The disparity in COVID-19 restrictions between states and territories has never been more pronounced, with millions of Victorians facing renewed lockdowns, while those in Western Australia have had significant lifts on restrictions. As a result, there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ approach for small business success across Australia, writes Alison O’Brien, PayPal’s Head of Mid-Market and SMB.
In states where restrictions have eased, small business owners may find themselves navigating a ‘new-normal’, as customers slowly return to shops, bars, restaurants, and other businesses. Despite this lifting of restrictions, consumer behaviour has shifted significantly during COVID-19, and this impact is likely to last well beyond the pandemic. With this in mind, small business owners should consider which of the strategies they introduced during the pandemic will be valuable to maintain, even as they start to reopen.
Below are three learnings from the pandemic Aussie small business owners can use to set themselves up for success as they adapt to life after COVID:
- Maintain a strong online presence
During the pandemic, many business owners across the country have had to close their shopfronts, as Australians stay home during lockdown. As a result, there has been a massive surge in eCommerce as Aussies of all ages quickly turned to online shopping. In fact, PayPal Australia saw sign-ups almost triple during the lockdown, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
While some consumers will inevitably revert to their old shopping habits after the pandemic, many have discovered the benefits of shopping online for the first time and will continue to purchase digitally. PayPal research showed that one in three people intended to continue buying groceries online after the pandemic, and Australian small businesses are already noticing this shift online, with a 54% rise in sales processed by PayPal during the lockdown. There is a real opportunity for small businesses to harness this group of consumers by building a strong online presence. If you adopted practices to attract and continue serving customers online during the pandemic, make sure to keep them up! But if you haven’t, it’s not too late to adapt and take advantage of the demand for online.
- Continue to offer delivery and virtual services alongside physical trade
Despite many people being eager to return to their local pub, café, restaurant or favourite shops, not all Aussies are ready for non-essential outings just yet. Elderly Australians and people with compromised immunity, or those living with someone who is more vulnerable to COVID-19, may want to limit face-to-face interactions until there is a vaccine available or minimal community spread.
Small business owners can maintain, or even grow, their customer base by catering to those who prefer to order from the comfort of their home, as well as those who visit in-store. During the pandemic, some businesses excelled by quickly shifting the way they serve and engage with customers. From high-end restaurants delivering at-home meals, and bars and pubs bottling their beers and cocktails, to gyms and barre studios offering virtual classes, the agility of businesses adapting to their customers’ demands has been impressive.
For Melbourne businesses and those in states that are reopening, complimenting your in-person offering with online delivery or takeaway services is a great way to maintain cash flow, and possibly earn new customers. Restaurants and cafe owners who haven’t done so yet can get their businesses online quickly by signing up with a delivery company like Deliveroo or Mr Yum. For small businesses that offer a service, like gym classes or language lessons, there are endless platforms to stream your classes on, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The good news is that most Aussies have come to expect and seek out these socially distant services, so there has never been a better time to take your business online and get noticed.
- Look after your staff
Businesses perform best when employees feel safe and supported, so it’s important to consider how staff feel about returning to work, and what they need to feel comfortable. Business owners should consider which roles can be done remotely, and those already managing a remote workforce should expect a mix of preferences, from those looking forward to face-to-face time, to those who would prefer to work from home as much as possible. For those with employees who can’t, or prefer not to work from home, ensure workspaces are appropriately spaced, provide sanitiser and masks, and give clear instructions on how they can minimise the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace.
Remote working can provide significant cost savings and efficiencies for some businesses, as the reduced physical head count may enable downsizing to a smaller space and savings on supplies. PayPal isn’t a small business, but I manage a small remote team and agree with recent surveys showing employees feel they are more productive working from home, with a healthier work-life balance, provided they have adequate equipment and support. Therefore, it is also important to consider whether your employees may need to be reimbursed for things like stationery or an ergonomic chair.
The pandemic has radically changed the way we communicate, work, shop, exercise and access services including health care and education. For many Australians, the past few months have been a turning point, demonstrating that many tasks we once thought were only possible in-person can now be achieved more efficiently and flexibly online. It is likely this is only the beginning of how the pandemic will influence behaviours and shift perceptions in the long term, so business owners must continue to adapt, to maintain an effective workforce, meet their customers’ evolving expectations, maintain brand loyalty, and seize new opportunities to grow their customer base where possible.
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