Editorial: Mysteries of shopping
Exactly why Timaru is bucking online shopping trends is a little puzzling.
In the last three months online spending nationally went up 11 per cent and in Canterbury 8 per cent, but in Timaru it was down 5.5 per cent. Yet Timaru shoppers spent 4 per cent more overall, which has to be good news for local retailers.
There are some factors that might influence our online presence. The number of people with internet access at home (71 per cent compared with 77 per cent nationwide), and our higher proportion of elderly people to the rest of the country (20.5 per cent aged 65 and over compared with 14.3 per cent for the whole country) for starters.
And even there I'm taking a leap, assuming (perhaps wrongly) that older people even if internet savvy will be less inclined to trust online shopping sites.
But those factors will influence a bigger picture, that being how much we spend per capita compared to the rest of the country. But that's not what the latest BNZ Online Retail Sales Index was measuring.
It was measuring trends, and in Timaru we're spending more in person than on line compared to ... ourselves, three months earlier.
So what's with that?
Local retailers have a few things they can capitalise on. One is you know what you are getting because you can see, feel, smell whatever it is you're after.
Two is service, in someone guiding you on your purchase, answering in real time any questions, and sourcing something different if exactly what you want is not available.
That leads to a relationship that's difficult to replicate online. And if something goes wrong you can address it in person, again in real time.
So maybe Timaru shoppers are appreciating those things more than they were.
Where online shopping has an advantage is in variety and price. You can shop anywhere in the world online (OK, virtually anywhere), and because many online retailers don't run actual stores their overheads are lower and some have the advantage of bulk buying.
Of course, you can't try on the dress or pair of jeans online, although I've heard some stores in larger centres now charge for trying on clothes you don't buy because shoppers are buying labelled clothing online after trying it on in the shop down town. Cheeky beggars.
But none of this answers the question of why now we've been less inclined to buy online.
Whatever the reason there's certainly an opportunity to build on it, whatever IT is.
The Timaru Herald