The boom in online shopping is forcing SMEs to pay close scrutiny to the logistics side of their business.
Leigh Williams is the founder of Melbourne’s eStore Logistics, which caters for the boom in online retail for SMEs that can’t afford their own warehouse. The costs associated with receiving an order and picking, packing and posting it is high, forcing businesses to find ways to keep costs as low as possible, he says.
Many in businesses will spend 2013 finding ways to put systems in place to fulfil online orders professionally and timely manner. Finding suitable, affordable warehousing will also emerge as a major headache for businesses this year, he says.
“As online shopping grows again this year, SMEs will have to find a way to deal with many more online orders,” Williams says.
“As such, the focus will be on the processes and systems that support the online element of a business.”
Warehousing software systems with a built-in freight aggregation system to ensure items are sent the cheapest way possible will be a key concern for businesses with eCommerce sites, he predicts.
Talent shortages in a number of sectors will force businesses to put the emphasis on their staff attraction and retention strategy this year.
To do this, employers should revisit their value proposition and communicate this at every opportunity, recommends Deb Loveridge, Asia Pacific managing director of recruitment and HR firm, Randstad.
“Also, make sure you offer the right training and development opportunities to allow people to up-skill and take on new projects. You also need to be open to talking about opportunities for employees to further their career,” Loveridge says.
Staying up-to-date with legislative changes and best practice and promptly dealing with staff issues in order to maintain your company’s reputation and avoid legal issues will also be paramount, she warns.
The year ahead will also herald a further emergence of flexible working options, meaning businesses need to find a way to manage a mix of full-time, part-time, remote, temporary and freelance employees and ensure all are satisfied and productive.
“The key to managing all of these issues will be maintaining a strong organisational culture, while also having adequate systems and planning in place to make sure employees are moving toward the same goal,” Loveridge says.
Businesses will need to hone their customer acquisition techniques in 2013.
The time, cost and effort needed to acquire new customers is growing as buying patterns change and evolve, Cian McLoughlin, director of Sydney consulting and advisory firm, Trinity Perspectives, says.
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Businesses should measure the cost of customer retention, not just the cost of a sale, he adds.
“The advent of online shopping and the globalisation of the corporate market has made it far easier for people to purchase from overseas, making the ability to retain existing clients one of the main challenges businesses face,” he says.
“It’s a well-known fact that existing customers tend to have a predisposition to continue to purchase from you once they make an initial purchase.”
Well-managed account management, customer support and value-adding tools are paramount, he says.
To stand out, consider implementing an old-fashioned marketing technique, suggests Amanda Bracks, author of Customer Acquisition: 465 Ways to Gain and Retain Customers.
Snail mail is now old-fashioned, she points out.
“Businesses that offer a nominal discount for a customer’s birthday usually send the offer via email, but a handwritten birthday card is rare, so can really stand out in this age of social media,” Bracks says.
Consider outsourcing all back-end functions of your business that don’t require regular contact with customers, suggests Wallace Fan, principal of Fidens Partners.
This could include bookkeeping, account reconciliation, data entry or business IT management. This frees up time to ensure that customer-facing elements of the business can be managed in-house, he says.
“This approach will ensure the upkeep of the company’s values and image and that strategically important decisions and sensitive issues are made by the business rather than to an outsourced party.”
However, if business owners encounter issues or problems outside their expertise, such as credit management, refinancing, legal disputes or restructuring, it would be wise to engage specialists to provide advice, he says.
“Managing in-house does not mean solving problems in isolation without outside help.”