weeks rather than every three months.

"When there's a wedding in Westminster and you can buy a very similar wedding dress in Zara within two weeks, that is something that makes you, very, very attractive," Mr Urquhart observed.

Ms Winter has embraced the internet at top3 by design as she strives to stay one step ahead of the rest.

That same internet that killed Blockbuster Video, which she said is another example of a retailer not moving with the times.

"All retailers have to look from the outside into their business and have a look at where their threats are and be agile and change," she said.

"They could have done that. They could have been one of the next big streaming systems, and they could have owned that, but they didn't."

A message Ms Winter is trying to heed in her own stores.

"I spent a long time at the beginning of my business trying to make myself bigger and bigger than I was. Now in a way we're trying to make ourselves appear smaller and more local and more attainable," she told the ABC.

Making local is a point of difference when the competition is not just the shop down the road, but the whole world.


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