Australia’s enduring love affair with all things home hardware is bucking the online trend to become a physical rather than virtual reality.
The latest State of the Nation Report into retail by Roy Morgan Research reveals that while the digital shopping juggernaut continues to drag more people away from bricks and mortar outlets, the only type of department store increasing its visitor numbers is hardware.
Compared to five years ago, 246 million people visited hardware stores in the 12 months to June 30 this year – a jump of 20 million.
During the same period, visitors to newsagents fell by 97 million to 304 million while the number of people who shopped at music stores dropped by a third to 45 million.
The figures confirm the spectacular people-drawing power of hardware stores, a modern phenomenon more complex than just their aromatic sausage sizzles – although they may indeed play their part.
Rather, surging enthusiasm for home renovation and the inevitable DIY projects that follow – a pursuit that can be traced back to the great Australian desire to own your own home – is behind the popularity of today’s hardware stores.
According to the experts, a more appealing and tempting retail environment provided by the hardware stores, especially the big box brands such as Bunnings and Masters, is proving irresistible to customers.
“People go down to hardware stores to buy a widget and they come home with a widget plus. They tend to browse around … I’ve done it myself,” Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told The New Daily.
Mr Zimmerman said the strong real estate market in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane had seen a huge turnover of homes with many new owners embarking on home improvement projects.
Intense media coverage of the retail battle between Bunnings and Masters had also generated great interest as well as the popular home improvement programs.
“The TV shows have absolutely had an influence,” he said.
Aussies flock to Bunnings
The incredible popularity of hardware store shopping is confirmed in another recent survey by Roy Morgan, which shows that more than half (50.4 per cent) of the Australian population aged 14-plus now shop at Bunnings.
This is up from 46.7 per cent just 12 months ago and an increase of almost 800,000 shoppers in an average four-week period.
While Bunnings continued its amazing growth, store traffic for most of its competitors also increased, according to Roy Morgan.
Amid recent media speculation over the future of the struggling hardware chain, Masters gained customers – with 7.7 per cent of the population now shopping there over an average four-week period, an increase of 1.4 per cent on 12 months ago.
Mitre 10 (9.4 per cent, up from 9.3 per cent) and Home Hardware (2.9 per cent, up from 2.8 per cent) showed more modest growth, while the proportion of Australians shopping at True Value Hardware dipped from 1.0 per cent to 0.7 per cent.
The Roy Morgan Research State of the Nation Report into retail found that Australians spent more than $100 billion, online and in-store, purchasing retail goods in the financial year to June 2015 – a jump of five per cent on the previous financial year.
About 1.1 billion purchases were made and during an average four-week period, 54 per cent of Australians bought clothes, 24 per cent hardware, DIY and plants, 22 per cent shoes, 21 per cent cards and stationery, 17 per cent books, 16 per cent music or TV shows and 14 per cent games or toys.
Australians made a combined 1.34 billion trips to department stores, discount stores, hardware, homewares, clothing and music stores and newsagents over the last financial year. This is about 170 million fewer visits than five years ago despite a growing population.
Hardware compatible with online retail
However, while retailers might be seeing fewer people in their stores, many customers are instead using their websites with 47 per cent of Australians researching products online before buying from a store.
Australians spent an estimated $37.8 billion online in the last financial year – an increase of 9.7 per cent on the previous year. The fastest-growing online shopping categories by total dollars was home and garden (up 26.5 per cent) and electronics (up 23.1 per cent).
Roy Morgan found that the online shopping threat to local retailers, with dollars flowing overseas, had eased.
An estimated 72 per cent of the online spend (about $27 billion) stays in Australia, going to homegrown online-only sites or the internet offerings of local retailers.
Most online product categories are bought from Australian sites. The only categories where most shoppers buy from international sites include books and e-books, men’s clothing, jewellery and watches, video games and consoles, according to Roy Morgan.
Michele Levine, CEO of Roy Morgan Research, said consumers today didn’t care about the battle between online and traditional bricks-and-mortar stores – for them, it was all “shopping”.
“They research products online before visiting the store, or they touch, test and try on in-store before buying online,” she said.
“Today’s shoppers want [and expect] it all, and to be able to get it by whatever device or channel suits them best.”