Data so far available for December indicates 8 per cent growth in retail trade compared with the run-up to Christmas and New Year 2014, with a sizeable portion of the $5.5 billion spent in the latest month going to online retailers local and global.
From every indication, New Zealanders are well on the way to adopting consumer behaviors akin to those sweeping Europe and North America - a mix of online and off-line shopping, both overlaid with increasing personalisation in how and when people find, buy and receive what they want.
We are part of the global shift to "always on/always open" retailing where products and services can be located, appraised and bought either on the Web or from a physical store - perhaps a combination of both in a single shopping experience - to suit the preference, wallet and lifestyle of the individual.
Always on/always open retailing is about greater ease and convenience, and more competitive pricing.
Indeed BNZ Chief Economist Tony Alexander last week pointed to the price transparency and competition that come with online shopping are one reason for inflation pressures now being so low in our economy today.
This is a retailing shift borne of new digital technologies, globalisation in markets and supply chains, and heated competition among retailers - these fueled by the growing sophistication of consumers. In 2015, the shift accelerated across the world.
Consider these five developments:
1. Online shopping boomed globally as more people went for its ever broadening offer of goods, and its advantages of price and convenience.
The traditional "Black Friday" retail sale day in Europe and the US was graphic illustration - sales revenues shot up on the day but physical stores did not experience the volume of crowds to match the sales growth. The New York Times reported a 22 per cent leap from 2014 in online sales to US consumers (up to US$1.73 billion). In New Zealand the BNZ's online retail sales index rose 14% over the year to November.
2. Google Shopping service was expanded to take on eBay and Amazon through introduction of a "Buy" button in paid adverts.
Google Shopping - launched in 2012 to much controversy and an European Commission investigation into possible anti-trust behavior - enables consumers to compare products searchable by category or key word.
Merchants list images and descriptions: Searchers need go to just one site to compare the same or similar products from multiple manufacturers, and if wanted, to buy there and then. The world's biggest search engine is now also a huge shopping catalogue! (Google Shopping is not yet available to New Zealanders but they can search from google.com/shopping)
3. Mobile devices assumed dominance in Internet access - and smartphone makers, retailers and banks rolled out service options to reflect this in 2015.
The year's Global Web Index survey found 80% of Internet users (across 43 countries) had a smartphone and 47% had a tablet. Other surveys show these devices now in use far more frequently than desktop or laptop computers. "Tap and pay" services are on the rise.
Shoppers simply swipe their smartphone (or electronic card) over a reader to complete retail store payments. Last year saw the launch of AndroidPay, SamsungPay and Paymark's Semble (in this country), these all joining ApplePay in the scramble to control the user interface for mobile payments.
4. Amazon.com went into bricks and mortar to prove that physical retailing is not dead, just in radical change.
Amazon Books opened in Seattle with wooden shelves holding over 5000 titles, all best-sellers or known favorites among existing customers. For 20 years Amazon.com undercut traditional bookstores on price - now it wants people to also have the gratification of owning an item immediately they buy it and enjoy the personal touch of a salesperson.
New Zealand book retailers report a bumper Christmas with physical books back in vogue among gift buyers.
5. "Click-and-collect" came of age among big retailers especially in Europe, with IKEA making this service a key strategy in its business from now on.
Click-and-collect combines online shopping with customers' collection of purchased items from a convenient pick-up location. In the UK, for instance, online fashion retailer ASOS offers pick-up from selected Booths pharmacies. Closer to home, The Warehouse opened its first click-and-collect store, solely for online purchases, in central Auckland last September.
Always on/always open indeed!
For retailers, it is all about having "omni-channel" business strategies.
In other words, they must give customers a consistent research, shopping, purchasing and fulfillment experience regardless of the channel preferred for each function.
Omni-channel means having an integrated presence on the Web and the street (through retail stores or pick-up locations) so that consumers can find, appraise and decide on goods how and when they chose. Expect many to go "show rooming" -people inspecting items in a physical store before buying online perhaps from a rival retailer.
The consumer benefits are huge.
Brand owners and retailers have always had a strong interest in there being "one view of the truth" on products they trade and offer consumers.
For retailers, it's the headaches that are huge given the supply chain complexities of omni-channel and the potential for dis-economies of scale as fulfillment becomes ever more personalised. Old customer loyalties are declining and competition for customers is escalating.
The solution lies largely in greater collaboration between retailers and brand owners to maximise exposure of their product offerings online and off-line, and to minimise inventory, distribution and fulfillment costs. The solution lies also in that other great enabler of the digital age - global standardisation in the numbers, words and symbols we use to identify and describe things.
The more complex the market and its supply chains, the more important the standardisation of data about products, places and trading parties. A book or an item of clothing must be identified and described in ways that are instantly meaningful to all parties in its manufacture, distribution, marketing and delivery. It must be the same hardback edition or designer-brand blouse to all, with the same attributes, whether that item is physically in a shipping container at sea, a Sydney warehouse or an Auckland retail outlet (or displayed on a website).
Standardised data - and the standardised sharing of data - are actually what enable any retailing collaboration and any omni-channel operation within a single business.
Brand owners and retailers have always had a strong interest in there being "one view of the truth" on products they trade and offer consumers. This is why the ubiquitous GS1 barcode, and its underlying global system of standardised identification and scanning using Global Trade Item Numbers ('barcode numbers') for uniquely identifying every product, was invented 40 years ago.
In the big retailing shift, digital leaders - most notably Amazon, eBay and Google - are becoming more closely involved with GS1 at the global level, and driving use of these standards across the Web to support their supply chains and strengthen their connection with consumers.
What if a would-be buyer of your product could not use their digital device for comparative shopping (aka the smartphone) to actually find your product!
Smart retailers and suppliers are learning how to embed Global Trade Item Numbers and other forms of standardised data into the language of the Internet (HTML) so their products can always be found using Google or other search engines.
Of course consumers don't need to be conversant with GS1 numbers (or HTML), but anyone working in the always on/always open world of retailing definitely does. Without such tools Christmas shopping would be a little less rewarding for all!