E-FILES: Books-n-Toys - from Bay of Islands to the world

A Russell bookstore is reaching out to the world through its website and has found most of its customers are from overseas.


Averil Duff bought the bookstore and stationers in the Northland township of Russell back in 1996. It's a family business catering to the local trade, and to the thousands of tourists who visit the Bay of Islands during summer.

Late in 1999 Averil's husband Gary and her son Damien designed a website to carry a catalogue of their mail-order books. Using a free shopping cart service supplied by www.ait2000.com, a database engine from Webteacher and a simple approach to web design, Russell Books-n-Toys hung out their electronic shingle to see what would happen.

That year they received nine orders through the website. It started late in the year, and it was a new website, so this is hardly surprising. It's attracting a lot more traffic now, and the Duffs are gearing up for the Christmas rush 2000.

The shopping cart service backs into a database of some 4000 books, driven by a Perl-based application called Webdata by Webteacher. Users can browse the database, and make online purchases using their credit card. Orders are then printed and handed over to Averil who fills them along with all the mail and fax orders received each month.

The site carries a range of books about New Zealand: fiction, non-fiction and children's titles are all represented. The store in Russell stocks a much wider range of products, but as yet there are no plans to transfer these to the web.

"There seems to be more of a demand for books on the web," says Averil.

The website is definitely making a contribution to the store's revenue. Many of the web customers are tourists who have either been to Russell or are planning a trip to New Zealand.

"Some of my existing customers, who come into the store, will make re-orders through the website," says Averil.

"Most of the web customers come from overseas. We get a lot of inquiries by email, and I always give a friendly reply."

As well as being registered with major search engines and portal sites around the world, and printing the web address on complimentary cards and stationery, the Duffs have another strand to their online marketing strategy.

"As far as promotion goes, we also provide electronic postcards (eCards) using an engine written by Thanks CGI (in Perl) to try and attract people interested in our region," says Damien. "The postcards are pictures taken by my father of the bay and surrounding regions."

Unfortunately, the big bad world has reached even idyllic Russell. A fraudulent order was made through the net and Books-n-Toys had to foot the bill. Because of the fraud, the website has ended up costing more than it has generated in sales.

"This year sometime, somebody in Romania ordered five hundred dollars worth of books from us," says Averil. "Then, the card owner got their money back so we lost out. It is the retailer who is liable if you have no signature on a credit card transaction."

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