Jonathan Elms is the associate professor of retail management at Massey University. He is also the Sir Stephen Tindall Chair in Retail Management and leads New zealand’s first retail degree at Massey. We asked him about the highs and lows of retail in 2015, and what retailers should expect in 2016.
1. Which retail company stood out in 2015?
I think there are several, rather than just one. For me, this includes Top Retail, their partners and their venture to bring Topshop and Topman to New Zealand. On reflection, this has proven itself to be an excellent idea, not only because of current sales and projected growth, but also because bringing the TopShop and Topman brand to New Zealand will be a great mechanism to reduce the potential impact of the international fashion retailers we constantly hearing are about to enter the marketplace. This includes the likes of H&M and Zara. It will be also very interesting to see whether Zara will bring its other brands in its portfolio to New Zealand. We’re talking about the likes of Pull & Bear, Massimo Ditto, Zara Home and the like, as each brand will impact the competitive landscape differently. David Jones is another with their Wellington venture, as well as the discussions circulating whether, or rather when, they will establish themselves in Auckland. This was a bold move and will bring new life and vibrancy to Wellington, and potentially Auckland’s, CBD. The Warehouse Group and their diversification into financial services, thus capitalising on their purchase of Diners Club a few years back, and the launch of their credit cards insurance amongst other things illustrates a vision and a connectedness between different areas of their business.
2. Who are some ones to watch in 2016?
It has almost become cliché to say the ones to watch will be overseas players who were eyeing up their entry into New Zealand. I’ve already mentioned Zara and H&M, but this also extends to the like of Victoria’s Secret. Who knows, we may see formal announcements about the other retailers planning to enter the marketplace, for example, Aldi and Debenhams. Whatever the case, 2016 is going to be very interesting year for the New Zealand retail industry.
3. Who are some great smaller town/regional retailers who punched above their weight?
There are some really excellent examples of how smaller towns are rising to the occasion and are becoming leading examples in community retailing and the benefits it brings. An example is Matakana, north of Auckland. This small town has developed a real name for itself with its excellent weekly farmers’ market, an excellent variety of small boutique stores, restaurants and bars, specialist retailers, which are combined with fantastic wineries and vineyards on the towns’ doorstep. All have resulted in Matakana becoming a great example destination retailing. Matakana is only one example, but there are ample others of how other towns and regions have successful managed to stand out from the crowd to the advantage of their local communities and provide benchmarks for how smaller towns can successfully complete, albeit on a slightly different level, with the bigger cities, as well as the ever growing number super-regional malls and shopping centres.
4. Best retail innovation?
The best innovation and the one with the most amount traction is the ‘click and collect’ delivery model. We’ve seen the likes of the Warehouse Group trial and test this model, with a great degree of success. I would’ve thought more and more retailers will adopt this innovation with consumers increasingly benefiting from better selections, better prices and more convenient methods of shopping, reflecting their ever changing and increasingly hectic lifestyles.
5. Most overhyped issue or innovation in retail that actually didn’t matter that much?
My colleagues at Massey Business School probably won’t want me to say this too loudly, but to me one of the most overhyped concepts in retailing is that ‘big data’, or rather the suggestion that big data can solve every problem for every business in every situation. Yes, the ability to collect and use data well can offer a business a basis of competitive success, but retailers should not just rely on data alone – intuition, gut feeling, and experience can lead to better decisions, even in situations where big data would suggest something radically different.
6. What issues and ideas should retailers have at the front of their mind for 2016?
Growing competition both domestically and from overseas. There are increasing consumer demands for a better offer better service and lower prices at the time when consumer spending is only projected to grow marginally relative to 2015.
7. What’s your big ambition for next year? What does Massey Uni plan on doing to further the retail sector?
I have lots of ambitions! Massey Business School will formally launch the Centre for Advanced Retail Studies (CARS) at Retail NZ’s shop.kiwi event in February. My ambition is that CARS will become the ‘centre of excellence’ for retail research and education in New Zealand, and will seek to bridge the academic-practitioner divide. I very much hope as many retailers as possible complete our Big Issues in Retail survey that CARS is conducting in collaboration with Monash University and Retail NZ. Overall, I hope that Massey University can help support the retail industry by educating future leaders and managers, aiding the professionalisation of the industry and making retail a career of choice.