A survey has revealed that shoppers have increased their online shopping activities since COVID-19 and are actively trying to support local businesses online - but with limited success.

nbn’s COVID-19 Behaviour Change Survey revealed that:

  • 49 per cent of respondents had increased their online shopping during the pandemic
  • 70 per cent of shoppers were actively supporting local businesses online
  • 70 per cent wanted to support more local businesses, but felt there were limited options.

For some small businesses, being online was not a central part of their approach before COVID-19. They relied on more traditional marketing methods such as word-of-mouth and on-site signage to bring in customers.

However, enforced social distancing meant more customers staying home and turning to online shopping. Having discovered the convenience of ‘adding to cart’, it is likely that some will make a permanent change to shopping online for at least some of their needs - even when buying locally. This could mean that local businesses without a strong online presence are missing valuable opportunities.

The online environment

While businesses that sell products can certainly benefit by offering a way to buy online, service-based businesses can also reap rewards from an active online presence.

The uncertainty caused by business restrictions during COVID-19 means customers may be unsure whether you are continuing to operate as usual, or indeed whether you survived the disruption. The first place that many internet savvy consumers will check this information is online.

The Sensis eBusiness report in 2017 found that just half (fifty two per cent) of small to medium businesses had a website, but 80 per cent had some form of internet presence and 54 per cent were represented on social media. Meanwhile, virtually all adult Australians have a computer of some description, more than 80 per cent own a smartphone, and many people go online multiple times a day. This means that businesses with no online presence are potentially missing out on being found by millions of customers.

How to establish your local business online

If you have held off moving your business online, now is the time to commit to having a presence. This does not mean that you must immediately invest in a professional website or full ecommerce capability to sell your products online. You can start off with a social media account such as Facebook or create a local listing on Google My Business to let customers know you are open and so that you’ll be found in internet searches.

If you already have an online presence but maintained it, check that your current digital strategy responds to the current environment and the changing habits of local shoppers. It’s a good time to overhaul your online approach by checking that all your online platforms are up-to-date and working for you.

Business owners who already have a strong online presence but have held back on investing more during the coronavirus uncertainty should consider focussing on more online marketing and other growth strategies. It has been found during previous crises (such as SARS and the GFC) that businesses that invested in marketing made strong gains in market share. Using information from analytics to track what is working and guide future spend is essential.

How this information should guide future decisions

Consumer confidence will eventually recover after the pandemic, but inevitably some habits will have changed. Those who shifted to purchasing online may find that they enjoy the convenience, time-saving and other benefits of 24-hour web shopping and continue to do so long after social distancing is over.

Small businesses that have previously relied on their physical presence and face-to-face interactions to stimulate sales shouldn’t assume everything will return to normal once the current threat eases. Rather, local businesses should prepare themselves for a new normal in which customers expect every business to be easily found online.

Resources to help you

We offer a wide range of business skills workshops to help WA businesses to successfully adapt to the new business environment, including topics on how to improve your online presence.

You can also read our free business advice about digital marketing or speak to an adviser on 133 140 for personalised business advice.

Starting and growing
03 July 2020