The big consumer retail brands are about to arrive on the local Internet, with the impending launch of FlyingPig.co.nz. Some of the bricks-and-mortar retailers involved (notably Whitcoulls) have tried the Web and found it wanting before, but this venture seems to have a sense of purpose lacking in earlier efforts. Meanwhile, Ihug’s forthcoming drive-through retail store, which will eventually load up customers with PCs they have built themselves on the Web, represents an Internet company’s expansion of its real shopfront. Buying online for New Zealanders has hitherto usually meant buying offshore, but that seems likely to change. Whether the FlyingPig partners can offer 24x7 service and lower prices without cannibalising their existing businesses, with all their fixed costs, remains to be seen, but that shouldn’t be the consumer’s problem. But just as significant as these consumer developments is the impending embrace of e-commerce by one of the industries that has shaped the New Zealand economy throughout the century we are about to depart — wool. When the New Zealand Wool Group’s Woolnet online trading system goes live later this month, it will represent an important move into the Internet era. Both buyers and sellers will be able to look for or offer wool for sale by auction in a secure online environment that operates 24 hours a day and is, of course, independent of geography. Crucially, it will cost nothing to participate in the market — Woolnet will only take its standard fee in the case of a sale. In exchange for its clipping of the ticket, Woolnet will conduct the transfer of funds — deducting the money directly from the buyer’s account and holding it in a trust account until the settlement date, at which point the buyer will be able to put a hold on funds if the goods have not been delivered. Otherwise, the proceeds are paid directly into the seller’s bank account. The service represents the culmination of a move away from physical sales that began with sales by fax and then email — and, happily, it looks right first time. The site, developed by Glazier Systems and the Networking Edge, is simple and visually appealing. Once they get used to the new way of doing business, participants in the industry should reap rewards in the shape of lower costs and a more responsive market mechanism. In the process, they may find their businesses change considerably. And everybody may find that, by the time this year is out, electronic commerce will have become much more than just a buzzword. Russell Brown edits the @IDG online news service. Contact Russell at email@example.com
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