Miu Miu has just done it. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are about to. Moochi did it a few months ago. Karen Walker's been doing it for ages. Even The Warehouse is on to it. Everyone is opening up online, and if you're not, it seems almost archaic (or charmingly old-fashioned, depending on how you look at it). Our shopping habits are changing, but how will this growth in e-commerce impact on physical retail? Will we still have beautiful boutiques to visit in 10 years time?
The benefits of online shopping are obvious: no opening hours, no parking, and it's much easier to shop around for the best price - less about impulse purchases and more of a focus on a slower, more thoughtful approach to shopping. The internet has also opened up a whole new world for New Zealand shoppers, making brands that aren't available here accessible - whether it be a new season Arnsdorf blouse from Australia e-store My Chameleon or a Christopher Kane dress from Net-a-Porter, the most famous and, in my opinion, best online fashion store (although their recently launched men's e-store, Mr Porter, is close behind).
The increasing popularity of online shopping will obviously have an impact on local businesses which have to compete with the lower overheads of online stores, but many online shoppers say increased access to brands has had to make local boutiques more transparent - which can only be a good thing for shoppers. Writer Natalie Smith is a big online shopper, buying everything from books from Book Depository, dresses from Topshop and an Yves Saint Laurent gold nugget ring from the online store of London store Matches. She makes a concerted effort to support local businesses and designers by buying their wares from stores, but has noticed that imported clothing and accessories have become more honestly priced here. "It's less common to see out-of-season sale stock sold as brand new stuff. Local boutiques have had to become more transparent." They will also have to up their game in terms of service.
Though it's crucial for local business to be transparent when everything seems to be available online now, it's also crucial for young local designers to be online, in terms of future growth and brand awareness. Brands like Ruby and Twenty-seven Names are being written about on blogs around the world, but it's coverage that seems almost pointless unless they can leverage sales out of it. Twenty-seven Names was recently picked up by online retail giant ASOS.com, while Ruby Boutique has its own online store.
For Ruby Boutique, the impact of an online offering has been relatively minimal on sales from the physical stores. Brand manager Eleisha Balmer says what they have noticed is the level of customer research and awareness as a result of the online store.
"We definitely notice our customers have a greater awareness for our new arrivals in store, as they often do their research online and then come in as soon as they've seen something they're interested in."
This is definitely the case with high-end boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, where people can see what's happening internationally and then look to buy locally.
The way women are shopping has changed, and the internet is to blame - no longer is it about spending hours going from boutique to boutique, but knowing what you are looking for and spending more time on "research". As Balmer explains, their customers are web-savvy and time-poor, and being online appeals.
That time to research product is also key for Claudia Zinzan, who recently launched an online store called Father Rabbit, with partner Nick Hutchinson. There's a focus on homewares, with a perfectly edited selection of simple, back to basics pieces - from striped yarn to linen table cloths to a wooden egg cup.
"With online shopping, there is a real opportunity to read more about the product or brand you are buying and to see the story behind the selections," explains Zinzan, herself a fan of online shopping (she likes Wallace Cotton's online store, although she still can't bring herself to buy clothes online).
They looked at opening a physical store, but decided to go online first to establish the brand.
"Creating an online store was an opportunity to test the market without the large capital investment required for a retail shop fit-out and all the associated overheads," says Zinzan.
Though don't be fooled into thinking that launching online is easy. Ruby's Balmer explains that though there are fewer overheads, like staff, the initial set-up is very expensive. "The biggest cost each season is investing in decent photography of each garment. It can be time-consuming, tedious work, but once it has been done it needs very little management through the season."
Of course, no matter how beautiful a website, in both its selection and its presentation, there is still nothing like flicking through clothes on a rack in a beautifully designed store, touching the fabric and having a shop assistant show you through a selection. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's new venture may be taking on that idea of helpful shop girls. Women's Wear Daily has reported that in July it will launch StyleMint.com, a personalised shopping site that provides monthly recommendations based on what other pieces you have bought - so a bit like a shopping assistant, but without the small talk.
How to shop online
Tips for a good online shopping experience
* Look out for duty costs at Customs - if you spend more than $400, you have to pay about $150 extra to get your stuff.
* Only shop at credible websites that have an "s" after the "http" in the web address - that means they have security encryption to keep your credit card safe.
* Know the address of a good currency converting website - we like XE.com.
* Google for a discount code before you go to the checkout.
* You may not be handing over a credit card, but remember, you're still spending real money!
An online guide
Viva's top buys and web stores
* XOXO Banter Banner, about $13.
* Jonathan Adler "Utopia" king/queen mug, $58.
* Stella McCartney "Falabella" citrus-print cotton clutch, about $1045.
* D RK SH D W by Rick Owens "Explorer" denim and leather jacket, about $1470.
* Linen owl tea towel, $25.
* Band of Outsiders patterned silk bow tie, about $190.
* Arnsdorf contrast cuff nude and blue blouse, about $527.
* "Highway" pink-soled heel with bow, about $104.