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Absorptive Capacity, International Business Knowledge Transfer, and Local Adaptation: Establishing Discount Department Stores in Australia

Australian Economic History Review

Published online on


This article examines the ways that Australia's largest retail firms accessed and adapted external knowledge flows, largely from the USA, to develop discount department store chains from the late‐1960s onwards. In doing so, it extends work on retail internationalisation by focusing on the importation, rather than the exportation of business models. The three firms – Coles, Myer and Woolworths – exhibited differing degrees of absorptive capacity in identifying and commercialising knowledge flows. This was reflected in fluctuating levels of success, the scope of store networks and relative positioning in the Australian market. Further, the role played by informal associations between managers in non‐competing firms in different markets during the development of discount department stores in Australia advances the case for socialising analyses of business knowledge transfer more broadly.