Large retailers weigh in
As well as The Register’s readers, we also extended an invitation to 17 large or medium-sized retail companies to comment on their hopes for the next government’s priorities. In the lead-up to the election, there seemed to be a reluctance to comment publicly on political issues – only James Walker, spokesman for Countdown supermarkets, and The Warehouse Group chief executive Nick Grayston accepted the opportunity.
In response to our questions about employment and social responsibility, Walker says Countdown employs 18,000 Kiwis and challenges itself to be New Zealand’s leading employer. It pays well above minimum wage for check-out operators; has abandoned youth rates; has never had zero hour contracts; and does not use the 90-day trial.
“We were the first employer in New Zealand to implement a gender transitioning policy, and were among the first few businesses to introduce a family violence policy,” Walker says. “We encourage other employers to look at what they can do to support their teams, and are always willing to share our policies and practices with others.”
Grayston emphasised the changing nature of the employment environment in his answer, saying The Warehouse Group would like the next government to focus on helping to equip New Zealand’s workforce with the relevant tools and skills to succeed in an increasingly digital business environment.
“We’re seeing an exponential rate of change and disruption that is not just limited to retail, but spans across a number of industries and countries,” Grayston says. “The nature of work is being transformed through AI and robotics and the need for adaptability has never been more important. The New Zealand workforce will need to engage in lifelong learning in order to be able to adapt.”
Regarding plastic bags, Walker says Countdown has communicated that it would support Government-led action on single-use plastic shopping bags: “What we want is the right environmental outcome and a level-playing field among all retailers, and a solution that works for customers. Government will need to take the lead to make this happen.”
The Warehouse Group, too, is ready to accept change on plastic bags. Grayston says it supports regulation of the issuance of plastic bags at a national level, explaining that the 10-cent charge for plastic bags it introduced in 2009 led to a “sharp and sustained reduction” in their use. Since 2009, the group has donated more than $3.8m to charities across New Zealand from this initiative.
Issues discussed by Countdown and not The Warehouse Group include crime – Countdown encourages the police to do whatever they can to protect retailers large and small from crime.
Walker also mentioned fees on debit and credit cards, saying Countdown feels these fees are high in New Zealand, compared to similar international jurisdictions. This is a big issue, especially for smaller retailers, he says, and while Countdown is waiting to see what the outcome of the Government’s request that Payments NZ works with banks on greater transparency, it thinks further Government intervention is “probably necessary”.
The Warehouse Group brought up the de minimis loophole allowing foreign companies to sell goods online into New Zealand without paying GST as a key issue. “As a company that is and has always been committed to helping New Zealand flourish, we think it’s important that overseas-based companies also contribute,” Grayston says. “In such a competitive environment it’s vital that all retailers are on a level playing field.”
Grayston also noted that The Warehouse Group is in strong support of increased funding and promotion of electric vehicles for their role in supporting sustainability.
Editors note: At the time the current issue of NZ Retail went to print, the election had concluded and New Zealand's government was selected to be the Labour party in collation with the Greens.