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What NZ retailers can learn from Asterix

Julius Caesar conquered Britain.

Not because his weapons were better. Not because his armour was better. But because he figured out British soldiers stopped fighting each day for tea breaks and they refused to fight over the weekend.

Maybe it’s not an accurate account of history but it’s the Asterix in Britain version and a lesson that some New Zealand businesses can learn from.

Most notably, the country’s retailers.

BNZ just released its latest online retail sales index showing online spending in the last quarter of 2013 increasing by 13% over the last quarter in 2012.

Much of that market opportunity is lost to overseas merchants.

The online market share of overseas merchants has increased to 42% in the month of January – the highest level recorded since BNZ launched the index last year.

Listen up retailers, overseas merchants are catching you on your tea breaks.

Farmers recently announced it is closing its Queen Street location, the last of its presence in Auckland’s central business district. While media reports have referred to this as sad, no one has referred to it as surprising.

Have you tried to make a purchase on farmers.co.nz? Oh wait, the site doesn’t have that capability and it’s the year 2014.

But American retailer Macy’s is shipping to New Zealand and has on and off for 10 years.

If you want to look up lessons learned from collapsed retailers, Google Mervyn’s or Tower Records, both from my motherland of California.

Mervyn’s was the California version of Farmers, a mid-range department store found in suburban shopping malls and a handful of urban locations. It wasn’t as nice as Smith & Caugheys but a little more upper crust than the Warehouse.

Mervyn’s had nearly 200 locations and a somewhat outdated online presence. It folded in 2008. A few years ago the family said it planned to revive mervyns.com but plans have never materialised. Why would you bother when you’d have to compete with Walmart?

Tower Records launched an aggressive brick-and-mortar expansion in the 1990s. It had stores from Europe and Asia but they weren’t adapting to customer experience and expectations. While other record stores and bookstores were adding coffee shops and other lifestyle amenities to their locations, Tower refused. It stuck to its core business, music, and then went bankrupt because it couldn’t compete with online discounters and music piracy.

Perhaps New Zealand retailers are banking too much on brand loyalty, the idea that “my father shopped at Farmers, so I’m going to shop at Farmers.” But I’d like to take this time to remind retailers that 50% of Aucklanders are now foreign-born, according to the latest census.

And many of us born outside of New Zealand do not take tea breaks.

sflores@nbr.co.nz

More by Stephanie Flores

Comments and questions
6

Farmers has online shopping coming this year.

It will be interesting to see if it can compete with Macy's and Marks & Spencer - both have excellent sales and, being in the opposite hemisphere, the clothing put on sale is just coming into season here in NZ.

James, the ship may have sailed for online market share. I think what retailers need to focus on now is the customer experience. I've been shopping in Beijing, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and I must say I do not enjoy shopping in Auckland. For retailers who are ponying up for the brick-and-mortar expense, they really need to focus on customer service, the customer experience and smarter store layouts.

Horse. Bolted.

So true! Great article! It would also be nice if retailers stayed open past 5:30pm more than one day a week so that those of us who work until 5:30 everyday have time to shop after work.

Farmers site is terrible, late and on intershop a platform the warehouse wants to get off and is really expensive and inflexible. They need a real strategy yesterday.