Australian entrepreneurs are making their mark on the global stage, ranking sixth globally and first within the Asia-Pacific region in the recent Shopify Entrepreneurship Index. Australian retailers in the Shopify ecosystem alone generated over AUD$42.1 billion worth of business activity in 2022 and supported over 151,000 jobs nation-wide. However, there are still ample opportunities for retailers across the country — especially when it comes to selling products internationally.

Stepping outside the boundaries of major cities, and embracing entrepreneurship in regional and rural areas, can unlock fresh possibilities and amplify economic potential. Yet only 29% of Australian entrepreneurs are currently tapping into these opportunities.

Thanks to the ubiquity of ecommerce, and the online economy more broadly, retail entrepreneurs in regional areas now have access to the same potential customers as their urban counterparts. In addition to being able to market and sell products to metropolitan and global audiences, the tech-powered uptake of remote working means they are also no longer limited to hiring talent in their immediate vicinity and can support staff working from anywhere.

But more than this, embracing opportunities in regional Australia offers unique advantages. Affordable commercial and warehousing properties present an obvious monetary benefit, for example. But non-monetary benefits such as being part of a close-knit community and greater access to work-life balance can help entrepreneurs tap into niche markets, nurture their creativity and expand their customer base.

Ael Este, a bridal accessory and millinery boutique based in Mount Gambier, SA, is a compelling example of the transformative power of e-commerce. As a Shopify merchant, Ael Este utilised online selling to expand its reach beyond Australian cities and engage with customers all around the world. The success of Ael Este highlights the unlimited opportunities that await regional entrepreneurs who embrace digital platforms and leverage cross-border strategies.

Exporting into international markets is an underutilised, but potentially lucrative, avenue of growth for entrepreneur-led retail businesses. Australian merchants powered AUD$2.8 billion worth of exports in 2022, with Australian entrepreneurs successfully penetrating an average of ten international markets and serving a staggering 92 million international shoppers. This remarkable reach translates to approximately 30% of all visitors to online stores.

However, there is potential for even greater success, as this ranked Australia only 32nd globally, implying that even an incremental bump would place Australia in the top 5 nations for entrepreneurs. 

Of course, Australian exports have typically been driven by strength in primary industries like resources and agriculture. However, more recently, Australian businesses are leading the way with new technologies and innovative products, across sectors such as health, space, and entertainment. While these examples do not include every sector with future export opportunities, it highlights the diversity of Australia’s strengths and the fact anyone can achieve overseas market access with the right strategies and technologies in place. 

Emerging technologies such as digital platforms, data analytics, and automation can help increase the efficiency and enhance the competitiveness of not only Australian retailers, but the economy overall. They also help retailers test a market before launching a full-fledged overseas expansion plan, which can pay dividends over the long run. 

With the right support and a proactive approach, Australian retail entrepreneurs can propel their businesses to become major players in the global marketplace and contribute significantly to the country’s economic growth.

Shaun Broughton is managing director of Asia Pacific & Japan at Shopify.