Australia Post has spruiked the importance of ecommerce and how a quick shift to digital helped Australian SMEs survive the COVID-19 pandemic, as the national postal service faces a number of controversies and its boss being stood down.
Australia Post has released a report, in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics, highlighting the impact of ecommerce from March to August this year.
It found that Australian small businesses that had quickly invested in ecommerce earlier this year were better protected from the impacts of the pandemic than those that did not.
According to the report, Australia is headed for a record-breaking Christmas season, expected to generate $4 billion in spending, a 25 per cent jump from last year.
The new report is also likely aimed at stealing attention away from the extensive delays Australians have experienced with deliveries this year throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Mail processing facilities for parcels have been swamped resulting in extensive delays, letter mail is only being delivered every second day, and customers are told to wait five days for a letter to reach its destination.
SMEs selling more online
The study found that revenue fell by nearly 70 per cent for some industries at the height of the pandemic and lockdowns, but a quick shift to online activity saw revenue from this increase by between $105,000 and $708,000 for small businesses.
This helped more than 70 per cent of businesses retain their staff and allowed more than 60 per cent of them to keep operating throughout this year.
Shifting efficiently to ecommerce helped 61 per cent of businesses surveyed limit the overall revenue loss this year to about 7 per cent, despite revenue from in-store sales dropping by more than 20 per cent.
For businesses with up to four employees, ecommerce helped increase non-store revenue by 17 per cent, while for larger companies with more than 19 employees there was a 23 per cent increase in this revenue.
“We have seen ecommerce accelerate through this pandemic, with Australia Post providing a valuable lifeline to many businesses, as our people work tirelessly to help deliver the additional $4.2 billion in online spending activity,” Holgate said.
“Australians are embracing home delivery in record numbers and this analysis shows that over the next 12 months home delivery is expected to remain 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels.
"That is a significant challenge for us as the engine room of Australia ecommerce, but one we are preparing for.”
Just days after releasing this report, it was revealed that four Australia Post senior managers received watches as gifts worth a total of nearly $20,000 in late 2018.
Australia Post chief executive Christina Holgate told a Senate Estimates hearing that the watches were bought for a “small number of senior people who had put an inordinate amount of work in”.
But Holgate was promptly stood down pending an investigation into the gifts after Prime Minister Scott Morrison went on the offensive.
“She’s been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t do that, she can go,” Morrison said last week.
“We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people. As any shareholder would in a company raise outrage if they had seen that conduct, by a chief executive, management or the board, they would insist rightly on the same thing.”
The Prime Minister said the purchasing of the watches would not have “passed any test with the Australian public when it comes to a company that is owned by the government”.
An inquiry has already been launched in Australia Post’s gift and expense culture, to be conducted by the communications department with assistance from an external law firm.
The inquiry will be looking at whether Australia Post is meeting public expectations around leadership and governance, and how it is spending is money.
Holgate has now been stood down while the inquiry is conducted into Australia Post’s gift-giving, which is expected to be finished by the end of next month.