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Boom in online sales predicted to live on post coronavirus


Online channels are embedding themselves in shopping habits during the COVID-19 virus shutdown and two leading South Australian businesses believe they will hold once restrictions are lifted.

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At beverage company Bickford’s Group, sales and marketing manager Chris Illman said the company established an online brand four years ago for its 32 trademark products.

It also has a separate online store for its homeware brand Wheel and Barrow.

Bickford’s online page views increased by 132 per cent in March compared to the previous year and 250 per cent in April.

Since social distancing rules were introduced, Illman said “sales online have absolutely exploded”.

“Online for the month of April, we will have sold more in revenue than we would have sold online for 24 months beforehand,” he said.

“I have never seen a sales channel in recent times react as swiftly as what this has.”

Illman said if consumers were expected to be working or staying at home it appeared they were more likely to be buying online and the more trusted, respected brands had emerged as being more attractive to shoppers.

Bickford’s ranges of Black Bottle brandy, Andrew Garrett sparkling shiraz, VOK liqueurs, Vickers Gin and Queen Adelaide wine in particular had experienced double digit growth in online sales while sanitiser accounted for a significant percentage of sales.

Hand sanitiser was more recently added to the online offering when the company diverted some of its ethanol produced at its 23rd St Distillery in the Riverland and its Queensland distillery to production.

“In the future we will divert a lot more resources going forward to online sales,” Illman said.

“The way consumers are shopping now, they will get more comfortable with the ecommerce experience.

“I estimate that a lot of businesses will see a doubling or tripling of volumes on ecommerce platforms if they are doing it well and that volume should hold when things go back to normal.”

The turnaround in making the sanitiser was 20 days and the company’s rapid production of the product reflects the current quick pivots businesses are creating to weather new market conditions.

“It’s the fastest innovation we’ve had in the business,” Tanke said.

Branded as Wheel and Barrow Safe Hands, the sanitiser is now available online, in the Wheel and Barrow stores, Drakes, Chapleys and Romeos Foodlands, at OTR service station stores and stock is now also selling interstate.

“At the moment we are building up to produce 120,000 bottles a week,” he said.

Leading meat processor Thomas Foods International is also seeing rapid growth in its ecommerce channel.

General manager commercial Simon Tanke reports a dramatic rise in online sales for its Thomas Farms products during the past six to eight weeks.

“We’ve seen habits and behaviours change and what that has generated in six to eight weeks has been extremely overwhelming, we are probably looking at a 10 fold increase in the time,” Tanke said.

While the business is still focused on providing meat products processed at Lobethal and Cavan wholesale to supermarkets, stores and to export, there was substantial lift in its online home delivery through the Thomas Farms brand.

The site was recently overhauled, and some fresh produce from South Australian businesses with close family ties within the business has seen olive oil, milk and cheese added to the product lines available.

The move was designed to complement its main business, Tanke said, but with more consumers at home with the COVID-19 restrictions there had been a substantial increase in traffic.

Tanke said the company had wanted to leverage its brand on new demand but also to ensure it was helping the community in consumers wanting fresh food delivered to their doors.

“We’ve also been inundated with people who also want to sell their products on our website,” he said.

But Tanke said the company was selective on this front, it wanted to maintain its focus more on directly promoting its wholesale production.

“(But) we’ve always thought this was a viable channel enabling us to sell our products direct to consumers,” he said.

“There’s been forced consumer change that has basically given trust to consumers who have used our platform, that they are getting a high value product that has led to significant repeat purchases.

“We do expect numbers to hold, even though things are settling down – there’s not the same growth rate but we’re holding the levels we’ve experienced in the last six months.”

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