How can Alice Springs retailers fight the ‘online onslaught’?

Alice Retailers Urged: Fight Online Onslaught (Centralian Advocate)The Centralian Advocate ran a bold headline last week, ‘Alice Retailers Urged: Fight Online Onslaught’.

The trouble is, the article only really had space for raising alarm among Alice Springs retailers and sharing some platitudes, it didn’t have enough space for expanding into some definite action steps. (One could argue that is not the role of the paper and we’ll have that debate another day).

So here are the main points raised in the article along with some steps that could be taken, perhaps with the local Chamber of Commerce playing a coordinating role.

The pain in the Alice

Firstly, the article catalogues a litany of woes through Kay Eade from the local Chamber of Commerce, namely:

  • Australian dollar high, hurting international tourism of which Alice is crucially dependent
  • Local retailers have higher costs than most in ‘protecting, securing and repairing their properties against crime and vandalism’
  • Many have moved to cheaper premises or have been forced to work on much smaller margins
  • Hard to attract, retain and train good staff

The answers presented in the article were:

  • Improve customer service
  • Think outside the square
  • Contemplate going online

I am sure Kay had further thoughts behind the reported comments.

However, I have run workshops for thousands of small business people over the past decade and i all I shared was ‘think outside the square’ I would face a revolt.

By the sounds of it (and I have worked with business owners in Alice) local retailers almost feel like a state of emergency should be declared so they can bring stability and confidence, even just breathing space, back to the sector.

So here are three practical things that Alice Springs retailers, the Chamber, and service providers could each consider, given the current mood.

Practical research – talk to customers about what they would prefer, float ideas past them, analyze your business to determine what bits are working and what bits aren’t, even use a tool like so that you can tune into online conversations that locals and visitors are already having about their needs and wishes.

Act and think like a customer for a day. Imagine someone has bought you out, you have no more responsibility for the store or its staff. Try hard to think about the business offering now from a customer’s perspective – is this business their only choice, their best choice?  Is there any way or reason for maintaining contact with this store after purchase? What would make you stay loyal?

A key to survival (and I am thinking it is) then we need to address the cost of website construction. I was staggered to hear when in town  last year that a local art gallery was quoted $30,000+ for a website, while others are being quoted $4,000-$6,000 for basic websites.

Quite frankly, there is an opportunity here for the Chamber of Commerce to apply scales of economy to the ‘fight against the online onslaught’ by interacting with the local web industry as a group.

Just imagine, if the Chamber facilitated:

  • bringing together local retailers to learn together as a group about the basics of online marketing and retailing (we have been running courses through the local Business Enterprise Centre),
  • bringing interested businesses together with local web builders to create a group template for a website design (that could be simply customized) – an instant cost saving
  • working out an ‘Alice retailer’ web package for around the $1500 mark, run on the free, open source system called Wordress and hosted affordably. The build could be allocated between local web people (or others) or the tasks allocated among different providers.

That is a radical idea that I am sure will attract criticism but if we seriously want to take dramatic action and take charge of our destiny then someone needs to step up with a vision and bring as many people along with them as they can muster.

The key is some down-to-earth workshops to demystify the online concept, then some practical discussions to work our creative ways of integrating online technology with a business, and then a no fuss, sound website developed to start building web presence and experience TODAY. More elaborate site development could follow later.

What do you think?


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