Stores stress joy of shopping to beat web

By Kelly Gregor

Heather Gerbic, Chris Cherry, Michelle Deery and John Courtney  have helped form the High St Guild.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Heather Gerbic, Chris Cherry, Michelle Deery and John Courtney have helped form the High St Guild. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A group of Auckland retailers wants to remind shoppers of the pleasures of buying in stores.

Consumers are spending less in stores as online shopping becomes more popular - still it accounts for only 3 per cent of purchases processed in New Zealand.

High St retailers such as Chris Cherry of Workshop and Michelle Deery of Hotel de Brett believe there is enough business for all types of retail because shopping experiences are so different.

They, together with some 48 businesses in the precinct, have joined forces to promote the shopping and eating district and celebrate inner-city living.

The High St Guild will focus on creating a shopping community and attracting customers to the retail lanes.

Deery said High St offered customers an experience they did not get online or at malls.

Although she noted there was a space for different types of retailing, the guild wanted to remind people of the human interaction and service customers received when shopping on the street.

Cherry said the street was the birthplace of New Zealand fashion and although sales figures had been solid through the year, he admitted it was not as "easy" as it used to be.

The recession had made customers more discerning and staff were having to work harder to provide options and varying price points to meet changing budgets.

He did not think online sales would ever replace the experience of shopping on the street.

"You can buy jeans from a brand if you know what size and fit you are. But that doesn't replace playing dress-up with a salesperson. Online shopping can be a very solitary experience."

The New Zealand Retail Association estimates that 3 per cent of all purchases made in New Zealand are processed online.

Chief executive John Albertson said online deals and a strong New Zealand dollar were making "bricks-and-mortar" retailers all too aware of the growing threat.

"One of the things we have to take into account is that the online space is being extensively used for research. People go online and do all their homework in the online environment and then may go into the bricks-and-mortar store to make the purchase. Most [retailers] have their own online presence now. The traditional retailers have seen online as a new channel."

Albertson points out that GST is not charged when goods under $400 are purchased online.

"That is not a consistent application of policy and how we address that is one of those great questions at the moment - how we cost-effectively collect the money on those online purchases.

"There should be a consumption tax, not just on stuff that is sold locally. Nobody in New Zealand is looking for an advantage but we don't want to be at a disadvantage.

"If we are going to tax consumption we have to be consistent and tax all consumption."

But online purchases are not without their risks.

If you buy goods overseas they are not covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Albertson said the most popular items bought online were flights, books and CDs.

Paymark, which handles 75 per cent of electronic transactions in New Zealand, says online transactions represent less than 10 per cent of about 1.5 billion transactions a year.

However last November there was a 30 per cent increase on the same month in 2009.

November is the biggest month for online buying with people purchasing in time for delivery by Christmas.

Paymark chief executive Simon Tong said the New Zealand online market tracked the British market, which was booming.

He was expecting 15 per cent growth year to year but was surprised at the strength of online shopping.

"It's small but growing."

A survey by Symantec, an online security provider, that interviewed 700 people over the age of 15, showed 70 per cent of respondents bought presents online this year.

About 50 per cent of male respondents said they bought the majority or all of their Christmas presents online compared with 65 per cent of female respondents.

About 66 per cent of respondents said shopping online was more cost-effective than shopping in stores.

Of the respondents, 28 per cent said they shopped only on New Zealand sites and 22 per cent said they shopped on New Zealand and overseas sites.

In terms of overseas sites, 48 per cent shop on American sites, 29 per cent on Australian and 18 per cent on British sites.

Another survey by e-commerce specialists Solutionists and the New Zealand Retailers Association revealed that almost 50 per cent of New Zealand retailers are selling products online and a further 40 per cent are considering the online platform this year.

Solutionists managing director Frank Gilbert said investment into e-commerce over the next 12 months would pay off for New Zealand retailers as online sales statistics were increasing year on year.

"Our clients have seen amazing online sales growth this year, especially considering how tough retail has been. In many cases online stores outperform physical stores as New Zealanders become more aware of, and dependent on, shopping online.

"A high proportion of retailers already understand the value of selling online with 35 per cent expecting the bulk of their business to grow from online sales."

Gilbert said retailers were planning to improve their online offerings through upgraded websites, subscriptions to newsletters, branding subsites and using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

More than 5000 retailers participated in the survey.

GrabOne founder and chief executive Shane Bradley said his online voucher company was growing month on month and just before Christmas had its biggest week with 24,000 vouchers sold.

Bradley said that despite running a company that pushed for online sales, there would always be a place for a physical store where people could try on clothes instead of viewing images on a computer screen.

"If I want to buy a top, I want to see it and try it on. So that experience will always be there. There will be a certain sector of the market that buys online."

GrabOne, which is 50 per cent owned by Bradley and 50 per cent by Herald publisher APN, is expanding into Australia. It has already been launched in Brisbane.

GOING ONLINE

*About 50 per cent of male respondents said they bought the majority or all their Christmas presents online compared with 65 per cent of female respondents.

*About 66 per cent of respondents said shopping online was more cost-effective than shopping in stores.

*Of the respondents, 28 per cent said they shopped only on New Zealand sites, 22 per cent said they shopped on New Zealand and overseas sites.

*In terms of overseas sites, 48 per cent shop on American sites, 29 per cent on Australian and 18 per cent on British sites.

The survey of 700 people over 15 was done by Symantec, an online security provider.

- NZ Herald

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