Online shopping will become a reality for consumers early next year, with the creation of an online shopping mall that will feature many of the big names in retailing, including David Jones, Grace Bros and Coles-Myer.
Despite that, other retailers are still less than enthusiastic about electronic commerce, and unless they wake up shortly they may miss the gravy train, warns Michael Lonie, the executive officer of the Retail Traders Association of New South Wales. He says more details on the proposed "cyber-mall" will be revealed in late November following the submission of a number of proposals to the association.
"Some retailers have already considered the possibility of conducting online shopping this Christmas, but the vast majority of retailers won't see it as a huge attraction until the middle of next year.
"Some, though, still see the PC as something the kids play games on at night, so they have a bit of learning to do."
He says those retailers that have conducted business in the past using EDI would be the first to take the next step into Internet shopping. Lonie cited Lowes as a classic example.
"Lowes don't operate a warehouse for its approximate 130 stores, so consequently they have relied heavily on electronic measures for stock control and stock ordering between stores.
However, as Lonie admits, there are others who are scarcely aware that Internet shopping exists and are wary of treading those waters.
"They don't want to become the capture of an `electronic landlord'.
"Clearly, anything that can be done to enhance the prospect of having an Australian-based Internet shopping mall featuring the influential retailers would be very appealing," he says.
Lonie says an online shopping mall would provide a combination of benefits for retailers including extended shopping hours and expanded markets.
"Many retailers are also closely eyeing the year 2000 and the Olympics, when `cyber-visitors' will flock to Australia's Web sites."
Lonie has been trying to convince the retail landlords for the last 14 months, all to no avail, that renting floor space for shops will be passe as retailers start making the decision to move to online shopping.
"They all think I'm a nut because they are making billions of dollars out of rented floor space", he says.
"Take online kiosks, for example. Retailers will be able to double or triple their stock holdings without having to take up warehouse space."
Lonie explains that most retailers have accepted that online shopping is inevitable and would lead to a competitive edge if they jumped onboard.
"If they don't get on board, local retailers will lose out because they will be competing with the US giants such as JC Penny and Nordstroms, which Australian consumers can easily access via the Internet. But the success of an online shopping mall will only be assured if retailers carefully layout their Web sites, Lonie says.
"There is a standard that the Traders Association would like retailers to meet, in the sense of presentation and also how the information is provided."
"So even small, niche players, if they structure their site with good feedback outlets, will be able to compete toe-to-toe with the big names."