Summiteers look for e-guidance

Attendees at this week's government-sponsored summit are hoping for an e-commerce primer.

Attendees at this week’s government-sponsored summit are hoping for an e-commerce primer.

“We’re not sure what to expect but we’re interested in beefing up our website to help with our export drive,” says Cool Canvas director Miles Mankin. The Mt Wellington company makes awnings for residential and commercial customers and hopes to get some tips on how to build on its current site, www.coolcanvas.co.nz.

“We get most of our hits from the US but the freight costs there are astronomical, so we’d like some help sorting that side of things out as well,” says Mankin. He already orders a lot of his supplies online — forced into its by his US suppliers switching off their fax machines at night. Now he wants to have a crack at the Australian market as well.

Cool Canvas will be one of the 500 to 600 organisations at the event at the Aotea Centre in Auckland. Around half of the attendees are from Auckland, but the regions are well represented with nearly 100 South Islanders making the trip.

But at least one smaller company says there’s not much in the forum for it. “We looked at it but I decided not to bother — it’ll be a lot of talk with not much coming out of government, I think,” says furniture manufacturer Design Mobel’s marketing manager, Jonathan Palmer. Design Mobel plans to expand its website’s functionality next year so that retailers can order online.

“In reference to retailers I have to say they’re very backward in New Zealand. Until we get more retailers and suppliers involved, it’s not going to be cost-effective for us to bother [with e-commerce] in a big way.”

A report commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) seems to agree with Palmer, suggesting New Zealand firms are not taking full advantage of the internet.

Fifty-one percent of the 504 respondents felt the internet was “irrelevant” or “not important” when it came to export growth.

“Given the increasingly global nature of commerce and the potential contribution of e-commerce to this, this result seems to indicate a gap in understanding of its potential on the parts of many businesses,” the report says.

On top of that, the report identifies a number of factors inhibiting growth of e-commerce, with cost being the largest single factor. Lack of qualified staff was also cited as a problem but, interestingly, the lack of proof about the benefits of e-commerce was also listed as a major problem — 37% of respondents across the board checked this box.

The majority of registered attendees at the summit are from the technology sector.

“Most of the respondents say they’re in IT or telecommunications sectors, closely followed by manufacturing. The smallest number of responses came in the local government and primary produce sectors” says the conference spokeswoman. It’s these sectors that need to learn about e-commerce the most, says Mark Jeffries, chair of the Electronic Business Association (EBANZ).

“People in IT or telecommunications are already converted — it’s the primary sector and manufacturing that are the ones we have to really spark. They have to realise this isn’t an IT thing, it’s a business thing and it’s essential for your business.” Jeffries is pleased to see so many SMEs attending the forum.

“If you’re running a small company you can’t just wander down to the business planning department and get them to figure out a business case for e-business. You’ve got to find the time to do it yourself.”

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