Kiwis join global rush to online shopping

The unexpected rush overseas of Christmas shoppers online has been felt in New Zealand. Telecom Xtra spokesman Glenn Sowry says more than 38,000 visits were made to the Xtra Xshop site - which hosts around 50 shops ranging from a chocolate shop through to Dick Smith Electronics and The Warehouse - in December. Individual 'e-tailers' reported a boost in business too.

The unexpected rush overseas of Christmas shoppers online has been felt in New Zealand.

Online retailers in the US (or e-tailers, as they are becoming known) were reporting record sales in the lead-up to Christmas, with the toy shops being swamped by demand. Heavy traffic crashed Toys R Us's site repeatedly, while eToys reportedly doubled its sales in the month before Christmas.

"We anticipated volume, but it went up so dramatically that it was beyond anybody's expectations," says a Toys R Us spokesperson. Other US-based sites reported sales increases of up to 400% over the previous year's sales.

In New Zealand the news was also positive for retailers. Telecom Xtra spokesman Glenn Sowry says more than 38,000 visits were made to the Xtra Xshop site in December. Xtra Xshop has around 50 shops ranging from a chocolate shop through to Dick Smith Electronics and The Warehouse. There was a 21% increase in visits over the previous month and there were also increases in the value of and number of transactions.

Whitcoulls experienced a surge in online sales, but it wasn't equal to the percentage increase experienced by the store in general.

"It was about two-thirds of the increase that we would see in the fixed store and there was a big percentage growth over last year," says Whitcoulls general manager Stefan Preston.

"Generally Internet retail is still in its infancy," he says. "All we have been doing so far is playing with it. We will be unveiling a major upgrade and rebuild in the first half of this year. Features will include personalisation for shoppers and we will increase the number of online book titles from 30,000 to 500,000."

Dick Smith, another Xshop retailer, had a surge in hits last year but it is too early to say whether these parlayed into purchases, says Dick Smith advertising manager Stephanie Mazey.

She believes that people may have used the site for browsing and pre-shopping before actually going into the stores to buy.

"We have only had the site up since mid-November, so its very early days. So far the results, as far as the number of hits go, have been very pleasing. They went up tremendously in December." Mazey says Dick Smith has its entire range online, about 8000 products in all.

Dell Computer also expects to report another quarter of record growth, much of which can be attributed to its Web presence, according to country manager Ross Allen.

Ihug's SuperStore also reported increased sales, up 20% over the Christmas period.

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