OPINION: Cheryl Adamson is the General Manager of the Parnell Business Association.
When Covid first hit, The Fantail House – a locally produced artisan gift and homeware store – was slammed. With 75% of its turnover being from tourists and only 25% from domestic customers, the Parnell-based retailer had been reliant on international customers to drive business.
For many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) who were in a similar position – with no online shopping platform or budget to pay for one – the emergence of Covid presented a steep learning curve. Bricks and mortar had been the norm for most businesses, with little reason or requirement for anything other than the distinct physical presence of the shop itself, supported by some social media.
The growth of online shopping is not new and in recent stats, it shows no signs of slowing. June figures from Datamine Retailwatch showed that online spend experienced a huge 25.8% increase year-on-year, totalling $870 million, of which the Online Offshore spending increased 61% YoY.
NZPost’s recent eCommerce Spotlight echoes the trend and reported that Kiwi online spend has more than doubled in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period three years ago. This captures the seismic shift that online shopping has experienced in such a short period of time.
But the growth of online combined with the pandemic created an environment where businesses simply had to evolve how they operated in order to survive, not only to locals who were locked up and shopping online, but also with a view to the eventual return of international patrons who would use the online environment as a “where to go, what to se”’ travel update.
For The Fantail House, co-owner Lisa Caughey recalls how this pushed them to break out of their comfort-zone.
“Covid gave us two choices, mothball, or climb that work mountain to set up an online shop and Google marketing attract a new domestic customer base. One of the only silver linings in having to close our physical doors six times was the gift of time. We jumped on every funding opportunity going from resilience crisis training, cash forecasting, and SEO learning on how to best establish an online store, and then how to get noticed by Google.”
Caughey says the process “was like learning a new language – we asked some really silly questions and had to get our teenage kids to explain terms to us”.
As a result, The Fantail House was able to weather the successive lockdowns and has increased local patronage by 100%.
It has seen evidence of the work done to date with the recent resurgence of locals travelling overseas who are now finding The Fantail House for unique gifts to take with them. Many of these people had not been customers before.
“I shut our store six times in the last two years, and without doing this work and a compassionate landlord, we would never have survived. Now for the next test when international travellers are here over summer”, says Caughey.
With many believing that the worst of the pandemic has passed, retailers and hospitality vendors are now hanging out for the resurgence of international tourism to New Zealand, but there is no guarantee that three years later, the patronage will just reinstate itself.
Recently, the Parnell Business Association (PBA) conducted research into Australian Google search traffic. Looking at data from 2018 onwards, it tracked key search terms like “Auckland’s best restaurant” and “Auckland top restaurants”. The results showed a massive peak in April/May 2021 – the same time as when the first trans-Tasman travel bubble was announced.
However, sentiment towards Auckland has been battered and bruised by extensive lockdowns, MIQ = and negative media stories that have damaged its reputation as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
Although Google recorded that Australian interest towards Auckland in the last two months has picked up again, albeit slightly slower than 2021, we cannot afford any further signals that we are not seriously open for business. Right now, we need any online interest in Auckland to translate into more visitors and more patronage of our businesses.
In turn, our local retailers need not only to embrace the challenge of omnichannel marketing in New Zealand but look to how Google is revealing the overseas sentiment and desire towards Auckland and make sure they have an SEO strategy in place that optimises not only search for their own business, but also ‘ocal search, capitalising on where they are located.
As published in Stuff on the 4th of August 2022