What! No Sears catalogs?

Few indoor shopping malls. Virtually no Sears-style catalogs. Little shopping at night or on weekends. These are just a few of the things that set off shopping down under from that in the United States. For the most part, however, Australian retailers follow the US lead. California, in fact, is seen as a laboratory for new designs and merchandising projects for many Australian retailers.

"I reckon we're about 10 years behind America in trends," says Gordon Coulthart, director of administration for G. J. Coles & Coy Ltd., the biggest retailer down under (US$3.1 billion sales in fiscal 1980). "But it does give us a chance to really study something before getting involved."

Discount stores, a 12-year-old phenomenon in Australia, are rapidly spreading. Coles, for instance, opened 12 new K marts in fiscal 1980, lifting its total to 56. Shopping arcades are also popular. But you aren't likely to find many grandiose indoor malls.

The mild climate allows Australians to push their carts around outdoor shopping centers. Nor have mail-order catalogs been a big hit with them. One reason: They like to browse in person. Another: The country is one of the most urbanized in the world; stores are a short distance away.

Still, Australian retailers aren't just scouting US trends; they are picking up European and Japanese fads.

"I think to some extent we are growing up -- realizing that America isn't necessarily the fount of all knowledge," says Roy Lawrence, director of the New South Wales Retail Trader's Association.

Among US companies increasingly nosing into the Australian market are McDonald's and Safeway Stores Inc. Overall, retailers emp loy some 7,000 people , or 11 percent of the work force.

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