Australian SME loyalty will never be the same

Small businesses around the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Australia has been no exception. Derailed by physical location closures and consumer concerns, merchants and entrepreneurs across the country were forced almost overnight to rewrite and recreate their business models to meet the rarefied needs of the times.

Some companies have been more successful than others in bridging the digital divide and improving their services to make them more accessible to consumers. Australia’s digital commerce landscape, the PYMNTS panel agreed, has progressed by around 10 years in the past 18 months.

“We’ve seen this absolute digital transformation supercharge, and companies that weren’t really ready have found themselves in a bind. And they’ve undergone a decade of transformation in an incredibly short period of time. For many of them, it felt like this digital revolution happened overnight,” noted Ana Marinkovic, Executive Managing Director, Direct and Small Business at NAB, during the recent PYMNTS panel discussion.

Other commentators included Linda Minassian, APAC Managing Director at Pollinate; Joshua Harrison, Vice President of Hospitality, APAC at Lightspeed Headquarters; and Simone Joyce, CEO and Founder of Paypa Plane and President of FinTech Australia.

This rapid shift to digital, noted Pollinate’s Minassian, is not the only big change in the Australian environment. As central business districts closed, the city’s main streets became ghost towns, housebound consumers moved to their local stores and became quite loyal to them. According to the PYMNTS expert panel, some 51% now say that “they are more likely to shop locally due to the pandemic, which builds more loyalty in their local community. And that’s truer in Australia than in any other country.” any other region [PYMNTS] investigation. »

The small business landscape Down Under is challenging, the panel agreed, but it’s also fraught with opportunity – especially for small businesses who, after more than a year of scrambling, are ready to continue their digital journey. and “think big” about how they want to connect with consumers in the future. A recent collaboration between PYMNTS and Pollinate details how small businesses can offer local loyalty programs to boost conversion.

The new checklist

Progress in the Australian market is remarkable in many ways, the panel agreed, with around nine out of 10 small businesses now having some sort of web presence, with progress being unevenly distributed. While many SMBs have taken the digital plunge and are growing and thriving as a result, sadly just as many are still struggling in survival mode. It’s almost like there’s a two-speed economy in place, Marinkovic noted, with the challenge being to get everyone up to speed.

The good news, observed Joyce, is that the ball is definitely rolling and the possibility of doing more is growing rapidly. “The majority of our businesses now have a website, and we’re starting to have an online shopping cart, but just around the corner we also have consumer data,” Joyce said. “This will bring more tools to the arsenal to help understand loyalty and how a business can connect with its customers.”

But more tools are not enough to rebuild small merchants’ approach to the digital economy – merchants themselves need to be ready for these new tools.

And as Lightspeed’s Harrison noted, traders have a lot of work right now, as they are plagued by labor shortages because so many of their former workers left the market just as they are looking to reopen their physical operations. They don’t have the time or bandwidth to undertake heavy technology integrations, no matter how much they could possibly improve their business. What smaller merchants want from their high-tech solutions, he noted, are “plug and play” options that are ready to go from day one, or almost.

“It’s about how we integrate this emerging technology into the business. Because there’s a huge reliance on technology now, and you can’t just throw people at it,” Harrison said, noting that traders have had the “lightbulb moment” when it comes to power. technology to unlock new connections and opportunities. They need technology products that sync seamlessly and easily with their operations, he noted.

Dive into data

As Pollinate’s Minassian noted, marketers aren’t inherently interested in data — they’re interested in making coffee, selling pants, baking, or whatever else they went into business for. For them, data management has not been so much a business growth priority as a “hygiene issue”.

“Data is another example of where, as a community ecosystem, we really need to support these companies from a policy perspective and help them understand how they can leverage these technologies to make data work for them” , she said.

This is where the next big opportunity lies in the digital journey of SMEs, Marinkovic noted, as they try to bridge the gap between companies that thrive and those that just survive. Because data is vital for SMBs, she said, in multiple ways — from cash flow management to inventory to customer outreach.

This doesn’t mean they have to become data scientists, but it does mean they will need to work with trusted third-party organizations such as banks to gain the clearer perspective that strong data stores can provide.

“I think with so many companies having an online presence, cybersecurity comes into that conversation as well,” Marinkovic said. “There are therefore many opportunities in the data space and in the SME sector that will benefit the strongest players.”

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