Cash-strapped Rotorua retailers are reinventing themselves online to haul back massive losses but the association which represents the majority of them believes they should be allowed to open for business.

The move down to level 3 has allowed retailers to trial an online presence and reconnect with customers some described as "long lost mates".

But Retail NZ boss Greg Harford says while online shopping has provided some relief from lockdown he believes retailers should be able to open their doors if it can be done safely.

Willow Fashion Boutique owner Donna Walsh said she started work on getting an online store going in the second week of lockdown.


"We were just doing something different to try and get some customers in."

Walsh said while an online presence has been "really good" it had been a slow start to get her name out there on the internet.

"I have tried to spread the word on Facebook but it takes a while," she said. "It takes a long time to log on all of your stock. It is not a five-minute job."

While she said a few of her regular customers had shopped online Walsh was mindful not to pressure people to buy.

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"Everybody is hurting we are mindful of that. I think we just had to try," she said.

"I think it will be good for the business going forward. It will just give us another presence in the big wide world."

She said small businesses were the "heart of the community and our town".

"If we don't have any heart, what is there?"

Rotorua florist Emily Stevens, owner of Em's Flowergirl. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua florist Emily Stevens, owner of Em's Flowergirl. Photo / Andrew Warner

Em's Flowergirl owner Emily Stevens said florists were used to online orders but it was strange not being able to open the doors.

"It is really weird. I never thought I would miss my customers so much."

Despite being shut, Stevens said she had received lots of online inquiries from people wanting to send flowers to loved ones and was expecting a big week ahead of Mother's Day.

"People can't be there to see their loved ones so they will send flowers instead," she said.

"The support I have had pre-Covid has been really humbling. It brings a tear to my eyes to see the joy that it brings to people.

"People were so anxious before the lockdown and sending flowers to them for people has been huge. It means so much to people and for me to be apart of that has been really special."


Stevens thanked the community for their support and said it was important to get behind local businesses.

"Every little bit that goes, we need it to come back somehow and we can do that by supporting local."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Redwood Butchery owner Kevin Reardon admitted he had tossed up whether or not to open in level 3 but he did it for the customers. "We didn't want to lose them."

Reardon said operating in level 3 was "very different" with online and phone orders, as well as click and collect but he said it was important people still supported local.

"It is good to see the customers even though we can't have proper conversations.


"It does make you feel good when people ring up they are like long lost mates, they are good friends not just customers."

The Suspension Lab owner Jono Church said operating in level 3 was not hugely different from normal as he worked by himself.

"The main difference is I don't have that direct conversation like I would normally.

"I have just been doing what I can over emails and phone calls."

Lauren Hart, business manager of New Zealand-made women's fashion store Kilt, which had stores in Rotorua and Tauranga, said the boutique stores had all had an increase in online orders.

"For us, we are in the lucky position where we are New Zealand made and we have got a lot of our stock already.


"The key thing is keeping money in New Zealand. We want to see those businesses survive through this."

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ. Photo / Supplied
Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ. Photo / Supplied

Harford said e-commerce can be done safely and was an easy way for customers to purchase goods.

"We've been calling for online shopping to be allowed for some weeks, and the fact that it is now allowed will give retailers a little relief from level 4 when they were effectively deprived of all cashflow."

However, Harford said Retail NZ believed businesses should be able to open their doors to customers as well.

"The supermarkets have shown that safe shopping can be done..."

He said local businesses had been through a difficult period with no cash coming in from sales.


"Retail NZ strongly encourages people to #shoplocal because shopping at local businesses will help keep those businesses alive, keep jobs in local communities, and ultimately keep town centres vibrant."

Shopping from a New Zealand website also meant people had much easier ways to get issues sorted if there was a problem.

"It's good to know that just because a website has a co.nz website doesn't mean it's a legitimate Kiwi business.

"We advise customers always to make sure they know who they are dealing with online and to deal with trusted and legitimate businesses."