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The internet’s power to transform traditional business is undisputed. Not only is it giving companies another channel through which to market themselves and sell their wares, it’s also helping them streamline their operations

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The internet’s power to transform traditional business is undisputed. Not only is it giving companies another channel through which to market themselves and sell their wares, it’s also helping them streamline their operations

 Doing more business online has emerged as a big change brought on by the continuing recession. Thanks to the web, businesses have tapped new markets, created new marketing tools and improved efficiencies at a time when the going’s been tough.

Yet, for many business people and marketers, doing business online remains a largely unexplored and often mysterious area. Is it wise to believe that a static website is enough? Not anymore. Kiwi internet users, of which there are now 3.6 million, are more clued-up and exigent than ever. And for some demographics, such as the ‘digital native’ Gen Y-ers, online is the first (and perhaps only) place they turn for communication, information, shopping and entertainment.

How e-bazaar!

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For many, the virtual store is now as appealing and accessible as the traditional version. Today’s consumers expect to be able to compare and buy almost anything they want online. The Nielsen 2010 Online Retail Report revealed that 45% of New Zealanders made an online purchase in the year to April 2010—nearly double the number of five years ago. Top of our e-shopping list for 2010 were airline tickets (51% of online shoppers), books and magazines (30.6%), entertainment tickets (28.2%), clothing and accessories (26.8%) and other travel-related services (23.8%).

There’s been significant improvement in perceptions of online shopping, with 61% of Kiwi internet users finding it easier to compare products and prices over the internet. Half of us see online shopping as more convenient and prefer to buy from New Zealand online retailers. So even when we aren’t actually buying with our mouse, we’re certainly letting it do the walking for us.

Spread the word

Faster internet connections have certainly boosted e-commerce numbers, while online banking and credit cards have made paying easy, but it’s the opinions of our friends that can spur us to buy or research products online.

The popularity of social media—in particular, Facebook —is now impossible to ignore. In the seven years since it began, Facebook has amassed 500 million users globally.

Social media’s increasing influence on how we interact not only with each other, but with brands, companies and products, is borne out by the fact that in 2010, 44% of online New Zealanders published opinions specifically about products, services and brands and nearly three quarters of us have read others’ product opinions online.

The opportunities for brands and companies to tap into the social media phenomenon are really just beginning to emerge, says Tony Boyte, Research Director for Nielsen’s online business.

“To date we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “Incredibly, nearly two million online New Zealanders (1.92 million) have looked to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands, and New Zealanders’ engagement with online word-of- mouth communication is going to increase in coming years as social media plays an increasingly important role in consumer decision-making.”

To succeed, companies obviously need to take full advantage of the business opportunities offered by the internet. But how? As luck would have it, there are web-business and digital-marketing experts happy to reveal the way forward. Read on to learn about some of the ways they’re helping their clients.