Myer vs. David Jones: Who’s winning the customer experience war?

As two of Australia’s stalwart brands in Myer and David Jones continue their respective journey through troubled waters, it’s another sign of how every business in the world is now part of the commoditisation of goods and services and the shift towards an experience economy. 

For Myer and DJs, in-store retail experience needs to be seamless – it should feel like a day at the theme park. It needs to amplify the joy of shopping for those who love it and make it much more tolerable for those who hate it. 

However, with falling sales figures and somewhat of an identity crisis for the country’s two biggest department stores, let’s take a deep dive into how focusing on designing the customer journey may be the path forward for these giants of Aussie retail. 

“Cyborgs” are a breed of business that are neither entirely digital nor entire physical, but tread the line between the two environments to deliver the best possible customer experience. How then can digital be used to optimise the operational efficiency of Myer and DJs while enabling the delivery of a killer customer experience? 

Myer’s metamorphosis

As Myer, Australia’s largest department store, downsizes, focusing on a more intimate customer experience, it is arguably out-David-Jones-ing David Jones. 

Myer is applying a much more David-Jones-esque approach to excellence in customer service and a focus on experiences, but it is doing it at an intimate level. It’s almost a metamorphosis of their retail journey. 

With that being said, Myer still has a way to go. With stocktake sales, daily deals, clearances and click frenzies, it commoditises the offering and devalues the experience. Sales are like sugar, a little bit is OK, but too much is unsustainable. 

Then there’s Myer One, widely recognised as one of the most successful loyalty programs in the nation with over five million cards in circulation. However, while recognising and rewarding loyalty is important, you can’t lead with it. 

A business must nail elements of the customer experience before playing in the rewards game or the program may run the risk of being seen as a distraction to the core offering. There needs to be a focus on future growth, as sales-only strategies are almost always going to show diminishing returns. 

David Jones loses focus

The reality is, David Jones appears to be without a clear direction, leaving us unsure as to how it can continue on this trajectory and find success. It is allegedly reviewing its $25 million media account, but appears to be doing that as a cost-saving measure rather than a way of pursuing new strategic horizons. 

Its brand used to focus on premium customer service, but somewhere along the way, the DJs version of what excellence means has been lost in translation as its consumers didn’t actually want to be treated like Jay Gatsby or Hyacinth Bucket. 

David Jones was far too quick to allow price matching against competitors that were better structured for price – like JB Hi-Fi or Chemist Warehouse – in hopes to upsell to the exclusive brands. 

The exclusive brands within the same portfolio, however, became non-exclusive as their pressure to move to direct-to-consumer became impossible to withstand. 

DJs is being beaten by the luxury brands in Hermès and Louis Vuitton in-store, and is now being beaten by their less-prestigious competitors too. 

The race for intimacy

In terms of an amazing experience, we’re yet to see either store nail the combination of digital with face-to-face intimacy. This is where focusing on an intimate customer experience could be enhanced by digital. 

With both brands still generating a considerable amount of revenue from their flagship Sydney and Melbourne stores, it’s clear that the race for mass distribution is won online. Digital brands like Asos and The Iconic have become much more competitive on quantity and distribution that department stores previously dominated. 

These online retailers are technically department stores, just without the physical face-to-face experience. 

Finding a digital backbone

Digital department stores have made a significant impact on the Myer model, with direct-to-consumer offerings also encroaching on the concession model. Myer was unable to capitalise on its own online experience and is shifting focus back to the offline experience, having to reinvent itself as a “traditional” department store. A prime example of this is the Mecca integration within Myer, opting for a much more personalised and intimate journey. Myer seems to be missing a digital backbone to their arsenal that is expected by its customers. 

How about luxury delivery?

DJs has the bare minimum when it comes to its digital experience, but it continues to lose to competitors in The Iconic and Asos. Yes, you can buy from DJs online but there is no reason why you would, with price, interface, shipping, personalisation and variety all offered in better format by competitors. David Jones could instead offer luxury delivery, sourcing inspiration from the likes of China’s e-commerce platform, known for offering a luxury delivery experience, complete with white-glove service. 

A blending of strengths

Within the next five years we’ll see a new breed of department store. Maybe it will be The Iconic creating a physical store? Or perhaps physical storefronts will be repurposed as styling showrooms that are visited once or twice per year and then the customer’s personal shopper sends suitable recommendations throughout the year? 

The reality is that businesses need to become cyborgs in their offerings – part-human, part digital. They can’t survive as a traditional retail model, and only a few will survive the race to digital domination. 

That being said, when it comes to the traditional department store model, we still crave that personal experience and someone to tell us that we look good in that suit or dress. We crave the human interaction and the ability to touch and feel things, but we also crave the convenience and ability to order online in our own time with packages arriving at our home or work. 

There is a balance, and department stores need to find it. 

Tom Uhlhorn is the founder and strategy director at Melbourne-based CX consultancy Tiny CX.


1 comment

  1. Billg posted on July 23, 2019

    The correct answer here is neither. Websites are broken on most browsers. Inventory is broken. Click and collect isn't. As far as product is concerned, it's all fake Kmart tier private labels and made-for-outlet rags that dissolve in the wash. Management doesn't have a clue. They still think they offer a "premium" experience. Customers have figured out and demand is disintegrating.

Comment Manually

Inside Retail Polls

Has your ad spend on Facebook and Instagram changed over the last 5 years?


In the latest issue of Inside Retail, we celebrate 20 of Australia’s coolest businesses. Get the free report here:…

13 hours ago

Retailer Awards entries close this Friday, 8 November. Choose from 11 categories and enter now:…

1 week ago