It hasn’t been an easy time for small business retailers, and those running bricks and mortar stores have been hit particularly hard. Yet through the challenges, many operators are finding ways to adapt and thrive. This has been especially true for digitally enabled businesses, who are better positioned to adapt to new trading environments, grow online sales, and experienced greater resilience.

According to Xero’s 2020 Pandemic Insights Report, small businesses were more affected by COVID-19 than their larger counterparts, with Australian small businesses seeing job losses 50% greater in April this year, compared to large organisations. But small businesses using apps fared better, with the report also finding app users saw revenue declines and job losses that were both 12% smaller, compared to small businesses not using apps. And the more apps, the greater the resilience experienced, with small businesses using five or more apps experiencing revenue falls that were one-third smaller, and job losses 40% smaller, than other small businesses.

Here’s a look at how apps can help small business retailers not only get up and running selling online but help streamline operations to unlock efficiency and add greater resilience to their businesses.

Getting up and running selling online

Lockdown restrictions made selling online a necessity for most Australian retailers this year. Ecommerce apps, for example Shopify, make it quick, and cost effective for retailers to set up an online store themselves. So not surprisingly, searches for ecommerce apps on Xero’s app marketplace were twice as high in May compared to February this year, as small businesses quickly armed themselves with the right tools to get up and running online.

Making it as easy as possible to take payments from customers online is also crucial to a successful ecommerce strategy. Apps like Stripe, which allow retailers to accept debit and credit card payments online, were also in high demand on Xero’s app marketplace between February and July this year.

Once retailers had the right tools in place, many quickly pivoted with new strategies to reach their customers virtually. One such retailer was Brisbane-based, CameraPro, which took customer service to the next level by selling their cameras via video chat, to provide added support. The team also offered webinars to help their customers improve their photography skills.

“One of the things that probably made our business stronger during Covid than some of our competitors is that we’ve always had a very strong digital or online [presence],” General Manager John King says. “And this was a natural extension. We do get people calling us up from all over the country and they can get that same service wherever they are.”

Technology for retailers is about more than just enabling sales

But it’s not just apps that aid ‘doing the selling’ that can support retail businesses to thrive. According to data analysis from Xero Small Business Insights (SBI), a typical business with staff needs to conduct 50 to 70 different activities to serve their customers and manage their affairs. By automating some of these manual or paper-based processes to improve productivity, apps alleviate administrative burden, and can give small business owners more time to focus on higher value activities.

For example, for added efficiency in the back office, a data capture tool does away with manual data entry by automatically capturing information from sources like bills and receipts. And when cloud systems are connected, it can automatically publish these to cloud-accounting software, not just saving time but also reducing any risk of human error, like inputting incorrect figures. Examples include Receipt Bank and HubDoc.

There are also a number of specialist apps available to streamline specific retail functions.  For example, a retailer selling thousands of products might benefit from a specialist inventory management system, which can help optimise stock levels and reduce working capital. For example, DEAR Inventory is a cloud-based inventory and order management platform designed to help startups and small businesses take the time and stress out of managing their inventory and sales.

Things are looking up as we close out the year

While 2020 has been challenging, with the onset of summer and the holiday season upon us, it’s pleasing to see the resilience of small businesses demonstrated across Australia, especially as Victoria opens back up from lockdown.  Xero SBI September COVID-19 metrics show that Victoria saw a 0.4% year-on-year increase in small business revenue, bolstered by an 8% year-on-year rise from retail trade specifically. Nationally, Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals that September year-on-year revenue for the retail sector is up by 5.6%, showing that consumers are out there supporting their local businesses both online and in person during this difficult time.

While things are moving in a positive direction, it’s important to reflect on how quickly things can change. By taking advantage of apps to streamline operations, small business retailers can be better prepared, and more resilient, no matter what may be coming next.

Nick Houldsworth is global executive general manager ecosystem at Xero.