Avoiding the emerging digital economy is part of a multidimensional problem in Australian business practice. The latest ABS release on Business Use of Technology underscores an issue for Australian businesses- most businesses in sectors that directly service consumers, do not engage with them in an online format. Take the Ballarat and Central Highland’s retail sector as an example. High shop vacancy rates indicate price, customer service, product mix and that all-consuming investment in bricks and mortar, is no longer sufficient for retail success. Access to reliable high-speed broadband with the roll-out of next generation technology may remove one barrier to uptake of digital enterprise but it will take more than upgraded infrastructure to get retailers and small businesses in general taking advantage of online opportunities.
Free training and workshops facilitated through The Centre for eCommerce and Communications at University of Ballarat, have been assisting regional businesses embrace the digital economy. The initiative has been supported by government funding. Commerce Ballarat has encouraged members to attend.
According to the CeCC Digital Enterprise Manager Gerrie Carr-MacFie, whilst many Commerce Ballarat members have been participating, retailers are yet to get on board with the training and individual mentoring.
“In such a tough local climate it’s frustrating to see the reluctance of retailers to adopt digital marketing strategies, and connect with consumers. Successful businesses hunt down prospective customers and actively engage with existing customers. It is about going where the consumers can be found. Consumers are researching product via web and mobile devices, following trends and driving demand online via social media. By avoiding digital enterprise, retailers in Ballarat are missing opportunity to sustain and grow their business” said Carr-MacFie.
Quoting recently released ABS statistics, she advises wholesale businesses are far more likely than those in retail, hospitality or accommodation services to have a website, and far more likely to use social media. Speaking about these trends Carr-MacFie noted wholesalers dominate in online sales statistics.
“Participation in free Digital Enterprise DIY Website and Social Media workshops and mentoring programs echo the ABS findings. It is estimated 55% of Australian businesses now order their goods (presumably from wholesalers) online. In terms of retailers it seems it is a case of what’s good practice for me in running my business is not good for me in selling to my customers.”
When it comes to adopting Digital Enterprise, Carr-MacFie nominates locally owned Natures Cargo as an exemplar.
“The Ballarat based wholesaler has invested in a practical website that works for their client base. Forget impressive images bells, whistles, and moving pictures. Company values are published on the home page and an easy-to-use online ordering and payment system is the focus. Facebook adds social media into the marketing mix without overstretching company resources.”
Grasping opportunity should be strategic and planned, according to Carr-MacFie.
“Natures Cargo recently sought independent advice and a review of their online presence from a Digital Enterprise mentor. It’s sound business practice to review operations and incrementally move with the times. The Digital Enterprise review indicated it wasn’t a case of change or larger investment- but a matter of refining the Digital Enterprise strategy and ensuring the company could manage communications easily through the website and social media,” she said.
Commerce Ballarat, Council and other stakeholders are joining with CeCC to entice retailers and businesses from all sectors in Ballarat adopt online strategies. Details on individual help via mentoring sessions and group workshops can be found at www.digibiz.net.au