When we travel internationally, we pick up on changes in the various environments. Whether they be political, retail, or commercial changes. Having just returned from a few weeks abroad, here are our observations on those changes, and comparisons with New Zealand.
Recently in our local media there has been much discussion on international brands entering NZ. With considerable excitement about the potential of Topshop, Tiffany’s and Zara to name a few. Topshop have been established in Auckland for the past 6 months and Tiffany’s have stated they will arrive in Auckland soon. The Zara arrival is less certain.
Our recent exposure to cities like London, Hong Kong, Gdansk, Copenhagen, Moscow and St Petersburg, signalled how important these, and other, top brands are to the local environment, and how supported they are by customers.
We would also go so far as to suggest that amongst the retailers of these cities, there was absolutely no suggestion of a downturn in spend due to online activity. In fact it suggested that the NZ approach towards taxing certain online purchases is an exercise in futility, and is a little unjust.
Certainly no international retailers were complaining and that is due to the fact that they use that medium to sell their own merchandise, rather than worrying about what others may or may not be doing. They simply get on with it. A McDonalds franchise in England is a testimony to how the credit card and digital technology are used to reduce staff numbers and costs.
London was as busy as ever, with hordes of customers in Regent and Oxford Street making shopping a pressure exercise. Customers were buying, and the above mentioned fashion stores were well and truly represented with more than one outlet. Sales in one outlet would be more than across NZ, so one can understand the reluctance to come here.
The only pressure point for retailers to be represented in NZ is the fact that we are a positive tourism attraction as a country and thus representation would service that visitor. Added to the shopping experience is the fact that England is enjoying a resurgence in its economic fortunes so retailers are benefitting.
As for the Rugby World Cup happening? One would be hard pressed to find any publicity for this event - which starts next month! This may be due to the fact that visitors rather than locals will make up the bulk of the patronage, however, in comparison to the NZ build-up prior to the 2011 RWC, there is virtually no publicity.
About Hong Kong
Hong Kong has an international retail brand on every corner. How they all survive economically is beyond belief as the prices in Hong Kong make shopping beyond almost anyone's means. Add to that the heat and the constant numbers of people everywhere and the environment is less than enjoyable. Even the airport is awash with brands just to make sure that you are exposed right up to boarding your plane. For Kiwis “Hong Kong as a shopping experience” should be reclassified as a “looking experience”.
By contrast, cities like Copenhagen (Denmark), Gdansk (Poland), Moscow and St Petersburg (Russia) are also full of international brands but are presented in a very sophisticated form. It is apparent that again, all brands are trading well in all locations. Copenhagen by NZ standards is very expensive whilst less so in Gdansk and in Russia.
Moscow has the oldest undercover shopping centre in the world. It presents both modern and traditional retail formats with a significant level of merchandise choice. This is an experience for the international traveller not to miss. Despite international economic hardship, employment is at a low level, driven no doubt by their approach of “wages for all” regardless of the actual level of wage being paid. A word of warning however, visas are difficult to acquire and one needs a level of patience before venturing into this domain.
In New Zealand
So what does all this say for our local environment? First off, retailers should start to grow up. Whilst we are small fry on the world stage, we should learn to take what we can and survive on the retail potential we are given. We will never change technology and growth in modern ways of communicating and selling. Our experience again signalled that people still relish the opportunity of shopping and we should engage in that experience.
One final word, there are few if any bookshops and music/entertainment stores any more worldwide. Both categories are well and truly buried in stores with like merchandise. And shops with the best experience? Mark and Spenser’s remain hard to beat in department store retailing, as does Zara in fashion.