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Urbn Vino, Pavement and Taste Nature were three of the businesses that got involved with digital...
Urbn Vino, Pavement and Taste Nature were three of the businesses that got involved with digital marketing students at the University of Otago. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
The need for businesses to be digital and have a way of operating in electronic commerce (known as e-commerce) came to the fore as people stayed home during Covid-19 Alert Levels 4 and 3. Jacob McSweeny takes a look at those getting alongside local businesses figuring out their place online. 

Businesses going online to sell their products must have a strategy guiding their activity and avoid throwing their eggs into one basket, a Dunedin marketing expert says.

And Dr Mathew Parackal from the University of Otago says business analytics — measuring the performance of a company’s online strategy — is going to become increasingly important to help businesses recover from a post-Covid drop in revenue.

The course leader for the University of Otago’s digital marketing (MART466) course gets his students to help businesses every year with their e-commerce strategy.

This year their role became more relevant than it had ever been, as businesses shut down in lockdown and were severely restricted under the various alert levels.

‘‘Although they are well-established companies in the offline format ... none of them are ready for the digital world as such,’’ Dr Parackal said.

The danger now in particular, Dr Parackal said, was that while there has been a spike in online activity, ‘‘the chances are it will just come down’’.

That is where a digital strategy comes in.

‘‘That is lacking in businesses in New Zealand ... they are not using strategy to drive it in the way they want.

‘‘That’s a major gap and that’s something businesses have to open their minds and eyes to so that whatever infrastructure they are setting up online will meet the objectives they have for themselves.’’

A lot of agencies and companies would promote their platforms for marketing on, but using one of them was only a tactic and not a strategy, Dr Parackal said.

He said it was a trap business owners would often fall into — they would get convinced to throw all of their digital marketing budget into just Google adwords, for example.

‘‘It’s equivalent to this —if you drop flyers all around the block, that’s not marketing. It’s one element of the wider marketing activity.

‘‘Yes [Google adwords] has a powerful reach ... but it’s like putting all your eggs into one basket. It may bring you your ultimate cash flow but whether it is meeting your overarching objective of developing a relationship with customers, of community — it may not be satisfied.’’

Measuring how the business tracked online was going to become crucial, too.

Analytics professionals were hard to find though, and it required expertise and training.

‘‘There isn’t enough capable expertise around.

‘‘As businesses and companies become aware of it they will start embracing it. But if they don’t see the value of it and because it’s not their area of expertise they will try to live without it.

‘‘But as soon as — after a project like this —the company realises the value of analytics they will outsource the expertise so they have it.’’

Or they will learn to do it themselves, he said.

The project

The students were separated into groups of three or four and designated a local business.

They were: winemaker Urbn Vino, streetwear retail store Pavement, organic food store Taste Nature, the New Athenaeum Theatre and Green Island Mower Centre.

‘‘The clients came round in terms of realising the need for digital ... because they were all online [during Covid-19 Alert Levels 4 and 3] and they had to get things going.’’

The students went ‘‘full-throttle’’ into it. They met their clients, found out what their problem was and came up with a plan, which they carried out.

They reported back to clients what they achieved on Wednesday.

Taste Nature

The students working on Taste Nature wanted to develop conversation with clients on Facebook. They would ask open-ended questions in Facebook posts to appeal to their target market.

Their goal was teaching the importance of organic products and not creating waste — to help customers understand why prices might be higher than at a supermarket.

‘‘They generated a conversation and then analysed the content of that conversation to see what people are saying,’’ Dr Parackal said.

‘‘From there we can come up with very specific customer-oriented strategy that is meeting the customers’ needs.’’

They had the data to do the next campaign or promotion — in a better targeted way — to its customer base.

Students: Parth Juneja, Benisha Senadheera, Mary Blythe, Greta Morrison.

The New Athenaeum Theatre

The New Athenaeum Theatre they had no online presence at all before the project.

‘‘They didn’t have anyone who knew them,’’ Dr Parackal said.

‘‘We wanted to increase their sign-up to their newsletter.’’

They ended up getting about 75 people to sign up to their newsletter.

‘‘For a company like that 75 is a big number.

‘‘If you look at that community that is going to revolve around the 75 people who have signed up, that is quite a sufficient target market for them to develop their own identity in the market.’’

Now it would be about communicating with those people who signed up to the newsletter, he said.

Students: Ivanna Matheson, Marina Urquhart, Kartik Kapoor, Shailzo Malik.

Urbn Vino

The main goal the students had for winemaker Brendan Seal’s Urbn Vino company was to increase traffic on platforms Facebook and Google.

Over a three-week period in April and May the students eventually consolidated their ads to Facebook with attention-grabbing pictures and a focus on a ‘‘loved local brand’’ in their posts.

They recommended offering a ‘‘click and collect’’ option for customers and collaborating with locally owned restaurant and neighbour in the Terminus building, Moiety.

Mr Seal said his main goal was to replace lost sales from the closed Otago Farmers Market and he was impressed with the students ‘‘great’’ marketing campaign.

‘‘I knew advertising was low and the return was relatively high and that’s great.

‘‘Well done,’’ he said to the students.

Students: Alexander Auld-Beverley, Lucy King, Henry Gibbs, Sophie Martin.


The students wanted to promote Pavement’s online store and to convert views into sales.

‘‘It’s a lot easier to say than to actually do,’’ student Matthew Wilson said.

They went for a Google ads campaign focusing on key brands, skateboards, shoes and winter hoodies.

They also created a 10% discount — with a code given out on social media — for purchases through Pavement’s online store to help push conversions.

One of their successes was the store’s ability to sell to customers in places as distant as Wellington and Auckland.

Pavement owner Craig Strong thanked the students for their recommendations and said Covid-19 had delivered a shocking new normal for them.

He said he and his partner, Evie Forno, now had to man the store largely by themselves and would find it hard to find time to focus on their online strategy.

But, there had been a boon for skateboards — ‘‘the whole skate thing’s still going really well’’.

Usually skateboard sales were on the way down after summer but Mr Strong and other skateboard sellers were selling more than they ever had.

Students: Matthew Wilson, Ciara Gyde, Reece Raulet, Taine Box.

Green Island Mower Centre

The company recently transitioned to abandoning its walk-in store and selling parts online only, but not because of Covid-19.

It was a fundamental change to the business, which gave the students an interesting challenge.

The students focused on a Google ads campaign on words such as ‘‘lawnmowers’’ and ‘‘ride-on parts’’.

They soon found that aligning advertisements for Green Island Mower Centre with searches for lawnmower parts on Google was most effective.

The students said there was a clear traffic increase during their campaign.

One in 70 customers made a purchase and 63% of website visitors left immediately —something they said could be because of the design of the website.

They recommended streamlining the website with the branding of the business, such as by informing customers they sold only parts. The website had information about a shop and service and those should be removed to avoid confusion, they said.

Students: Lily Bryden, Junjie Lu, Henry Hawke, Luyi Yang, Nike Curran.


Need help?

Dr Mathew Parackal wants to hear from any businesses struggling with their e-commerce strategy. They can contact him at




All very well saying we are open for business digitally but if people have no money to buy anything (newly unemployed etc) that's not going to help the business.






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