Monday, 18 January 2021 12:08

Small businesses shift quickly to digital as they adapt to impact of COVID-19

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Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 in Australia but new research on the impact on their operations shows SMEs nationwide have adapted swiftly to the challenges by embracing digital commerce.

According to the Mastercard study of 806 Australian businesses about their experiences and banking needs during the pandemic, 52% accelerated their shift to ecommerce sales in response to COVID-19.

Of these organisations, 44% did so within three days of exploring the option, while 68% were online within a week, and one in five businesses (20%) were able to make the change within just 24 hours.

According to Mastercard, as consumers rethink the way they shop and pay, opening online was not the only way Aussie businesses sought to accommodate changing consumer behaviour.

COVID-19 has seen many retailers shift from cash to contactless card and digital payments as their preferred way to accept payment.

“Mobile wallets in particular saw a surge in popularity, especially with organisations with 20+ employees where that preference rose by 23%. More broadly, 17% of organisations claimed they had started taking or will continue to take mobile wallet payments in response to the pandemic,” says Mastercard.

Mastercard notes that Australian businesses are finding new ways to attract and retain customers, with three-in-five (62%) businesses adopting strategies to rebuild sales, with 31% using discounting for existing customers and 28% offering new customer discounts.

The survey also found that a quarter of organisations (25%) increased their digital marketing investment while 23% delivered more personalised offers for existing customers as a means of encouraging sales.

Physical store operators have also innovated quickly to provide a safe shopping experience for customers, with social distancing (77%), increased cleaning and disinfection processes (59%) and the adoption of contactless payment methods (51%) being most commonplace.

But despite these changes, Mastercard says major concerns remain, with brick-and-mortar retailers citing labour costs (33%), rental costs (31%) and increased price sensitivity from customers (27%) as major challenges.

"Australian businesses have faced unprecedented challenges amid COVID-19 but have shown fierce agility and resilience, with many able to migrate operations quickly and effectively to focus on digital opportunities. Businesses have an incredible opportunity to improve the shopper experience online, and industry leaders have a part to play in helping business operators develop that expertise online, using digital payment technologies,” said Richard Wormald, Division President, Australasia, Mastercard.

Wormald says Mastercard is committed to supporting businesses of all sizes amid COVID-19 and into the future, citing the fact that in August 2020, Mastercard launched its Getting Back to Small Business support program, providing access to more than AU$5,000 worth of educational resources, tools and services per business.

Wormald says that Mastercard has now added new resources for 2021, including the Small Business Digital Readiness Diagnostic – a free online tool to help entrepreneurs go digital.

“As consumers continue to shift toward digital payments, businesses everywhere are evolving their operations to appeal to their customers’ new preferences. It’s more important than ever that SMEs around Australia better understand and expand their digital capabilities,” said Sumit Khurana, Senior Principal, Data and Services, Australia, Mastercard.

“In adding the Small Business Digital Readiness Diagnostic to the support program, Mastercard is looking to enable local organisations to seize the online opportunity and future-proof their business.”


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