Fishpond baits its hook with more picks

17:00, Jun 22 2013
Big fish: Ben Powles at the Fishpond warehouse.

Online retailer Fishpond is close to offering more than 13 million items in its catalogue as a result of a plan to try to push sales beyond books, CDs and DVDs.

Founder Ben Powles said Fishpond needed to grow its footprint outside of those three "sunset" categories, a move that coincides with a drive by the company to try to explain itself better to its customers, many of which do not seem to grasp how it works.

Books, movies and music were still growing categories for the e-tailer, which makes around 20,000 sales every day.

Of those, roughly 98.5 per cent are delivered without hiccup, but Fishpond recognised they were "sunset" categories which were at best flatlining in the wider economy, Powles said.

"The biggest development is our new categories. We are up to nearly 13 million products.

"We have been going really hard to expand the type of products we are selling."


Homeware, baby gear and beauty are among the markets in which it is aiming to win customers, and the home page no longer has books, music and movies as the highest profile tabs, with toys, beauty and baby goods taking precedence.

Powles said: "We went through a high growth-curve in books and it has just flattened, and if you project that forward, it is still going to keep growing, but the rate of growth is not going to continue."

Fishpond has not been without critics.

It has clashed with distributors of certain brands keen to limit parallel importing, with rivals back in 2011 for listing items that could not be bought from its site, and with customers when orders are not delivered to plan.

That last issue appears to be behind changes to its wesbite, which Fishpond hopes will explain the way the retailer operates to its customers. Every page now has a "How Fishpond Works" tab, designed to counter the impression many customers have that Fishpond has a giant warehouse somewhere in New Zealand (read Australia for Australian customers) from which the company shipped books and other items.

While it does have an Auckland warehouse out by the airport, the vast majority of the items on offer on the website are being sold by other businesses. Fishpond takes a commission on each sale.

Rather than being viewed as a retailer, Fishpond should be seen as a giant marketplace for other sellers, retailers and wholesalers here and overseas, Powles said, with some categories - like books and toys - dominated by wholesalers in the United States and Britain who are able to undercut local suppliers.

It is this network of wholesalers that provides its large range of items, and the lower than ordinary retail prices and free shipping.

It also means that deliveries can take some time.

That is the frustration Fishpond customers have had to live with - lengthy delivery periods. Fishpond has experimented with extra charges for fast shipping, but nobody was willing to pay.

Increasingly, people selling unwanted items through its Smartsell second-hand sales service - a growing part of its business - were bringing Fishpond into direct competition with Trade Me.

Fishpond has an expanding sales footprint in Australia, South Africa and countries further afield such as Brazil, which creates opportunities for small businesses here keen to export. They can do so through becoming a retailer on the Fishpond site, Powles said.

Sunday Star Times