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Conscious consumption: Even online, consumers choose to support local businesses

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Consumer behaviours and attitudes shifted in many ways as COVID-19 enveloped our reality. But one sentiment has become clear: consumers want to support local businesses, even when they’re shopping online.

Man delivering packages

With changing social distancing restrictions, and the health of staff and customers in mind, many small businesses have shut their physical doors and stayed alive by trading online. While foot traffic plummeted, online shopping didn’t just increase – it went into overdrive. Here, we look at why being small and local can be an advantage – and how COVID-19 has accelerated the need for businesses to improve their online experience.

Katrina Konstas, Sales Director (ANZ) at Afterpay, tells us that ‘conscious consumption’, or ‘purposeful retail’, is on the rise, particularly in the wake of the global pandemic and bushfires of early 2020. “What this means is, customers are inclined to shop smaller, and support local,” says Katrina. 

Afterpay has even adapted its online platform in line with consumer demands. Its website now features a ‘Support Small’ page, so users can scroll through small-sized retailers that offer the buy now, pay later payment option.

Small businesses often underestimate the advantage of being local as a driving factor of consumers choosing to buy from over a bigger business. Price isn’t always the number one consideration – Telstra Business Intelligence 2020 research found that consumers identify that good service and supporting local small business are the top two reasons they choose to buy from a particular business. But while consumer intent to shop local is there, Venture Insights found that 70% of consumers said they were restricted by small and medium businesses having a limited online presence.

Melissa Murphy, co-owner of Murph’s Food Co-op, has been in the hospitality industry for over a decade. She and a business partner opened a cafe a few months before COVID-19 hit. Their regulars and the wider community showed huge interest in wanting to support local producers, so Melissa and her partner saw an opportunity to change how they operate,create a new online experience that involved working with suppliers in a new way.

“I have a relationship with all of our suppliers from the cafe, and it’s a personal choice to use local businesses. It’s something I’ve done for a really long time, even in different areas I’ve worked in and at different locations.”

Melissa Murphy, co-owner of Murph’s Food Co-op

In the interests of their customers and suppliers alike, they closed the cafe and pivoted their business into an online food and grocery delivery service.

“We run things like a catering company. Orders are placed in advance, and then I collect it, bring it together and basically redistribute it,” says Melissa about the business’s model. “We also have a community Facebook page, where people share their recipes using the same ingredients and talk about it.” Thanks to these changes and its commitment to work with local producers, Murph’s Food Co-op has seen steady growth in weekly orders and online engagement.

With social distancing likely to stay for some time, it’s worth thinking about how you can provide an online experience that your target customer-base wants and expects. Consider setting up a basic e-commerce website, or start selling via social media platforms like Instagram – so consumers can still spend with you when they can’t pop down the street to visit your store in person.

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