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How 3 businesses are adapting to consumer trends

Three small business owners share how they’re adjusting to changing consumer sentiment by embracing innovation and listening to their customers.

Three small business owners share tips for adjusting to changing consumer sentiment by embracing innovation, listening to customers and reaffirming their business’s vision.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewees:

  • Adapting to changes in consumer sentiment can help businesses sustain healthy cash flow and promote customer loyalty.
  • Joanne Swadling has embraced the possibilities of change and expanded her product offering.
  • To gauge consumer sentiment, entrepreneur Tom Adam monitors reviews and enquiries from customers.
  • When anticipating a downturn, it’s important to reaffirm your business’s vision and intention, as these can help you endure in the face of challenges.

Interest rate rises, high inflation and staff shortages can pose a challenge for Australian small businesses.

Consumers are resilient when faced with uncertainty and will change their buying habits in the short- and long-term in line with their evolving values and priorities.

In response, businesses need to know how to meet consumers halfway and adapt their product, service and branding strategies to foster sustainable cash flow, improved customer loyalty and business growth.

Time for reflection

Accenture’s Life Trends 2023 report warns businesses against dropping ‘luxuries’ such as advertising and brand building when things get tough.

According to the report, the best innovation happens against a backdrop of constraint and difficulty, and any changes need to be long-term and meaningful, not short-term PR stunts that could betray an already fatigued consumer.

For some business owners, such as Well College Global Founder Leanne Cooper, this translates into strengthening corporate values.

Leanne says that when anticipating a downturn, it’s important to reaffirm the company’s vision and intention, as it becomes a scaffold.

“Everything we do, even staff meetings, has a clearly stated objective that is connected to our vision as a collective of people with a mission,” she says. “That’s where we start. Without this, we find it’s easy to flounder as you get lost in the white noise and, at times, fear.

“While for many it might be a case of cutting costs and finding new avenues, for us we ask what it is we want to achieve that will help us move along our path. Reaffirming why we do what we do reinvigorates our creativity, passion, alignment and clarity.”

Embrace innovation

For others, those new avenues can lead to unexpected benefits.

Joanne Swadling established her ecommerce business Shop Naturally as a health store, but market forces have shaped it in unexpected ways.

“We’ve set up a side business where we pick and pack orders for other small businesses in the same eco-friendly way we do for the Shop Naturally customers,” says Joanne.

“We launched Eco Pick Pack two years ago with just a handful of clients from word-of-mouth, and now we are actively promoting the service.”

Tom Adam, owner of Canberra Martial Arts & Fitness, is planning to launch a small business advisory service to help fellow owners experiencing economic downturns.

“My reasoning is that downturns are only for short periods and are the perfect time to test new strategies,” says Tom. “If you can get it right when times are tough, most of the time it will go even better in 18 months after things have improved.

“It never hurts to try. There is only ‘win or learn’, never ‘win or lose’.”

Listen to your customers

To gauge consumer sentiment, Tom monitors reviews, attendance and enquiries from customers.

“When we start to see more enquiries for a feasible new offering, we consider making a solution to present to the market,” he says.

Leanne has used her downtime to analyse trends.

“We’ve looked at who was speaking to us and what they were asking for,” she explains. “As a result, we have developed an offering that has trimmed away courses that are no longer in favour with our consumers.

“It’s in these times we begin to see how easy it is to become less connected to your client base. For us it’s been a time for reconnection.”

Leanne also accesses industry reports to keep an eye on her competitors.

“They are often the first sign of a change in market conditions,” she says. “Hugely discounted products, extensive cookie-cutter digital media and so on. By watching how people respond, we often find opportunities in this.”

Joanne says analysing trends, reading the news and business websites, and following social media accounts and influencers who work in the business’s target market are important.

“Just this week we met with a supplier,” she says. “As soon as I saw products that are popular on TikTok and in the media, that was all I needed to know. The customers drive change, not the retailers.”

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