New Zealand smashes online shopping record in October

When we couldn't get into the shops, we brought the shops to us. And we spent big.

Last month was New Zealand's biggest month ever for online shopping.

NZ Post has done the numbers on our October online shopping, and found we spent $765 million.

"Whenever there's a lockdown, because retail stores are closed, online shopping is the only way people can get a lot of the items people need or want during those periods," says NZ Post chief customer officer Bryan Dobson.

"Every time we come out of lockdown, online shopping goes to a whole new level."

NZ Post says shoppers on average spent $25 million every day during October. That huge demand meant it was delivering over 2 million parcels every week.

Spending in Auckland more than doubled compared to October 2020. But with all that volume and revenue came the downside.

"That's led to massive congestion in courier and delivery networks, and it has meant there have been long delays in getting product delivered," says Retail NZ CEO Greg Harford.

"It depends on where you live, who you're buying from, because often they may have a backlog of parcels. But I notice from the feedback I get, and from my own experience, sometimes things come quickly, but sometimes there are some delays," says Dobson.

Seventy-four percent of the October online spend was with Kiwi retailers. For the rest, NZ Post says supply chains and distribution networks have been disrupted all over the world, due to COVID.

"When we see these really sudden and significant surges in volumes, there's only so much you can do when you need people, and vans, and additional capacity," says Dobson.

Retail re-opening in Auckland and more people using click-and-collect services have taken the pressure off.

"In the last couple of weeks it's improved. Half of our parcels are now being delivered on time, but [there are still] delays of up to three to four days in some areas," says Dobson.

But Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and of course Christmas are just around the corner. Kiwis are expected to spend almost $440 million online in the next two weeks.

NZ Post has increased capacity, redesigned its Auckland network, and hired more staff.

"We were planning to bring on over 1000 people for Christmas. Once we saw that retail in Auckland was going to be closed, we just brought them in as quick as we could," says Dobson.

Courier company Freightways, which operates brands like New Zealand Couriers and Post Haste, is taking advantage of the increased demand.

Its usual focus is business-to-business, but residential deliveries have doubled since the pre-COVID period.

"Delivering to homes has never been particularly profitable, you have to be a little bit careful with an increase in volume," says CEO Mark Troughear.

"The key thing is how you're managing it, whether you can do it efficiently or not. So it is a blessing in disguise but only if you manage it really well."

Troughear says delivery companies are having to work on their feet, and be agile in the way they deal with the volumes and bringing their teams together.

"You won't be perfect in this game, you handle so many items through networks that that's almost impossible, but our service levels have held up really well."

With restrictions easing, many Kiwis will be doing their holiday shopping the old-fashioned way, in-store.

But for those sticking to the web, the advice is think ahead, make fewer and larger orders, and get in early.