Three reasons 2020 has benefited small Aussie retailers

Brydie Stewart

Mary Maker Studio founder Brydie Stewart.

They say that when one door closes, another door opens.

And 2020 has been a massive slammed-door-in-the-face for many businesses and retailers across Australia, no matter their size.

It’s true that there are many reasons 2020 could go down as one of the worst years for modern business.

Lockdowns have forced bricks-and-mortar stores and restaurants to close. Travel restrictions have brought whole industries, such as events and tourism, to a grinding halt.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and Institute of Management Accountants even predict this will be the worst year for the global economy since World War II, surpassing the GFC of 2007. 

But while it’s easy to focus on the negatives, 2020 has also offered businesses potential beyond what anyone could have expected.

Consumer behaviour has shifted, with more than 1 million new Australian households shopping online between March and September this year according to Australia Post.

Similarly, online purchases in September were up more than 7% from the Christmas season last year, which is usually Australia’s biggest period for online purchasing behaviour. 

Retail has already spent the last 10 to 15 years redefining itself as more comprehensive e-commerce solutions become available to smaller businesses.

So, while 2020 may be the final nail in the coffin when it comes to retail as we know it, it may just be the impetus businesses and consumers need to fully transition from physical to online, paving the way for small retailers to take a larger share of the marketplace. 

E-commerce is making it easier for small businesses to surpass major retailers 

Most businesses have some online presence, but not all websites are created equal.

As a small business utilising e-commerce myself, I’ve been able to create a storefront that incorporates products, customer service, advertising campaigns, awareness, research and more, to create a shopping experience akin to, or arguably even more comprehensive, than heading in-store. 

In comparison, older major retailers who have focused on traditional online storefronts that only show what they offer and don’t tie in with their marketing are going to find themselves falling behind when it comes to the opportunities of online purchasing behaviour. Or, they’re going to miss out entirely.  

Take H&M, for example.

Despite operating in Australia since 2014, the international fashion chain didn’t properly announce their plans to launch online shopping in Australia until early-February this year. It wasn’t until mid-October, just as Victoria was coming out of lockdown, that they finally introduced online shopping.

For a fashion retailer that is closing 170 global bricks-and-mortar stores in 2020, and has announced the closure of another 250 in 2021, that seven months of missed opportunity, even in a smaller global market like Australia, has surely had an irreversible impact.

Meanwhile, small businesses that have been able to optimise on the increase in online shopping during the pandemic have been able to thrive.

In fact, it’s estimated that the impact of lockdown has accelerated Australia’s e-commerce industry by about three years, now taking up approximately 15% of the market (from 9% pre-COVID), and estimated to grow to 25% by 2025.

According to Facebook’s State of Small Business Report, half of Australia’s small to medium businesses reported that 25% or more of their sales in the past month were made digitally.

And with Christmas fast approaching, there’s no doubt we are heading towards the highest peak in online shopping history. 

The ‘shop local’ movement is here to stay

With devastating bushfires at the beginning of the year, followed by forced closures from the pandemic, there’s no doubt that small businesses in Australia have done it tough.

But with this hardship has come the support we know and love as the Australian spirit.

Since the rise of online shopping opened us up to the rest of the world, the focus on shopping locally and supporting small businesses within Australia has never been as prominent as it is today. 

The New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian governments are just a few that have introduced travel vouchers in the wake of COVID-19, encouraging consumers to holiday in their states and spend money at small local businesses and restaurants.

Similarly, Christmas campaigns to shop local and support smaller retailers are doing the rounds on social media.

Facebook’s small business report also provides promising news of the coming rebound, with just 48% of small businesses reporting that their sales over the past month have been lower than this time last year, compared to 66% in May. 

As small business owners, it’s often easier for us to connect with our customers on a personal level than it is for the larger retailers.

I make a point of regularly touching base with my audience on social media so consumers can see the face behind the brand.

We’re all driven by human connection, and when faced with shipping or stock delays, I found this made customers more understanding and considerate of what was going on in the background. 

As consumer behaviour continues to become more mindful every year, the push towards ethical, sustainable, and knowing who you’re buying from will continue.

And small retailers who can connect with their community will come out on top. 

We’ve been taught to adapt, and we’re getting good at it

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s how quickly small businesses can adapt when under pressure.

From caterers offering take-home meals to alcohol companies making their own sanitiser, it’s amazing what our collective minds can do when faced with a challenge.

For me, it was figuring out how to get more international stock through COVID-19 customs when my community started buying in droves, preparing to craft from home during the lockdown. 

Major retailers may have already had support systems in place prior to the pandemic, but because of their more rigid and corporate structures, it has been increasingly difficult for them to adapt to changes, or sometimes even keep up with online demand.

In comparison, flexible e-commerce offerings have made it easier for smaller businesses to promote new offerings, products, and find more creative ways to sell. Giving them more ways to adapt and keep business moving during the pandemic. 

There’s no denying that it has been a hard year for everyone. But looking back on it, 2020 could be the year that marks the beginning of the rise of small business.

If nothing else, that’s something to be proud of. 

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