The retail sector has moved towards a consumer-lead environment with mobile technology to be the next big change, eBay Australia and New Zealand, Vice President, Deborah Sharkey has told attendees at a CEDA event in Sydney.
Outlining some of the key findings from the 2012 Online Business Index (OBI) survey, an annual study of eBay's largest 3000 Australian sellers, "the internet empowers consumers with information and (gives them) greater control. Australians will spend $32 billion online (and) e-commerce is growing 12 per cent year on year," she said.
This growth is even more pronounced on eBay with the largest 2000 based sellers growing their eBay sales by 45 per cent last year, she said.
Ms Sharkey commented that with 10 million Australians shopping online, businesses are now taking a multi-channel approach, selling on eBay as well as having physical stores, their own website and now embracing the mobile environment.
"Australian businesses recognise the mobile opportunity," she said.
"Seven out of 10 Australian businesses say that mobile would be an important part of their business strategy this year.
"However they feel handicapped that they don't have the information or the infrastructure to reach the mobile consumer.
"The sales on eBay on mobile/email devices in Australia contribute more to overall eBay sales than any other global eBay market. Half of the survey respondents say that they want to partner with eBay because they recognise that eBay invests significantly in eBay technologies.
"Globally shoppers spent over $5 billion on eBay mobile apps in the last year. And that number will nearly double this year."
Mobile technologies are blurring the line between on and offline commerce with postal infrastructure a critical growth enabler, she said.
OBI respondents said that postage is the biggest opportunity to help businesses continue to grow.
They asked for three things:
Australia Post, Executive General Manager - Parcels and Express Services, Richard Umbers built on this highlighting that Australia Post is adapting to meet the needs of the changing retail environment.
He said today's parcel has many new features which are part of the service offered to customers, including:
Mr Umbers outlined that Australia Post has also introduced a number of initiatives to provide better reliability, choice and convenience for customers such as the newly unveiled 24/7 parcel locker site in Melbourne's CBD. The locker aims to increase service flexibly by catering for people who work in the CBD and are unable to pick up their parcel during normal business hours.
Australian Retailers Association (ARA), Executive Director, Russell Zimmerman said the ARA is working with retailers to embrace online opportunities including:
Mr Zimmerman emphasised that the OBI assisted is clearing up the misconception that online retail is the enemy.
"A lot of our small retailers are hungry for information and tools that will help them innovate and sell online," he said.
"ARA (are) encouraging members to explore the online tools to help reach their customers and ensure their business strategy will stand the future of retail."
He emphasised the importance of retail which "is a $240 billion industry, it is Australia's largest private employer, provides one in 10 jobs directly and one in seven jobs indirectly - that is something worth protecting," he said.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister Assisting for Deregulation, the Hon David Bradbury acknowledged "by focusing on new opportunities for innovation and growth that comes with a big shift, we can secure a strong retail sector into the future," he said.
He highlighted that the retail sector is being confronted with a number of new challenges in the post-GFC environment, including:
To assist in tackling these challenges, the Federal Government has established the Retail Council of Australia providing the opportunity for industry to collectively raise concerns with the Government, Mr Bradbury MP said.
Producers and retailers make, grow and sell goods or perform services to meet the demand of consumers and this must be the forefront of thinking for all policy makers and market participants, he said.
He warned that consumers are savvy, value-conscious and are far better equipped, and more motivated to find goods and services they want. Modern technology means consumers will find what they want somewhere else if they can't get it in Australia.
"Customers are using their smart phones to compare prices, often while they are in the store. Many users are using the check-in functions on social media apps to extend special offers and discounts, while others are using mobile devices to transmit customer data... to provide a more personalised experience for the consumer."