MasterCard survey reveals how SMEs raced online as Covid hit

Alice McMullin at her Marrickville workshop. Picture: Nikki Short
Alice McMullin at her Marrickville workshop. Picture: Nikki Short

Australian governments and health departments moved fast to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, but so did the nation’s small businesses, with one in five small to medium sized businesses expanding their digital operations within one day of exploring the option.

A survey of more than 800 businesses commissioned by MasterCard found that 52 per cent of Australian SMEs accelerated their use of digital and e-commerce solutions for sales as COVID-19 spread across the world.

Of these businesses, 20 per cent started making changes within 24 hours of assessing their options and a further 44 per cent did so within three days.

Alice McMullin, founder of furniture, homewares and design studio McMullin & co said the potential impact of the pandemic on her business came during a frantic race to get home from overseas before the borders closed.

“I was overseas in March, meeting with our suppliers and makers for our new season, when I got a call from my partner to tell me that the government was about to shut the borders,” she said.

“I jumped on a train and went straight to the airport. I knew then that this year would be like no other.

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“I think also, like every retail and wholesale business, there was a lot of anxiety that followed as we ventured into the unknown.”

Returning to her Marrickville studio in Sydney’s inner west, Ms McMullin began scaling up her digital offering to leverage her existing online customer base.

“I use an e-commerce platform, Neto, which provides an all-in-one solution from everything to inventory, orders and shipping,” she said.

“Having an all-in-one solution like Neto is really helpful as we manage online and offline orders, customers, stock levels and logistics.”

The survey shows that 60 per cent of businesses adopted digital-led strategies to rebuild sales, including making use of discounting for return or new customers, with 27 per cent of businesses reporting increased price sensitivity from customers, while a quarter of all businesses ramped up their digital marketing spend.

Another motivating factor was the need to provide a COVID-safe environment for customers: 51 per cent adopted contactless payment options, while mobile wallets surged in popularity for both retailers and customers, especially in organisations with more than 20 employees, where its usage rose by 23 per cent.

Sensing price sensitivity, Ms McMullin scaled up her payment options and signed up for buy now pay later platform Afterpay for the first time, finding it helped drive business.

“I’ve also started to offer buy now pay later as an alternative payment method,” she said.

“It’s frequently used especially for those products that are a little bit more expensive.

“Alternative payment methods and options have turned out to be a great way to generate sales, as customers seek different forms of payment. It’s important to provide these alternatives in order to not cut out any customer segments.”

Ms McMullin said that although the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding, she would continue innovating along digital lines.

“What I’ve ultimately learnt during 2020 is that you can pivot and change things really quickly, especially with an online business,” she said.