The year of the e-dragon

This has to be the year of e-commerce in New Zealand. If we can't get it together this year, we may as well give up and become a tourist resort, because we're already a good 15 months or more behind the rest of our competitors.

This has to be the year of e-commerce in New Zealand. If we can’t get it together this year, we may as well give up and become a tourist resort, because we’re already a good 15 months or more behind the rest of our competitors.

Who are these competitors? I had the good fortune to spend a week in Singapore recently and I have to say the difference in attitude to e-commerce between New Zealand and Singapore is astonishing.

For example, the ad for Primo flavoured milk that’s on TV at the moment. It has a small URL at the end of the ad: www.primo.nz. I thought that was an interesting address, so I had a look, only to discover it doesn’t work. The URL should be www.primo.co.nz, of course, and it was changed quite quickly.

Two things stand out here — firstly, whoever signed off on the ad didn’t have a clue as to what a Web address should look like and secondly, having a Web site wasn’t an integral part of the ad campaign, or Primo’s overall strategy. If it had been, the URL would have been far more prominent. In Singapore the URL is the ad, huge letters, no mucking about with http or even the www. You can’t help but feel they have integrated the Internet deep within their sales strategy instead of merely bolting it on top. Aside from the online-only stores in New Zealand, have any companies done this here? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’d love to hear from any company taking e-commerce seriously.

Take a look at the way CNN advertises its Web presence on TV and compare it to TVNZ — our nearest local equivalent. At the end of every segment on CNN they push the Web sites, segment by segment. Sport, health, breaking news, special reports, they’re all shoved at the viewer repeatedly until you can’t help but know CNN is serious about this new medium. TVNZ lists its URL rather sheepishly at the end of One News and that’s really about it. It’s not prime-time stuff and it should be — especially when the One News site is as informative as it is.

I don’t mean to single out Primo and TVNZ — they’re out there doing their thing, trying to get a handle on this Internet phenomenon just like everyone else — even Computerworld.

The other side of the e-commerce coin is, however, the government and there we run into a problem. Paul Swain, newly appointed minister of everything commercial, is out of action for the next three months. His responsibilities — communications, IT and commerce amongst them — are being handled by Trevor Mallard, who has said he won’t be initiating any strategic plans, just holding the fort until Swain is back on his feet.

Swain is undoubtedly the man for the job. I had a chance to speak with him before the election and he struck me as being very aware of the potential for e-commerce and the need to push on. The question is: can we afford to wait until April for Swain to start the inquiry into the telecommunications sector? I think the answer must be no. The inquiry will take up to six months, which puts us into September if not later — reporting back always takes some time — before anything is tabled in parliament. From there government has to decide what to do with the report and then get it onto the list of legislation (if necessary) which means we’re a year away from any potential change. That would put us nearly two years behind our neighbours and could mean we miss the boat when it comes to putting ourselves forward as the knowledge economy of the region.

I don’t think politicians have worked out just how fast the Internet travels these days. Internet years are kind of like dog years — each calendar year equals about two-and-a-half Internet years — which means those who hesitate are lost. We can’t afford that as a nation and I’m sure you can’t afford that as a company.

I see we’ve also become part of the US economic boom. Figures released in the last week or so show the US economy is still cracking along at a furious rate of growth and I believe that’s at least partly due to all those foreigners (us) buying US goods over the Net. Amazon.com sells a large percentage of its products outside the US, but its growth and worth will be counted as part of the US economy. Now if only we could get voting rights as well.

Paul Brislen is a Computerworld reporter and regular columnist, phone: 0-9-377 9902. For publication copy letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz.

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