New South Wales’ bush businesses going digital faster than cities: Square finds

Aug 26, 2022

Sam Brewer, Yarran Wines

Today, Square released findings from its State of Regional Business series showing that businesses in regional New South Wales are adopting e-commerce faster than their metropolitan counterparts, while the share of cashless businesses in the bush has tripled since early 2020.

Square’s State of Regional Business series examines aggregated data from millions of transactions across Square sellers to uncover the challenges and opportunities faced by businesses in the most remote parts of Australia. This edition focuses on how businesses in regional New South Wales have adapted over the past few years.

E-commerce tackles tyranny of distance

Selling online went from a nice to have to a necessity almost overnight, and for many regional businesses it’s since become the key driver of revenue. Data from Square shows that since early 2019, businesses in the bush have turned to e-commerce at a faster rate than their metropolitan counterparts (298% growth in e-commerce businesses in the regions, compared to 287% in metropolitan NSW).

For Yarran Wines, a family run, award-winning winery in Yenda in the Riverina District, e-commerce has helped create a community of loyal customers across Australia and ensured their business isn’t limited to their local area.

“We get many regional tourists passing through our cellar door, but we want them to keep experiencing Yarran Wines when they go home, too,” said Sam Brewer, Head Winemaker at Yarran Wines (pictured). “Starting an online store with Square allowed us to keep our wines travelling across Australia and has helped us build a nationwide community of loyal customers.”

“When we started looking at building a website, the priority was that it was something that was easy to maintain,” Brewer says. “We needed something that was user friendly and didn’t take time away from developing our wines or connecting with our customers.”

Like many regional businesses, Brewer and his Yarran Wines team now say that their online store has become the main area of growth for the business.

“We still love doing our events within the local area,” Brewer says. “But having the opportunity to sell our wines to customers wherever they are is critical to our business.”

“Selling online has been the saviour for many regional businesses,” says Samina Hussain-Letch, Head of Industry Relations and Payment Partnerships. “E-commerce has become a must-have tool for regional businesses looking to grow their customer base and get their products in the hands of Australians, no matter where they are in the country.”

Regional influx sparks entrepreneurialism

Since 2020, many Australians have made a sea- or tree-change. The latest ABS figures show the population of regional Australia grew by 70,900 people during 2020-21, while capital cities have seen populations decline by 26,000 over the same period.

And as more consumers shifted to the regions, so too did more businesses and new entrepreneurs. Square data shows that the number of businesses starting out on Square in regional NSW climbed by 163% since 2019, compared with a 123% increase in metropolitan areas.

The exodus from Sydney to regional New South Wales is something that Byron Bay based vegan bar and kitchen No Bones says has impacted their business over the past two years.

“We’re usually very seasonal, but right now we’re constantly heaving,” says Lili Woollacott, Manager at No Bones. “Last year we were thinking about survival tactics, and now we’re thinking about expansion. We’re opening a second location in Ocean Shores (about 20 minutes north of Byron Bay) and are thinking about how we can launch in Sydney, Melbourne, The Gold Coast, and beyond.”

No Bones isn’t alone in seeing business growth: data shows that sales processed through Square have grown faster in regional NSW (+422%) than metropolitan (+390%) between 2019 and 2022.

Cashless in the bush

Like selling online, cashlessness became a necessity for many regional businesses during COVID.

Businesses in the bush that were almost entirely cashless (<5% cash payments) rose dramatically at the start of the pandemic, and have remained high. Between February 2020 and August 2022, the share of cashless businesses in regional New South Wales almost tripled.

“We saw a sharp increase in the number of businesses and consumers shunning cash in the name of health and safety at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Hussain-Letch. “But as life has begun to return to normal, paying on your phone or with your card has become the default for consumers.”

“Business owners are seeing how easy and secure it is to do away with cash: they can just go into a retailer like JB HiFi or Officeworks, pick up our hardware, and start selling almost immediately.”

Samina Hussain-Letch will be sharing these insights at this year’s NSW Bush Summit in Griffith.

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Disclaimer

Square’s State of Regional Business series looks at aggregated data from millions of transactions across Square sellers in Australia between February 2019 and August 2022, and February 2020 and August 2020. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.