Older, more mobile and global: Three key trends shaping Australia’s online businesses

Start-ups need to think global, get mobile and broaden their offerings to appeal to a wider range of consumers, according to the latest Sensis e-Business Report.


The report, which is based on a survey of 1,800 Australian businesses and a survey of 1,000 Australian consumers, highlights key trends with regard to the internet and how it is being used.


StartupSmart picks out three points for start-ups to sink their teeth into:


1. Look beyond your own backyard


Most online sales by Australian small businesses are made to customers in the same city or town, the report shows.


According to the report, 87% of SMEs with an online presence successfully sold goods and services to local customers in the past 12 months – a figure unchanged from the previous year.


Meanwhile, two-thirds of businesses selling online said the bulk of their online sales came from local customers, an increase of 6% on the previous year.


Overseas customers were identified by just 5% of SMEs as their main eCommerce customer group, while 27% of SMEs reported at least some sales to overseas customers.


Report author Christena Singh says the report shows small businesses are still struggling to use the internet to target overseas customers.


“If small businesses want to make the most of… mobile and internet-enabled customers, they really need to think strategically and put in place a strong digital business plan,” she says.


According to the report, only 15% of businesses have an actual digital business strategy.


2. Don’t discount older consumers


Older Australians have taken to the internet in droves in the past 12 months, with 89% of over-65s saying they used the internet last year, up from 59% the year before.


Encouragingly, there’s also been a 1,000% increase in their use of tablet devices.


In the past year, there was a 23% increase in people 65 and over who said they have a computer at home (up from 59% to 82%).


Among older people, the increase in ownership of tablet devices jumped even more dramatically. Almost one in five now own a tablet device, compared to one in 50 just a year ago.


Meanwhile, use of social media more than tripled during the past year among over-65s, with 27% saying they have used social media sites in the past year, up from 10% last year.


In light of the findings, Singh believes 2012 “will be remembered as the year that older Australians got online”.


“The over-65s are less likely to shop online and, when they do, they shop a little differently, with a bigger emphasis on books and less emphasis on clothes, accessories and shoes,” Singh says.


“The main reasons they give for using the internet are the same as those for other age groups: looking for information on products, services and suppliers, and looking up weather details.”


Of the 44% of people 65 and over who have shopped online, 58% have bought books, 33% have bought clothing, accessories and shoes, and 27% have bought music.


“Interestingly, using a mobile phone to access the internet hasn’t yet caught on with the older age group, but this may change over time,” Singh says.


Only 11% of people over 65 say they have gone online using their phone, compared to 58% of the total population. This figure is as high as 88% in the 20-29 age group.


3. Make it mobile


It should come as no surprise to learn there has been a big jump in the past 12 months in the number of Australians using technology to get online, regardless of where they are.


The number of consumers accessing the internet on their mobile phones has more than doubled in the past three years, according to the report, from 26% to 58%.


“Internet access is now rarely just about logging on to a desktop computer. Many consumers and businesses now rely on being able to access the internet 24/7 wherever they are,” Singh says.


Smartphone ownership has jumped by a third in the past year, up from 44% to 59% of the population.


Smartphone ownership among small businesses is even higher, with almost two-thirds now using such a device, up 17% on last year.


The most popular use of the internet on mobiles is looking for maps and directions, looking up weather information, social networking, and looking for information on products and services.


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