The Warehouse Group has just launched a new marketplace-style ecommerce platform called TheMarket. NZ Retail and The Register editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn considers how much innovation it offers, and what it says about the future of retail.
New Zealand retailers could be forgiven for feeling as if their businesses are at the mercy of the market, with waves of disruption from technology, changing consumer behaviour and international arrivals hitting one after another.
Like every homegrown retailer of scale in New Zealand, The Warehouse Group is under serious threat from all of the above, and it knows it. Over the last three or four years, it’s responded to this threat by springing into action: experimenting, pivoting, shifting and testing as it seeks to adapt.
It’s a little fish in comparison to global players like Amazon and H&M, but within New Zealand, it still has considerable advantages on its side. Well-entrenched brand recognition, established networks, and an increasingly on-trend enthusiasm for investing in staff are just the obvious ones.
The Warehouse Group has this week leveraged its advantages to launch a brand new market-style ecommerce platform, TheMarket. It’s been working on the project since 2018, and has hired an all-new team to run the business “like a start-up” from offices in Newmarket.
Like existing marketplace retail models elsewhere, TheMarket lets retailers manage their own price promotions, stock and shipping while providing group customer services and a standardised customer experience.
The Warehouse Group chief executive Nick Grayston is careful to position TheMarket as complementary to brands’ existing direct-to-consumer channels, but says he hopes TheMarket will one day become “the Amazon of New Zealand”. It stocks more than one million products across 1500 brands already, with product categories ranging from designer fashion to power tools.
As a competitor to foreign players like Amazon and Catch, TheMarket is elegant. It offers a genuinely innovative new take on click and collect in its ‘MarketPoint’ locations, which let consumers pick up their products from The Warehouse Group’s stores and other locations nationwide. There’s even rural options operated by FarmSource.
These MarketPoint pick-ups will drive consumers into The Warehouse Group’s physical stores, creating extra impulse purchases and linking TheMarket with its other brands while adding real value for the consumer in terms of convenience.
That brand linkage is important, because as Grayston explains, TheMarket is “not a Trojan horse”. Products from The Warehouse Group’s other five properties make up just 5 percent of TheMarket’s stock.
Other innovative features include ‘#Topics”, which allow consumers to browse in a rich content format – more than 200 articles have already been written – and a comprehensive tracking system for those who do choose to ship their goods.
Older marketplaces based on the same concept have existed in New Zealand before – Curate was launched by a mid-twenties brother and sister in 2015, and there was also a now-defunct New Plymouth version aimed at SMEs named Shop Small.
Shop Kaikoura was a temporary pop-up intended to support quake-hit Kaikoura retailers unable to trade normally by mobilising shoppers from around New Zealand.
However, as some of these predecessors discovered, having a great idea isn’t always enough. Some ideas need scale and heft to execute properly, and that’s exactly what The Warehouse Group’s ownership gives TheMarket.
The frequent changes rolled out across New Zealand’s largest listed retailer have no doubt been inconvenient and uncomfortable for many. The upheaval of change is something nobody wants, but we’ve hit a point over the last couple of years where structural change is unavoidable for just about every retailer in the country.
There’s a true-ism across agony aunt columns that you can’t control somebody elses’ behaviour – all you can control is your reaction to it. Similarly, nothing Kiwi retailers can do will wind back the rise of ecommerce, make customers value products over experiences again and expel global retailers from the New Zealand market, but they can control their businesses’ reaction to these factors.
TheMarket is a clever, genuinely innovative move from a homegrown retailer that’s working hard to control its reaction to a challenging environment. Let’s see what happens next.