While cooking dinner last night, I accidentally broke the handle off of my pan and so I thought I would get myself a new one as an early Christmas present. Looking online, I was confronted full force with the sheer retardedness of the current state of Australian online ecommerce.
Let us currently review the state of the online offerings of the 4 largest department stores in Australia:
David Jones does have a “Catalog” link from their front page but this turns out to merely be a paper scan of their various paper catalogs.
Each catalog is a dumb image file with no way of clicking on the objects to gain more information.
However, it turns out David Jones does have an online store but the only thing it’s possible to buy via it is one of 44 completely useless hampers.
Score for David Jones: 1/5
The technology is there to sell stuff online but only stuff nobody would ever want to buy
Myer has a somewhat less confusing “Hampers & gifts online” link which at least indicates to you that this department store monolith is aware of the concept of ecommerce.
The initial impression once clicking on the link is promising, several categories appear and probably half the stuff on the page is stuff people would ever conceivably want to buy.
However, clicking further into the site reveals the thinness of the actual online selection. Only one pair of jeans for women, one type of thong in either black or white and a choice of 5 styles of towels rounding out the “bathroom” section. If you happen to be in the market for the exact brand of Jennifer Hawkins swimwear they sell, you’re in luck.
For anyone else, the ability to comparison shop and see what options available which make online shopping so compelling is wholly absent from Myer
Score for Myer: 3/5
It’s an elegantly designed store which is easy to navigate. Too bad it has almost no selection.
It’s hard to see from Target’s front page just how one would even attempt a stab at ecommerce. While the obvious links on the page all go to catalogued items, there isn’t any big shiny “Buy Now!” button. Finally, I noticed down the very bottom of the page there was a “shop from home” button.
Clicking it reveals an incredibly byzantine rube goldberg device in which I can fax an order form to target after which they call me 2 days later to confirm that I’m not a senile incompetent before shipping it to me.
Their online order form is basically a straight copy of their fax form including the charming sections in which you’re meant to record which page of the catalog you saw the item you wanted.
Score for Target: 0.1/5
It’s technically possible to buy something purely using the internet from Target which prevents them from getting a 0. However, the entire process is such a direct translation of the offline buying experience I don’t know why anyone would bother.
Moving from the classiest of retailers down to the trashiest of them, I didn’t have any high hopes for Kmart. However, their page navigation is clean and the “shop from home” option immediately jumps out where, wonder of wonders, it actually looks like an online store.
Joy of joys, it looks like there’s at least 5 pages worth of stuff in their selection, lets try and click through to the next page…
Oops, they weren’t pages, those were steps towards having something bought.In fact, KMart’s selection includes a paltry ten items, all of which fit comfortably on a single page. However, never fear, KMart also has a magic “Add General Item” box on the bottom of their page.
Apparently, according to KMart, I could add anything I want and the magic elves of KMart would help fulfill my order. Of course, I chose to pick up a few other items along with my pan.
Unfortunately, while holding a great deal of promise, at the point which I chose to submit my order, the entire website fell down and I was left with nothing :(.
Score for KMart: 2/5
Great potential marred by not actually being able to buy anything.
Final score: 1/5
Australian ecommerce from any of the major brick and mortar retail outlets, while theoretically possible is so flawed so as to be unusable by any reasonable person. this is a truly shocking state of affairs from someone who is used to Amazon Prime and routinely using 2 day shipping for purchases of $5 and less.
Given Australia is relatively technologically advanced in so many other areas *cough* online banking *cough*, what can explain the abysmal state of Australian ecommerce? I have a pet theory.
The standard economic model is that firms are profit maximising entities. That is, companies should rationally go after business opportunities which serve to make them the most extra profit. However, I think a far more reasonable model which would explain why Australian ecommerce sucks is that most firms are loss minimizing entities. That is, the desire for innovation is not driven by a lust for profit so much as a fear of competition and loss.
In the US, there was Amazon. And as soon as Amazon started selling things online, other retailers realised that their only choice was to open up an online store so as to not lose sales that were now going to Amazon. Even though Australian stores could easily gain vast amounts of money by having a credible online presence, not having an online store is not losing them any money and so the incentive and will is simply not there.
I think such a model of economics is a far better fit for reality than the orthodoxy, profit maximising entities but it has radical implications on the analysis of economic policy. Monopolies and Ogliopolies won’t simply innovate just because there’s profit in innovation. Instead, a disruptive force needs to be present to force companies to innovate by threatening them.