Major retailers are putting pressure on the Federal Government to protect the local market from overseas online competitors, with the managing director of Bunnings claiming that smaller specialty traders are being “smashed”.
Speaking at an annual retail forum hosted by the Australian National Retail Association, Harvey Norman managing director Katie Page said “the world has changed” for retailers.
“Regardless of how you service that customer, it’s got to be seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Page said.
Bunnings managing director John Gillam said while large retailers can withstand increased competition from overseas online retailers, smaller specialty traders are being “smashed”.
“A lot of people think this is a big business argument,” Gillam said at the forum.
“But, if you think about it, it’s the little guys, the ski specialists and camera specialists – they’re getting smashed. These are small businesses, and they have no defense.”
While existing small traders might be struggling to survive, start-ups have an opportunity to avoid some of the obstacles they face. Here’s how:
1. Operate online
This might seem obvious, but new research from the Australia Bureau of Statistics shows only one third of micro businesses (up to four employees) have a web presence.
Simply setting up a website doesn’t cut it. Depending on what industry you operate in, you need to ensure your site is highly visible in search results, and optimised for mobile devices.
You also need to accept that being online means you’re “on call” 24/7 – consumers can peruse your website and purchase items whenever they want.
With this in mind, it might be worth using a virtual assistant to offer administrative or technical assistance.
Because virtual assistants are independent contractors rather than employees, clients are not responsible for any employee-related taxes, insurance or benefits.
Clients also avoid the logistical problem of providing extra office space, equipment or supplies.
2. Work from home
There are more benefits to working from home than being able to fire off emails in your pajamas. As retail rents soar, operating a home-based business can save a substantial amount of money.
In addition to rent, working from home saves on travel expenses, utility bills, uniforms and other ongoing costs that come with running a bricks-and-mortar business.
Working from home also enables business owners to respond to customer queries around the clock. Of course, you may need to move into business premises as your operation grows.
3. Stay specialised
One of the reasons why so many major retailers are lamenting the move online is because it allows consumers to sniff out better deals for the same items.
It’s therefore crucial to ensure your offering is unique, so consumers aren’t compelled to search elsewhere for the same product at a cheaper price.
Whether you sell ball gowns or bowling balls, items that are exclusive to your site – regardless of the price – will mean consumers are less inclined to go somewhere else.