E-tail fails on variety, experience

I am extremely underwhelmed by the latest developments in e-tailing.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

I am extremely underwhelmed by the latest developments in e-tailing.

Apparently, the launch of Aussie website Catch of the Day into New Zealand is big news.

But what a terrible disappointment it is, just one item is sold each day, and it is hardly essential. I mean, who really wants a universal remote control for the telly, even if it is less than half price?

A Kiwi competitor about to enter the Australian market is little better. 1-day has a massive range of three items a day until they are sold.

E-tailing has had a long and troubled history in New Zealand. I remember the launch of Flying Pig, the Kiwi answer to Amazon, at the turn of the century. Pigs do not fly and the venture crashed after a few years after losing many millions.

Telecom New Zealand fared no better a few years later with its ferrit website. That also closed after burning off big bucks.

Of course, there are some things we do buy online.

When travelling, I am partial to booking accommodation through Wotif.com and similar sites. For domestic flights, I go to the websites of the three main airlines.

However, for long distance, say my annual trip to the UK, I still prefer to pop down to the travel agent, feeling it is somehow "safer" than booking online, plus you have someone to complain to if things go wrong, especially if a stop-over is involved.

Once I did a Hong Kong stop-over after booking online. It was my fault the hotel was so far away from the city. But when Flight Centre booked me into a cheap and nasty bug-ridden motel in San Francisco, claiming that was all they had available, there was someone to scream at down the telephone and eventually receive compensation from.

In the UK, e-tailing is far more sophisticated and prevalent.

Online supermarket shopping seems very common. Often you will see vans from Tesco making deliveries around the small Yorkshire village where my parents live. My busy sister-in-law is a regular user.

The New Zealand supermarkets offer a similar service, but it appears not to be used. I have yet to see a Foodtown or Countdown van here.

Britain seems to have many price-comparison websites for things like car insurance and travel, and I recall using similar sites in Australia for car hire.

But they don't seem that common here, if they exist at all.

Perhaps New Zealand's smaller population has something to do with it, and that such online services are uneconomic here.

More likely, there are also real limitations to what you can buy online and the "experience" is not the same.

For my supermarket shopping, I much prefer to drive 10 minutes into town, park up and then push my trolley around the store. I can inspect the fruit, the meat, as well as pick up some special offer. I can also call in at the butchers, or the rival supermarket around the corner, which will have their different "specials". And if I fancy coffee or a bite to eat, it is all there, with a nice sea view to boot!

Furthermore, a Westfield shopping centre of at least 50 stores, with many of my favourites, is just 20 minutes down the motorway.

It often has sales on too, sometimes with savings as big as those from the e-tailers.

The retail experience is so much more enjoyable than fannying around online, assuming these store also have an online presence.

So when it comes to Catch of the Day and the like, I guess I will be the potential customer that will never be caught.

And with so many more like me, the e-commerce community will have to realise they will never replace the town or shopping centre.

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