Why open online

Customers now expect to buy in-store and on the internet. They want to interact with retailers in a way that suits them, and are increasingly used to having their needs met 24/7.

Retail NZ CEO Greg Harford says it’s important for retailers to have at least some digital presence.

“This might be as simple as a listing on GoogleMaps so customers can find you, or selling on social media. If you’re more serious, a fully-fledged e-commerce website that lets customers interact with you and buy might be a good option.”

Harford says setting up shop online opens new markets in New Zealand and globally. “A business based in Bluff can serve customers from Balclutha to Britain and beyond.”

But there are important things to get right before diving in. Make sure you have:

  • a great product
  • a consistent customer experience
  • good logistics.
TIP:  Don’t be afraid to embrace big online marketplaces, like TradeMe or Amazon.  They can provide great opportunities if you don’t have the appetite, or means, to set up your own online store.

Get started

Entrepreneur Rachel Lewis is the founder of She Owns It, an online community for Kiwi women in business.

To be successful selling online, Lewis says you have to be prepared to put in the groundwork. She offers these tips for those wanting to give it a go.

  • Research, test and test again: Ask customers what they want, eg which offerings they’d most like to see online. Experiment and ask them if they like what you’re doing. If they don’t, move on quickly. Pivot and test again.
  • Keep it simple: Don’t feel you have to do everything other businesses are doing. Prioritise tasks you know make you money.
  • Tell your story: Use it to connect with customers and become recognisable and likeable online.
  • Regularly reach out: Connect with people personally. Explore using blog and social media posts, videos and podcasts, or email marketing to serve them in some way, eg tips, tricks, events, customer stories. Don’t just show up when you want to make a sale.
  • Be original: Do what others aren’t and you’re more likely to succeed.

Delivery and returns

Customers expect speedy, efficient service. Make sure you can always fulfil orders.

If you sell services online:

  • carefully manage your diary
  • plan how and when to deploy staff.

If you sell products online:

  • carefully manage stock levels
  • build solid processes so you can deliver quickly, wherever customers are in the world.

Make your returns policy and delivery charges clear on your website. Tell customers:

  • Product prices and delivery costs, or fees if you sell services.
  • Who will pay postage on returns, you or the customer?
  • If the parcel will be tracked, and how to track it.
  • How long shipping should take, eg three to five days.
  • How to get in touch if there is a problem.

Keep in mind that under the Consumer Guarantees Act, customers can raise a problem within a reasonable timeframe. So you can’t set a specific timing around raising issues.

Check your shipping company or courier’s terms and conditions. Find out who is responsible for covering costs if goods are damaged in transit. Think about whether you’ll need insurance.

If something doesn’t turn up or is damaged en route, you must sort it. Don’t ask your customer to deal directly with the courier company.

Consumer Protection has information on what to do if your supplier causes customer problems, including delivery issues.

Common problems caused by suppliers

Understanding consumer laws

FACT:   You are responsible until goods reach the customer.  Products must arrive in good condition and on time.

Secure payments and data

Safeguard customer data and protect it from hacking. Talk to your bank about a 3D secured payments site, and make sure cybersecurity, eg password strength is robust. Never pass on anyone’s personal information without their permission.

Only refund customers to the same card they paid with to avoid supporting credit card fraud.


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