The retail scene
In the 2000s retailing is dominated by companies that have chain stores in the main cities and regional towns, located in large malls and city centres. There is a developing consumer resistance to the sameness of malls, and some malls now feature boutique shops.
From the 1990s, huge megastores such as The Warehouse and large hardware retailers, often offering discounted prices, have also become common.
Small shop owners can exploit the same opportunities as ever – meeting the demands of specialist and luxury consumers. Many independent small shops find it difficult to pay high rents in the central city, and are forced into areas with less foot traffic and probably less custom. Dairies (convenience stores) are found in suburban areas, often on street corners. They sell everyday foodstuffs at higher margins. People are willing to pay as the shop is easily accessible.
The New Zealand Retailers' Federation was set up in 1921, and in 2008 was called the New Zealand Retailers Association. It represents the interests of retailers and lobbies government on issues affecting shop owners. Since 1989 it has run an annual ‘Top Shop’ competition focusing on retailing excellence.
Internet and parallel importing
In the 2000s the internet has made price comparisons easy for shoppers, and online mail-order ‘stores’ compete with more traditional shops.
Parallel importers can also undercut traditional retailers by importing the same goods as sold by authorised agents for particular brands, often selling them more cheaply. Shops must match these prices to attract custom or compete on criteria other than price, such as after-sales service and advice to customers.
Many small shops still survive by carving out a speciality service selling unusual or hard-to-find products. For example Unity Books in Wellington and Auckland offers rarer, less popular titles than the large chain-store booksellers.
Most city councils recognise through their policies that it is desirable to have a vibrant city centre that people live in and use. Small shops are a vital component of inner-city life. Under the Resource Management Act 1991, councils cannot cite economic competition with small shops as a reason for preventing developments such as large malls or megastores – but they can oppose development on the basis that small shops are integral to a city or town’s social appeal.
Retailers’ associations and city councils have also tried to reinvigorate city-centre shopping through closing some roads and turning them into pedestrian malls. Asphalt pavements have been widened and relaid in bricks. During the late 1990s and 2000s many apartments were built in downtown Auckland and Wellington, and more people were living in city centres.
In the 2000s retailing remains a cut-throat business, yet it seems there is always a place for the small-shop owner who exploits niches that are overlooked by the large chain stores and megastores.