The strong New Zealand dollar is a headache for exporters, but imports are surging as Kiwi shoppers flock to overseas websites to take advantage of the currency's strength.

Freight operator DHL Express is seeing unprecedented growth in its deliveries to this country, which rose 26.6 per cent between March and September this year, and says it has been forced to beef up its Auckland workforce to cope with the demand.

Goods arriving from the United States grew the most, rising 40 per cent over the same period, the company said.

The buying power of the kiwi, which hit a post-float record of US87.43c against the greenback in August and was trading above US76c yesterday afternoon, means some products offered on overseas websites can be bought more cheaply than here.

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DHL Express national sales manager Phil Corcoran said the growth was being aided by the fact that New Zealanders were becoming more savvy and comfortable about shopping online. A controversy erupted this year when it emerged that adidas All Blacks rugby jerseys could be bought in the United States for half the price they were selling for in this country.

Nielsen, a market research firm, has estimated that in 2001 only 10 per cent of New Zealanders aged over 18 shopped online. These days the figure is thought to be about 46 per cent.

Nielsen also estimates that Kiwis spent about $2.3 billion shopping online over the past year, based on a database of 12,000 people the company interviews annually and a survey it did in January.

Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said it became difficult for local businesses to compete against overseas-based online stores when the kiwi dollar surged against the greenback.

And it was unfair on local retail firms that items sold by overseas operators for less than $400 were not subject to GST, Albertson said.

"Our view is that if you're going to tax consumption, then you should tax all consumption ... that's something we're talking to the Government about."

But the flow of products is not all one way.

Many New Zealand businesses offer their wares online, including Auckland-based fashion label Stolen Girlfriends Club.

Dan Gosling, the label's co-founder and director, said around 25 per cent of the firm's sales were online, with halfof them made to overseas customers.

Large amounts of New Zealand baby formula are sold online in China, where fear of contaminated dairy products has made parents afraid of giving locally made formula to their children.

Ins and outs of web trade
Coming in

Products arriving in NZ include:

* Bikes
* Clothing
* Books
* Shoes

Going out

Products ordered overseas include:

* NZ fashion from brands including Stolen Girlfriends Club, Karen Walker and Twenty-Seven Names
* Baby formula
* NZ music

Top five

Sites generating DHL deliveries:

1. Amazon.com Books, music, clothing, jewellery
2. Shoebuy.com Shoes
3. Shopbop.com Fashion
4. Iherb.com Herbal health products
5. Wiggle.co.uk Bikes and cycling clothing and accessories