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Australian wholesalers are more web-savvy than retailers and restaurants: Five insights from the ABS

Myriam Robin /

Businesses aren’t lining up to lodge forms or do their banking anymore, but they’re unlikely to offer their customers that same ease of access.

And businesses selling to other businesses are some of the savviest web operators around.

These are just some of the surprising insights to come out of the Australian Bureau of Statistics business characteristics survey, a slice of which was released yesterday.

Here are some more.

Wholesalers are pushing ahead

There were three sectors in which more than 60% of all businesses in Australia had a website: the arts and recreation sector, the technology and communications sector (which includes the media), and the wholesale trade sector.

In fact, wholesalers were far more likely than those in retail, hospitality or accommodation services to have a website, and far more likely to use social media. This means even though more and more Australian consumers are online, most businesses in the sectors that directly service them do not engage with them online.

The surprising dominance of wholesalers in the online statistics was also evidenced by the fact that more than half (55%) of all businesses now order their goods (presumably from wholesalers) online.

Online sales are steady overall, but SME dominance of the sector seems to be diminishing

It’s been two years since the ABS last surveyed Australian businesses on their use of the internet, but in that time, the number of businesses who say they receive orders online has remained steady at 28%.

In the 2010-11 survey, businesses with between 20 and 199 employees were the most likely to receive orders online, with over 35% indicating that they do so. This number didn’t budge much in the most recent survey, but the number of large businesses (more than 200 staff) receiving goods online has pushed ahead, with nearly 40% saying they received orders through the internet.

There’s big money to be made online. Tallying up the orders made to Australian businesses through the internet, the ABS got to $237 billion, even though only 28% of businesses had this functionality.

The industries most likely to say they received orders online were information, media and telecommunications, wholesale trade, and manufacturing.

Email was the most popular method of receiving orders through the internet – used to lodge 65.7% of all online orders, followed by online order forms on websites, and online shopping carts.

Security concerns aren’t scaring businesses off

When asked why they didn’t allow customers to order online, more than half of businesses (53.8%) without an online ordering facility said it was because their goods weren’t suitable for that.

Businesses could choose more than one response to the question, but only 2.3% cited security concerns.

Another 7.9% said the cost of developing online ordering was too high, another 8.5% said they lacked the technical expertise to do so.

Close to half (40.7%) said they liked to maintain face-to-face contact with their customers.

Telework is very popular, but not among SMEs

More than one in three (38%) businesses with four or fewer employees let their staff work from home. They were more likely to allow this than businesses with between 5 to 19 workers, where only 33.6% allowed their staff to work from home.

In businesses with 20-199, more than 48.1% allowed staff to work from home, while with large businesses with more than 200 staff, this shot up to 76.9%.

Bureaucracy busting: No one lines up anymore

Asked what they used the internet for, across all business sizes, more than 80% said they went online to sort out their banking, pay invoices and make payments. In large businesses, this was almost total – 96.2% said they did their finances online.

This was also the case for lodging forms with government organisations. Across all business sectors, more than 70% said they lodged with government agencies online. The larger the business in question, the more likely they were to lodge forms online.

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Myriam Robin

Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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