By Aimee Chanthadavong

Nearly 10 million Australians are spending almost two hours a week shopping online, according to Deborah Sharkey Australia & New Zealand eBay vice president.

At a session of the Retail Conference at CeBIT 2011 in Sydney, Sharkey recently highlighted that based on research by eBay, Australians spent $20 billion last year shopping online and that is forecast to increase by 12 per cent this year.

Despite this, e-commerce represents only three to four per cent of the Australian retail industry, which is half compared to the US and the UK, showing there is still e-commerce growth yet to come.

Sharkey said e-commerce is a “critical inflection point” in the retail industry where Australians are now shopping online and are buying products that they previously bought in physical stores.

“E-commerce is the biggest catalyst of change since the shopping mall,” she said.

“It’s creating significant opportunity for retailers, manufactures and logistic providers alike who are prepared to evolve and meet the needs of the modern consumer.

“This buoyant e-commerce growth is a stark contrast against what we’re seeing the retail sector which has been pretty much flat over a year now.”

There are three mains reasons why consumers are shopping online and that is because there is a greater range online, products are more affordable – particularly with the strong Australian dollar – and the convenience of being able to shop globally 24/7.

Michelle Vanzella, Westfield director business development, said that shopping is now constantly around consumers.

“It’s becoming everywhere and it’s no longer a trade between a single buyer or a single merchant; it’s actually between many sellers and many buyers and their interactions on how they deal with each other is becoming ubiquitous and mobile devices are making that even more so,” she said.

But taking a step towards having a physical store to multi-channelling can be a difficult task for retailers for two reasons: retailers have to build multiple permutations to give customers what they want, which requires a lot of effort and planning; and it’s a change that would affect the way an entire organisation operates.

Daniel Roberts, Woolworths head of online, said it’s time for traditional retailers to evolve in order to win the competition by recognising that if they don’t make changes they will get left behind.

The key challenge for retailers is deciding what channel would work best for their business and that’s where they need to find maintain focus on what is relevant for their business, Vanzella said.

“The choice of these channels can be completely overwhelming. It’s not just about multi-channel retailing it’s about omni-channel shopping. With omni-channel shopping, shoppers use every conceivable touch point to find, to research, to share, to buy and to deal with sellers anytime, anywhere, which is why retailing should go back to basics of having the shopper at the core for which ever strategy you take other you’re going to run into trouble,” she said.