Down the track - railways' lessons for retail

  • Opinion
  • October 31, 2017
  • Greg Harford
Down the track - railways' lessons for retail

More than a century ago, railways were critical to the development of New Zealand as a nation and were a key part of our national infrastructure. Communities clamoured for rail connections, and the railways were the way that we shifted our goods to market. 

Over time, competition emerged. As roads and vehicles improved, road transport started to nibble away at the railways' unassailable position - the solution was to place limits on how far you could transport goods by road. In the 1930s, the Government made it illegal to transport goods more than 30 miles by road. That meant that if you wanted to shift, say, a shipment of retail goods from the port at Wellington to the fledgling town of Paraparaumu Beach, you were legally required to do it by train - shifting only onto road transport for the final couple of miles from the railway station down to the beach.

Over time, these restrictions were relaxed, and ultimately removed in the 1980s - and while the trucking industry has never looked back, the railways have never been the same again. But while we now have a strong trucking industry, the real competition for the movement of people and freight is aviation. 

For railway employees from the 1950s, it would have been unbelievable to think that there would be hourly flights between Auckland and Wellington carrying people and freight; and inconceivable to think that those flights can cost substantially less than the price of a cross-town taxi or a month's subscription to the New Zealand Herald.

The lesson is that disruptive change can come from anywhere, and we often don't see it. History is littered with examples. In broadcasting, Sky TV's formerly unassailable position as the darling of the sharemarket is under real pressure as online streaming services carves away chunks of its subscription revenue. When we deregulated the postal market in the 1990s there was real public concern about competitors would gut New Zealand Post of its letter volumes, while very few people recognised that the real threat was competition from the Internet and apps on cellphones. Taxis have spent years fighting each other, and are now under enormous pressure from new disruptive alternatives such as Uber. In retail, we were concerned for years about big firms opening department stores in small towns, but now even large retail chains are concerned about the existential threat of Amazon from abroad. And even the threat of Amazon may be dwarfed by the Alibaba ecosystem with its simply massive scale.

But if we can't always see change coming, how can we prepare for it? The first step is to recognise that markets do change, and to build resilience in our businesses to help navigate through changing times. What are the things we can do to build customer loyalty, differentiate ourselves from others and reinvent the way we do things to keep costs down and provide better and more innovative customer services? We're increasingly seeing coffee and kids' entertainment being provided as part of a retail experience, as well as innovations in digital and online retailing and logistics.

How are you preparing?

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.


Are you a digital litterbug?

  • Opinion
  • March 22, 2018
  • Michael Goldthorpe
Are you a digital litterbug?

f a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, did it really make a sound? Pretty much everyone has an opinion on that. It’s the pub chat version of Schrodinger’s cat. But since no one was in the forest, nobody knows the answer. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. At least not until you ask the same question of digital marketing.

Read more

In the belly of the beast: Dr Rosie Bosworth on the pain, pleasure and promise on display at the world’s largest natural foods trade show

  • News
  • March 22, 2018
  • Rosie Bosworth
In the belly of the beast: Dr Rosie Bosworth on the pain, pleasure and promise on display at the world’s largest natural foods trade show

Dr Rosie Bosworth recently attended the world’s largest natural food and products tradeshow in California. What she found was a mixed bag: ‘Natural’ companies peddling healthy snake oil products, as well as promising plant-based protein start-ups that gave her hope for the future. Here, she reports back on the highs and lows of the show.

Read more
Amazon Arrival
Keeping up with all things Amazon as it ...
The Retail Yearbook 2017
As we battle our way through the busiest ...
The future is bright
We spoke with four retailers in their twenties ...
Hospitality enhancing retail
Some think food and integrated hospitality offerings will ...
Spotlight on signage
At first glance, the humble in-store sign might ...
Red Awards 2016
The Red Awards for retail interior design celebrate ...
Auckland Unitary Plan
Auckland is changing. The Unitary Plan will decide ...
Women in retail help one another. We spoke ...
All things to all people
Kiwi retailers share their omnichannel strategies.
How to open a store
Sarah Dunn considers what it would take to ...
Rising stars
Retail's top young achievers.
Delivering on your promises
The sale isn't over until your item is ...
Retail in heartland New Zealand
Retailers keep the regions pumping, but how strong ...
The changing face of retail
Shifting demographics are creating big changes in New ...
The retail yearbook
With the help of experts in the retail ...
Retail rogues
We put the spotlight on staff training. Jai ...
Here come the giants
Topshop has arrived in Auckland’s CBD, David Jones ...
From retail to e-tail
Ecommerce has become part of the way mainstream ...
Loyalty in the digital age
How are retailers maintaining loyalty? Sarah Dunn, Elly ...
Window shopping: A spotlight on social media
Sarah Dunn and Elly Strang look at how ...
The Innovators | In partnership with Spark Business
Technology is rapidly changing the retail industry as ...

A loveable rogue by any name: Rogue Society rebrands to to Scapegrace

  • News
  • March 22, 2018
  • Sarah Pollok
A loveable rogue by any name: Rogue Society rebrands to to Scapegrace

A new campaign by Rogue Society Gin declares they have ‘made a name for themselves’ and the New Zealand company doesn’t just mean figuratively. After an international scuffle with an American brewing company that had a beer called 'Rogue', the company has rebranded to be Scapegrace Dry Gin to better promote its product overseas.

Read more
Next page
Results for
About us.

The Register provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

The Register

Content marketing/advertising? Email or call 022 639 3004

View Media Kit