To ask people to hold off on online shopping during lockdown — as Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young did on Wednesday — is damaging for businesses already under lockdown pressure and stress.
Across our business platforms yesterday, my feeds were filled with frustrated SME owner-operators, lamenting what the loss of a week’s sales could do to their business. Many were upset, as I was, that their business has followed and supported every health directive so far, only then to hear such an anti-small business sentiment from one of the state’s most senior public personalities.
I can understand concerns around the movement of couriers delivering online shopping orders, but small and medium enterprises are asked time and time again to bear lockdown challenges and it seems that the large chain operators don’t suffer the same regulation.
The online SMEs I know and work with have all followed rules and regulations; they’ve been diligent and worked hard to ensure their businesses are COVID safe — many of them, like ours, operate from home. So many of these SMEs have pivoted, have lessened profit margins to keep their customers served and are suffering from uncertainty, but keep on trying to make their business work.
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And then, to hear that online shopping can wait another week — or two? Coming from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, we’ve learnt that it’s foolish to bank on a lockdown ending on time.
It’s hard to reconcile this advice; it doesn’t support small businesses, encourage enterprise or ambition.
This week marks our two years in business of The Suite Set, which sells hospital bag organisers for new parents. Our risk profile is significantly low and we’ve been operating under lockdown considerations since March 2020. We’ve worked hard to service our customers with information, lockdown shipping discounts, discounts for lockdown addresses and regular live social media events to provide non-product-based information.
Ours is not a rare or unusual story in this climate; each day we work to provide a helpful product and support our customers through their own lockdown stress.
As a nation, the dream of having a small business is one that has been promoted at the very core of our can-do enterprising spirit, but the spirits are seriously dampened.
I recognise that Deliveroo, Big W, Target, Bunnings and the like support retail staff through wage and supply, but they do not support the morale or ambition of the Australian small business community.
I think there is a misconception that e-commerce sites are only drop shipping or not ‘as real’ or don’t contribute as much to the country’s economy as bricks-and-mortar storefronts would — so a week or a few days of no sales won’t have a flow-on effect.
But this is increasingly an incorrect assumption. We manufacture Australian made, and all our suppliers and infrastructure support (web design, VA) are Australian sole traders or SMEs. When our ability to trade is threatened, it puts pressure on our whole supply chain.
A week of lost online sales will be enough to do significant damage to small businesses, especially when lockdown extensions are common. The uncertainty doesn’t support financial or mental wellbeing for e-commerce businesses, which Australian families increasingly rely on for their household income.
For people who have the wherewithal to spend money in the current climate, our governments should be actively encouraging the community to be shopping with SMEs and local businesses.
Our “new normal” is that for many businesses in the current climate, online is the only way they can operate during lockdown periods.