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HomeFEATURESPart five: NZ Retail celebrates its 70th anniversary

Part five: NZ Retail celebrates its 70th anniversary

Paula Wallace, co-founder Wallace Cotton

New Zealanders have gone from having limited options to overwhelming choice. Retailers now really need to be on their game with quality and service to compete in a competitive and sometimes crowded market.

I grew up in Milford in the 1970s when the Four Square, local butcher, fishmonger and vege shop were still the sources of our household produce. Boutiques and department stores were a rare treat or for special occasions, and late night Thursday in Takapuna was a big night out in the pick and mix department in Mackenzies after going to the library.

The 1980s is when shopping for entertainment kicked off, with kids meeting to hang out in the local malls and eat junk food. Brand loyalty became very important in the 80s and fashionistas could judge and be judged by the clothing labels they wore. The 1990s came along bringing scale and price competition, and later, the wonderful internet and online shopping has made the entire world available to shopping consumers, and has been interesting for the local-versus-imported debate.

Do you think customer services is more important, less important or about the same level of importance in retail as it used to be when you were early in your career?

Customer service is everything these days. Back in the day, retail service was largely dependent on how the staff were feeling that day, sometime very good, sometimes very formal and sometimes not great… but also expectations were not so high

Liz Wheadon, Retail NZ board member and general manager Glengarry

When I started, retail was definitely seen as something you did whilst you looked for or trained for a ‘real job’. This thinking has changed, though there’s still work to do and it’s so important that we continue to evolve the impression of retail as an exciting and rewarding career.

One of the biggest changes (the obvious one) is the digital transformation and online selling. We were very early adopters and this part of the business is something I enjoy working with, I love how instant everything is. At the same time, whilst there’s been change, the core of what makes a great retailer has not altered, putting the customer at the centre of your business remains the key ingredient to any successful retailer.  I also think that whilst there’s a trend to online retailing, there’s also a broader than ever gap for specialist retailers in the market.

What is the best business advice you have ever been given? 
To work with who you like. This applies to all parts of the business, but in the context this advice was given, it was around suppliers. We have a raft of suppliers we can buy from and life’s too short to spend time dealing with those who don’t get your business, appreciate what you do and want to be part of it.

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