Being a small business means being able to adapt quickly to shifts in the consumer market, according to Danielle Butler, store manager of Underwoods Gift Store in Manurewa, Auckland. The two months leading up to Christmas
1999 were "solid in regards to sales and hits."
Underwoods sells the famous buzzy bee toy, favourite of generations of kiwis, as well as greenstone carvings, sheepskin items and other New Zealand gift products.
It has a long history in the Manurewa district, first opening as a haberdashery in 1956. Now owned by Robert and Janet Igrisan and managed by their daughter Danielle Butler, the store concentrates on selling quality gift items of a decidedly Kiwi flavour.
This year the festive season is bringing increased interest in kiwiana from customers around the world, accessing the little giftstore online.
"The 'rush' has already started," says Butler. "We are receiving increasing orders to the United States and we expect this to increase over the next month. UK sales for some reason as not as prevalent as last year so far."
The website is hosted at ihug and uses a very simple form-based interface. Customers can browse a gift catalogue comprised of a set of static pages, then order items by going to the order form and supplying their address and credit card details, and listing their purchases. Orders are sent by email to the store and processed and packaged by staff.
Marketing the website is a matter of listing it with major search engines, then periodically going back to update the entry. It has certain benefits over paying for online advertising.
"You can not beat the cost ($0 mostly) and as long as you keep your listing updated continually and on that first page when a item is queried, you can't lose," says Butler.
"We have researched banners and other website advertising, but the dollars spent on that don't always add up to sales."
Being a family owned local business, most of Underwoods punters tend to be repeat customers. Keeping these people informed of sales and special offers is a big part of the marketing mix, and Butler says an email list is used regularly.
Despite being behind the United States in the uptake of electronic shopping, Butler believes online retail is a growing option for New Zealanders.
"It is a must and a growing market - not to mention a fast changing one. America is strides ahead in this regard, but when NZ catches up, look out. Many Kiwis already understand the benefits of on-line shopping – no hassle, no fuss, simple and a one-stop-shop - it is truly convenient."
Setting up an internet store-front is a matter of knowing what you want, and allowing room for the website to grow and change.
"Do your research first, especially in respects to software and hardware," says Butler. "Do not set limits for your site - and therefore your hardware" says Butler. Be ready to move quickly and change with the consumer."