SMEs must respond to older people coming online, Sensis report finds

Small businesses are increasingly taking up opportunities to sell online, but will need to start adjusting to new demographics, including an influx of older web users, and more people using tablets rather than PCs.

The latest Sensis e-Business report also reveals many businesses aren’t looking to offshore markets for sales despite having set up sophisticated online channels at home.

“Even just looking at the shifts people have made online, we’re seeing a lot of change,” report author Christena Singh told SmartCompany this morning.

The report found 87% of SMEs with an online presence sold goods and services to local customers, a figure equal with last year. But two-thirds of businesses selling online say most of their online sales came locally, up by 6% from 2011.

In particular, older users have accessed the internet more than ever, with 89% of over-65s saying they had accessed the internet in the past year. That’s up from 59% the year before – and represents a 1,000% increase in the use of tablet devices, obviously from a low base.

The report also shows there was a 23 percentage point increase in the number of over-65s who have a computer in their home, up from 59 percentage points to 82.

Tablet device usage has increased among older people, with one in five now owning a tablet compared to just 2% a year ago. Social media is also increasing, with usage increasing from 10% to 27%.

Almost half of those respondents say they use social media less than once a week.

And while Singh says these Australians are less likely to buy products online, they are still using the web to search for information – and that represents a key opportunity for business.

“I think businesses really need to focus on how they can target that older age demographic, and then think about the specific ways of doing that – whether that’s in design, or any other form.”

That approach should also take into account users are accessing the internet from more devices, Singh says. The report shows the number of consumers accessing the internet on their mobile phone has doubled from 26% to 58% in the past three years.

“If you look at what consumers are doing, even what they’re buying, they are replacing the PC with a tablet and a laptop. Consumers are shifting away from the desktop device.”

“Looking at how to approach what, in a few years’ time, may be very disruptive technologies is something SMEs should be looking at.”

Only 9% of SMEs have mobile websites, although 21% say they’re planning to develop one in the next year.

But the report also mentions a key opportunity SMEs are missing – online sales.

The survey found that only 5% of SMEs identified overseas customers as their main eCommerce group, while 27% said they sold at least some product to overseas-based customers – that represents no growth from last year.

Singh says while there is plenty of opportunity at home, SMEs should not discount an offshore customer base.

“eCommerce offers SMEs the opportunity to reach a potentially global market, so it is interesting to note most sales made using eCommerce are still relatively close to home.”




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