The clock is ticking for online-shy SMEs

A few months ago whilst we were planning our holidays and squeezing in just one more Christmas party, our stablemates Business Spectator were running a story about the recommendations of the latest Productivity Commission report.

It raised the issue that, amongst other things, Australian retailers needed incentives to get into online sales in order to survive declining revenues.

And this blog doesn’t disagree. Retailers have shown a remarkable reticence to explore the well documented promotional and defensive benefits of a professional online presence. 

They really need as much help as they can get.

Retailers no digital Robinson Crusoe 

But retailers aren’t the only business sector to drag their feet when it comes to embracing the online world.

Smaller businesses in pretty much all sectors are proving stubborn to heed the unanimous call of every business analyst on the planet to get their e-Act together before yet another online competitor steals yet another customer and helps hasten the closure of another Australian business.

Whilst there are undoubtedly a range of global and local factors contributing to these records numbers of business closures, the correlation with our increasing reliance on doing business online is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Sloth kills 

We only need a cursory glance at former photographic star Kodak’s misfortune to understand the impact of a slow response to technological advance.

And despite the constant barrage of media reports about the importance of social media, according to the most recent Sensis eBusiness Report, only 18% of Australia’s SMEs had “used social media in their business”, a mere fraction of the 70% of organisations around the world who are now active on social media according to a recent KPMG study

The same Sensis report found that only 16% of Australian SMEs had some form of digital business strategy. You don’t need to scroll too far down the search results of pretty much any business category to find little in the way of professional search optimisation, design and other eMarketing hooks to illustrate that fact.

So it’s quite clearly a sector that is having difficulty adopting much beginning with “e”.

Bring on the incentives 

Now your correspondent is certainly no expert on matters taxation, protectionism and so on, but I think there’s little doubt that given the depth of this e-malaise, it’s in the national interest to provide some kind of financial incentive to encourage them into this brave new digital world.

Particularly when you consider the billions handed out regularly to what, with all due respect to its constituents, is an unsustainable and declining automotive industry.

I’m sorry, but those auto job numbers are chickenfeed compared to the number losing jobs because their bosses failed to see a technological advance or competitor looming before it was too late.

Or to jobs lost as a result of sales given up to an online competitor.

Little incentive to date 

In the meantime, a paltry $12 million was scattered to smaller businesses for the largely ineffectual Small Business Online education project from a few years ago. 

While any funding is good funding toward the cause, it’s a long way from what’s required to get SME operators’ hands from under their backsides and finally onto their keyboards.


In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.


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