Coronavirus chaos: How Australians can still support local businesses

Australians will need to visit their favourite shops in coming months if they want them to stay open after the coronavirus passes.

Australians will need to visit their favourite shops in coming months if they want them to stay open after the coronavirus passes. Photo: Getty

The coronavirus outbreak has placed Australia’s vital small business sector under immense strain, but customers can still support their local businesses even through isolation.

Small businesses employ 44 per cent of Australia’s workforce and contribute just over a third of the nation’s GDP.

But small business owners typically earn much less than the average wage, according to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), with more than half earning less than $25,000 a year.

And as Australians increasingly choose to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, these businesses have been hit hard and could face closure.

“Small businesses, and businesses generally, are feeling incredibly worried,” ASBFEO ombudsman Kate Carnell told The New Daily.

“Remember these small businesses rely on the income from their business to feed their families and pay their mortgages.”

What they need most is customers.

Here are some of the ways Australians can throw a lifeline to their favourite businesses.

Shop local

The popularity of online shopping has exploded in recent years, but buying from online stores headquartered overseas will do little to help Australia’s brick-and-mortar stores.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, told The New Daily customers should instead try to buy goods from local retailers.

Although this might be more expensive in some cases, Mr Strong noted most customers have the skills to spot a ripoff and avoid it in favour of more reasonable prices at other local businesses.

“Plus you shouldn’t buy from Amazon because it will be stuck overseas on a plane somewhere anyway,” he added.

Get it delivered

One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is the decline in foot traffic as Australians self-isolate to preserve their health.

But in the age of the internet, being cooped up in the house doesn’t mean you can’t have a restaurant-quality meal.

Mr Strong said consumers should consider ordering online the things they normally buy from their local shops to be dropped off at their door.

Already, he said, businesses that previously didn’t offer delivery are rushing to do so to make sure customers don’t miss out.

“I’ve even heard of a bookstore that’s launched a book-mobile,” he said.

“You order the book you want on their website and they come and deliver it to you.”

Buy gift cards

Traditionally seen as a last minute or impersonal present, the humble gift card can also play a big role in keeping small businesses afloat.

Ms Carnell said these are a “great” way to support businesses that consumers can’t visit during the coming months.

“They give the businesses the money now,” she said.

“And when the business is back up and running, you or whoever you bought it for will be able to get the stock.”

Buying gift cards will help businesses maintain their cash flow if customer numbers fall.

Keep shopping as usual

Gift cards and product deliveries are great, but Ms Carnell said the best thing customers can do for businesses right now is to keep frequenting them.

“Don’t put it off. Think about the restaurants, the cafes, art galleries and all the little things that improve our quality of life and make our local area a great place to live,” she said.

“If we want those businesses to be there once we come through the other side, the only way they will be there is if we use them.”

Government offers a hand

Naturally consumers can’t shoulder the burden of supporting small businesses alone, and federal government has outlined a range of initiatives to help.

These include increasing instant asset write-off thresholds and speeding up depreciation deduction processes.

Businesses that were affected by the bushfires before the coronavirus pandemic can also access free financial counselling.

And the Reserve Bank has announced new measures to help banks offer low-cost loans to small and medium-sized businesses.

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