Matching the ‘wow’ factor: The unusual problem facing Queenstown’s retailers

  • News
  • October 11, 2016
  • Elly Strang
Matching the ‘wow’ factor: The unusual problem facing Queenstown’s retailers

While Queenstown has always been a popular tourism destination, research from Marketview has found that consumer spending in Queenstown is now leveling out across the entire year, not just in the peak seasons.

Marketview managing director Stephen Bridle said that while the winter season continues to be a huge drawcard, with spending growth in winter up 87.4 percent in the last five years, there is now no longer a lull period when it comes to visitors.

“Our figures show positive spending growth for not only the winter season, but also spreading into typically ‘shoulder’ periods,” Bridle says.

Spending on tourism activities has increased 51 percent over the last five winter seasons, while spending on bars, cafes and restaurants has jumped 129 percent between winter 2011 and 2016.
With tourism operators and food and beverage places benefiting immensely, where does this leave retailers?

Shopping in the town is on the rise too, but First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson says businesses aren’t necessarily making the most out of the opportunity.

“This is a place that’s rocketing along in terms of visitation and in many cases the businesses aren’t maximising potential from it,” he says.

“The reality is in a place like Queenstown, the wallets are already open, so its down to retailers to make the most of that.”

Queenstown’s retail scene is picking up, with the state-of-the-art Five Mile shopping precinct opening recently and international brands like Louis Vuitton and T2 setting up shop.

Other locally founded stores, like Patagonia Chocolates and the Remarkables Sweet Shop, are capturing consumers’ hearts and dollars with their customer experience.

But as the town becomes recognised on an international level for its tourism, Wilkinson says consumers are now expecting international levels of customer service.

One of the main obstacles working against this in Queenstown retail is a typically very transient workforce, he says.

“Many retailers struggle with being able to get staff and bring staff up to speed rapidly because for many, they’re using tourists,” Wilkinson says.

“This means often the service levels aren’t where they could be, and potentially some customers could be underwhelmed by the service they’re getting.”

Retailers need to ensure customer service and experience in their stores matches the beautiful scenery and “utopian” experience of Queenstown as a holiday destination, he says.

“We know when they’re wowed, find exceptional service or the store environment excites them, that’s a catalyst to get spending happening.”

The other issue some retailers are facing is the rise of the purposeful consumer.

Wilkinson says around 70 percent of consumers’ purchase decisions are now made and pre-validated before they reach a tourism destination.

Because the majority of shoppers in Queenstown are holiday goers, he says they have a limited amount of time to slot each activity into and usually end up planning in advance which shops they’re going to visit.

“Consumers are using validation sites like Tripadvisor and Zomato and working out where they’re going to eat and shop beforehand. For businesses that don’t have good visibility or not enough content about their Queenstown operations online, there’s a problem,” he says.

Retail businesses need to be active on their websites, social media and ratings sites in order to capture the attention of visitors, he says.

To tackle these issues and educate local businesses on how to handle the tourism boom, Downtown Queenstown is holding a half-day workshop with First Retail on Tuesday 18 October.

Around 100 retailers and tourism operators from across the Whakatipu Basin - including Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka - are expected to attend the event.

For more information on the event, get in touch with organiser Lorraine Nicholson at

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