One of Australia's biggest online shoe sellers has set its sights on Kiwi consumers - and an industry group boss says local retailers cannot afford to ignore the challenges posed by rising levels of web-based competition.
Sydney-based Style Tread has seen phenomenal growth since its establishment across the Tasman 18 months ago, according to managing director Mark Rowland.
In Auckland last week for the official launch of Style Tread's New Zealand website, he said the company had doubled its sales every quarter from its founding up until last Christmas and now had one million visitors to its website each month.
The business is modelled on United States online fashion giant Zappos and offers free next-day delivery and free freight for returns on shoes that turn out to be the wrong size.
The company began a three-hour delivery service in its home market of Sydney, where its 5000sq m warehouse is based, this year.
Rowland said Style Tread customers had a year to make up their mind on whether they liked a pair of shoes, and could send them back if they decided otherwise. The company saw potential in this country after Kiwis began buying products off its Australian website, despite having to pay delivery and return charges, he said.
"We decided to launch a New Zealand offer and give the same standard of service to our New Zealand customers - free next-day delivery, free returns and one year to make your mind up on whether you like the shoes or not," Rowland said.
New Zealand Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said online retailers appealed to a "certain sector" of consumers.
"Local retailers need to be aware of what's going on and respond accordingly," he said. "The whole online space is an area that many retailers in New Zealand really have to give a lot of serious thought to ... you can't afford to ignore it."
Rowland reckoned Style Tread was unlikely to have much of an impact on local retailers. "If you take the size of the New Zealand market and how many shoes we're going to sell ... I wouldn't imagine we would be too much of a concern for those guys."
According to media reports, Style Tread was valued at A$20 million ($25.6 million) last May when Australia's Nine Entertainment invested A$4 million into the company.
Other shareholders include Rowland and Melbourne's Starfish Ventures, which invested A$7.5 million in the firm a few weeks ago - part of a A$12 million funding round that included follow-up cash injections from existing investors.
Rowland said Style Tread would establish a distribution facility in NZ if the business proved successful here.