Bill Bennett

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Category: productivity

All about using technology to get things done. Includes reviews of computers, tablets, phones, software and services.

Amazon Australia Store opens for New Zealand customers

On Tuesday the Amazon Australia website began taking orders from New Zealand customers.

If the Australian experience is anything to go by, things won’t change much in New Zealand.

At least not at first. But Amazon is happy to take a long term view.

Amazon Australia experience

Amazon’s first year in Australia was not a success. Sales were behind the company’s expectations.

The AFR reports that last year Amazon Australia had sales of A$1.2 billion. That’s double the figure for a year earlier.

Yet as the AFR notes, it is a long way behind the A$4 billion that analysts forecast for 2020 when Amazon first opened in Australia in 2017. UBS, an investment bank, now forecasts it will hit the $4 billion figure in 2023.

The number looks huge. But A$4 billion is about one percent of total retail sales and two percent of total non-food retail. This leaves plenty of room for local retailers.

Now in New Zealand

Amazon issued a press release about the Australian business selling to New Zealand. It says you should see is lower shipping prices, easier returns and quicker delivery.

All these are likely. But we need to put them in context.

Take delivery times. Dispatching a parcel from New South Wales to New Zealand will take less time because a plane takes three hours or so to travel across the Tasman. This compares with 14 hours from a US airport.

But the flight is only part of the journey. There’s packing and getting the parcel to the airport at one end. When it gets here local parcel carriers handle distribution.

If, say, that takes four days from the US. Then, unless Amazon Australia has speeded up processes, it will take three and a half days from Australia.

That’s not a huge difference.

Likewise freight prices are lower, but in most cases this is a small part of the total shopping cost. A 30 percent cut in freight costs might make a shopping order a few percent cheaper.

Amazon’s Australian store advantages are marginal when compared to shopping from Amazon US.

There are two things that could make a difference. The first is if Amazon’s Australian business opts for predatory pricing. It could undercut local retailers by a margin.

Second Amazon’s Australian operation has a section for New Zealand products. That could be useful for some local companies. Products won’t travel twice across the Tasman, Amazon will use local companies to handle distribution.

Slow pressure

While this puts extra pressure on local retailers, it is not as though they don’t already face competition from Amazon.

The immediate effect will be marginal.

Amazon already has the second largest share of online shopping in New Zealand behind Countdown.

New Zealand retailers account for 71 percent of online sales in New Zealand. In 2020 we spent NZ$5.8 billion online. Online is 11 percent of total New Zealand retail.

Amazon accounts for 11 percent of overseas online shopping from New Zealand. That is around three percent of the total.

Small but threatening

Let’s say Amazon doubles its New Zealand sales now it has an Australian store. The rest of the market continues to grow. Which means a year or two from now Amazon might be 5 percent of total online retail, not even one percent of all retail.

Amazon has always been happy to play a long game. Over time more retail will go online and, if Amazon uses its market clout, it could win a growing share. It has yet to offer a Amazon Prime service to New Zealand with ultra short delivery times and other lures.

There’s no room for complacency. Local retailers will have to work ever harder to earn a crust. That would be the case regardless of Amazon. Opening an Australian business serving New Zealand increases the pressure, but the serious threat lies a few years in the future.

Eight technology must-haves for small businesses

Done well, technology can help small businesses thrive. None of the technologies mentioned here are expensive. Each offers a fast return on your investment.

Broadband

A fast internet connection is essential. If you live in a place where fibre broadband is available, seize the opportunity to use it. In New Zealand fibre is not expensive, prices start at around $80 a month for all-you-can-eat gigabit plans.

If you can’t get fibre, choose the fastest option with the most generous data allowance. This might be fixed wireless broadband, it may be HFC or a fast copper technology like VDSL. Failing that, use the mobile phone network and buy a plan with the maximum amount of data.

Video conferencing

One lesson from the Covid pandemic was the importance of good communications at a time physical contact was difficult. You don’t need to spend a lot to use video conferencing. Skype is a good free option. It costs nothing to make video calls anywhere in the world so long as the people at the other end also use the technology. If you’re an Apple user and you work with other Apple users, choose FaceTime.

Small business web presence

If you sell products or services in the real world, even a modest website will help you sell online, create an online brochure to promote your business.

You don’t need to be an expert to set up a simple website. Start with a free WordPress account. There are two versions: choosing between WordPress.com and WordPress.org depends on what you intend to do and how comfortable you are with computers and software.

Otherwise, you can choose one of the free online services to get started.

Small businesses prefer to use Facebook or a Google service to promote the business online. This can work. There are stories of people doing well. But take care: You don’t own the site so the terms or conditions might change at any moment. There is a track record of big tech firms pulling the rug from under small businesses.

You’ll be told you need to spend time or money on search engine optimisation to get the most from your website. Again, this can work well, but don’t bank on it.

Book-keeping or accounting software

Don’t wait until you visit the accountant to know whether your business is profitable. There are low-cost packages from companies like MYOB that will allow you to create invoices, fill out tax forms and track the flow of money through your business. Some options are even simple to use.

Alternatively, choose an online service like Xero. It’s more expensive but takes a lot of the hard work out of tracking your finances.

Reliable power

Mains electricity is usually reliable and safe. Yet there are times when it can damage sensitive electronic equipment. Invest in anti-surge devices that prevent power spikes from wrecking your hardware. Better still, get an uninterrupted power supply so you can save important files and conduct an orderly computer shut down when there’s a power outage. Or you might try a power back-up battery.

Backup important data and store it off-line

Sooner or later your computers will fail or online criminals will shut you out from your data. It pays to make regular copies of all important digital data and documents then keep them away from your office in case of fire. It may also pay to have two or three external hard drives to keep multiple back-ups. Make sure you get decent software to automate your back-ups.

Share files with other small businesses

This is closely related to cloud storage. Online file sharing services like Dropbox and Box make it easy to share documents with people over the internet. Services like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 offer something similar. They also allow you to work with remote colleagues on shared documents.

Paper Shredder

Yes, paper is old school. Yes, you try to avoid it at every stage. Yet you’ll still get a lot of official or important information sent on sheets of paper. You may also have online material that you’ve printed.

Eventually, you’ll want to get rid of some of them, but crooks have been known to dive through waste bins in the hope of finding valuable information to help them commit fraud. Get a shredder and destroy every document before throwing them out.

Better still, get a scanner and make electronic copies of every document that comes through your business. Then shred the paper.

Dynamic Business: Farmers ‘learning to do more with less’ – NZ Herald

Technology investment is paying off for New Zealand’s dairy farmers. In the past year the industry produced 21.2 billion litres of milk containing 1.88 billion kilograms of milk solids. That’s up 2.4 per cent on the previous season.

We’re producing more milk with fewer cows. The total cow population decreased 0.9 per cent on the previous year. Cow efficiency is improving at a clip.

Wayne McNee, CEO of LIC, says some of the growth in milk production has come from farmers learning to do more with less. He says we are world leaders in precision farming. We’re also seeing the benefits of the same technology revolution that has changed almost every other aspect of our lives.

By me at the NZ Herald.

Source: Dynamic Business: Farmers ‘learning to do more with less’ – NZ Herald

Impressive speed

The speed of improvement in New Zealand’s dairy herd is impressive. Even more so when you realise the results come from breeding, not genetic modification.

LIC refers to one of its innovations as a “Fitbit for cows”. This is a wearable computer used to monitor health and performance.

Fitbit for cows is an internet of Things (IoT) application, essentially a way of embedding internet connectivity into everyday objects. Often there are measuring sensors that collect data then send it to the cloud (remote data centres) for processing.

Digital Boost, Productivity Commission and living standards

On Tuesday small business minister Stuart Nash kicked off the Digital Boost Alliance. On Thursday a report from the Productivity Commission told us why business needs a digital shot in the arm.

The Digital Boost Alliance is a group of 20 companies. It was pulled together by Craig Young who heads Tuanz.

There are multinationals like Microsoft and AWS in the mix. You’d expect that.

Business support

The local companies in the alliance are more interesting.

Money, an important part of the digital equation, is represented by the five main banks operation here. Then come local tech companies: Datacom, Xero and, if we accept Australia as local, MYOB.

New Zealand’s telecommunications sector is represented by Spark, 2degrees and Chorus. Vodafone is a notable non-starter.

CertNZ and MBIE are in the mix. So is The Warehouse. While founder Sir Stephen Tindall is a keen personal supporter of initiatives like this, the Warehouse Group sells a lot of technology and supporting products to small business.

Mindlab is a member. It hosted the launch event.

Access and training

Alliance members aim to improve small business access to digital technology. More important they will help businesses get the training needed to make use of technology.

Each partner offers something different. There are offers of discounts of products and services, extra support, employee training and research.

It’s a big, ambitious goal.

World beating

Nash says he wants New Zealand to have the world’s most digitally-enabled small business sector.

We have been here before. Other initiatives have had similar goals. The difference this time is there is more money, broader industry support. It is a public-private joint venture.

Nash says the government kicked-in $44 million for digital training and advice in this year’s budget.

He singles out cloud computing. He says it has great potential. “A 20 percent increase in the uptake of cloud computing could be worth another $6 billion to the economy.”

Small business web sites

One industry speaker said only half of NZ small businesses have a web site. The implication being this is a measure of how much further we need to go.

Having a web site can help small businesses. It’s an efficient way of finding and retaining customers.

Yet it is not always appropriate. Many small businesses are subcontractors. They don’t need to sell themselves online. Nor do they need to spend money advertising with Google or Facebook.

Their digital needs are elsewhere.

Small business barriers to digital

MYOB surveyed small business owners. The results are revealing.

  • 41 percent say cost is the barrier to technology adoption.1
  • 22 percent say staff training is the barrier
  • 21 percent say a lack of knowledge is the issue.
  • 23 percent say the problem is the time taken to implement.

At the event I spoke to a couple of blokes from Innate Furniture, a Christchurch small business who flew up for the launch.

I assumed their story was going to be about how they built a website and sales took off. Instead they told me how last year they moved all their backend systems to the cloud and how that made a real difference to the business.

This is where there are huge benefits.

Why Digital Boost matters

First, New Zealand’s economy is more dependent on small business than many other economies. Small business accounts for a larger share of our GDP and a bigger proportion of jobs.

Larger companies can afford to have technology specialists on the team. With smaller firms responsibility might be with the owner. Most likely it will be with someone without training or experience.

Second, New Zealand small businesses are smaller than you find in other countries.

We’re talking about companies with a less than a couple of dozen employees and the majority are much smaller than that. In other countries these would be called micro-businesses.

Productivity gap

Third, our productivity lags other countries. Today’s Productivity Commission report says New Zealanders work longer hours than people in other rich-world countries and produce less in each hour they work.

  • 34.2 hours a week compared with a 31.9 hours average in the OECD.
  • $68 of output an hour compared with $85 average elsewhere in the OECD.

These numbers affect our living standards.

Innovation is key

Commission Chair Dr Ganesh Nana says: “Innovation is the key to unlocking New Zealand’s productivity. There are only so many hours in the day that people can work, so creating new technology and adopting new and better ways of working is critical to achieving effective change.”

Which means the Digital Boost project is timely.

If there’s one area both the Digital Boost project and the Productivity Commission agree on is that we need to do more than move people to digital tools.

Show how

The key here is to show people how they can use these tools.

There is an echo with cyber security. Many managers and business people think spending money on security products will solve the risks.

It can help, but without educating employees on how to think in more security conscious ways, that spending is wasted.

Spending money on new computers, software and services is a start. Yet it’s crucial to set aside part of the tech budget for training.

Skills essential for digital boost

Skills are essential to unlock the potential.

Likewise, it is important to use technology where it has the most benefits.

It’s no accident that Xero and MYOB are behind Digital Boost, moving to digital account keeping, tax paperwork and electronic invoicing can have an instant pay-off for a small business.

If Digital Boost delivers, Nash says it can be worth billions of dollars each year to the New Zealand economy.

That’s great, but meaningless to individuals, what matters more is that it has the power to lift everyone’s standard of living.


  1. I’d dispute this. Modern productivity tools are not expensive. ↩︎

Talking on RNZ about Digital Boost

You can hear me talking about this with Kathryn Ryan on RNZ Nine to Noon in new research into the impact AI could have on our work-lives. The broadcast also covers the potential to help shorten the working week and how CD-Roms are finally about to stop working…

Google docs drops geared-for-print

Google has finally dropped the idea that the end goal of Google Docs is to print words on a sheet of paper.

It’s been a long time coming.

When personal computers were new, word processors were all about print.

But it is now years since everyone used computers to produce printed documents. We may not have the promised paperless offices, but there is a lot less paper in the modern workplace.

These days documents usually spend all their time in a pure digital format.

Yet, until now, editing tools remain geared to print.

Word processors

Take Microsoft Word. You can’t use it for long before seeing a page break. Yes, you can use the web layout view which doesn’t have breaks. But that’s ugly to read as you put down words. And the outline view is for specialist uses.

Likewise Apple’s Pages or the Writer section of LibreOffice. They all assume you want to print documents on paper.

Dive in deeper and you’ll find word processor settings for page headers and footers. Again, these features are print-oriented.

Text editors have a digital-first perspective. But they still nod to printed pages at times.

Google Docs has offered an option not to show pages for years. I wrote Word processor software still geared to print on the subject in 2014.

Google Docs part of Workspace refresh

This week Google announced sweeping changes to Workspace, a set of tools that includes Google Docs.

The big idea behind these changes is that you are no longer working to put words on paper. It’s a symbolic move. It’s a philosophical move and it’s also a practical move.

Instead, Google Docs becomes part of a bigger picture: dynamic, interactive documents that integrate with other tools. This includes embedding video, even links to video conference meetings.

The challenge for Google is that many customers liked Google Docs the way it was. They may not print much these days, but the concepts and workflows are familiar. There’s no discontinuity adapting to a fresh approach.

There’s a lot more coming from Google. More to write about here. Yet for now, Google has untethered its popular word processor from print.

That’s progress.

Stanford Research explains, prevents Zoom fatigue

Do you find it tiring to spend a lot of time on video calls? You’re not alone—pretty much everyone does. Stanford Research has now figured out exactly why… and what you can do about it.

Source: Stanford Research Explains and Helps Prevent Zoom Fatigue – Tidbits

The story lists four reasons why Zoom calls are tiring:

  • Close-up eye contact is intense. 
  • Looking at yourself is stressful.
  • Sitting still is hard.
  • Video chats have a high cognitive load.

I could add a few more. Face to face meetings, especially the more routine ones, are not recorded for posterity. Zoom calls often are, which means your errors and lapses could be replayed over and over. Recognising this adds a huge amount of stress to the process.

It’s a variation on the theme in the fourth point: You need to stay at a high level of concentration all the time you are on a call. Real world meetings have natural lulls, natural rhythms that let your concentration fade in and out.

This last point isn’t about mental discipline. You may want to disengage for a moment or two to think through something said in a meeting, maybe to compose your answer or response. The always-on nature of a Zoom calls doesn’t leave the gaps to do this.

Then there is the bright display right in front of your face. I find it tiring sitting in front of a bright screen all day.

Did I miss anything?