Retailers battle web

Blenheim retailers are evolving to deal with the "threat" of online shopping but say the Government is not keeping up with the issue.

Nielsen's Online Retail Report showed the number of online shoppers in New Zealand has reached more than 1.6 million, an increase of 122,000 on the previous year ending May 2011, and more than double since 2004.

More than 50 per cent of those shoppers bought airline tickets, 32 per cent bought apparel and 29 per cent bought books and magazines.

Entertainment tickets and travel services such as accommodation and car hire were also popular.

Blenheim department store Thomas's co-owners Hamish and Tim Thomas are aware of the increasing popularity of online shopping and are concerned the Government is not doing enough to support retail industry.

Thomas's are increasingly being used as try-on premises, where people have staff assemble outfits for them, then go home and buy the same thing online, Hamish Thomas said.

The business was frustrated by large American companies who targeted New Zealand internet shoppers because purchases imported for less than $400 did not attract GSTm he said.

"It is not even an equal playing field. International companies know we pay no GST [on goods bought outside the country], and the exchange rate, particularly with the US dollar, is very favourable at the moment.

"What people don't stop to think is that not one cent of that money stays in New Zealand to pay for their jobs and livelihoods."

The administrative policy of not imposing GST on imports of goods of less than $400 cost the Government an estimated $100 million in GST last year. Online purchases from overseas that are not attracting GST are worth more than $666m a year.

Hamish Thomas said New Zealand online shoppers were effectively subsidising the international retailers because they paid no freight, duty or customs clearance fees on their purchases.

He pointed out an article in the Australian fashion industry publication Exposed Online, which reported Australia stands to lose 88,000 retail jobs lduring the next five years if the government does not begin levying tax on imported items bought online worth less than $1000.

"The Government knows it is an issue, but are scared of the public backlash if they tried to address it," he said.

Bookworld Blenheim owner Charlene Scott said they had noticed several customers who came in with a notepad and wrote down the name of titles to buy online.

"I would love to go to the authors and publishers and tell them they should pay me for shop frontage," she said.

"Internet shopping is great for people who know exactly what they want, but if they only have a general idea, that's where we can help. We know our stock and that knowledge makes a huge difference."

Almost a third of online shoppers bought books, which was no surprise to New Zealand-based online retail store Fishpond's general manager Ben Powles.

His retail website specialising in books grew sales by 60 per cent last year to more than $80m.

"With things like a book you can be pretty confident that wherever you buy it – from a shop or online – it's going to be the same end product," Mr Powles said.

Ms Scott said they knew since they opened their store in 2007 they would be in competition with online book stores and ebooks and have a dedicated space for an ebook solution they hope to have operational soon.

The Marlborough Express