In Australia, we face some of the highest energy costs in the developed world and increasing energy prices are taking a toll on small businesses. In fact, energy costs and management has become one of the most significant challenges small businesses face.
The problem is so pervasive that the Federal Government introduced an $11 million package to provide small businesses with one-on-one energy consultations and online bill comparison tools, to help them get a better deal.
Happily, there are a lot more options available and accessible to small businesses to help them manage and optimise their energy use today than there were ten years ago. The advancement of technology and internet of things (IoT) means a range of connected devices and software can give businesses more visibility over their energy use and assets than ever before.
This has huge benefits for the business, for the economy and for the environment. It may sound counter-intuitive, but accelerating digitisation of a business can actually result in lower energy consumption.
At one end of the spectrum there is the every-day optimising of energy use and then at the other, there are systems and processes to help manage the unexpected incidents that impact supply; the power outages and mechanical failures that can be a big cost to small businesses. Such outages can be a significant disruption for retailers in particular, with power loss equating to lost profits; from the cost of spoiled stock on account of a lack of refrigeration to the loss in sales if the point of sale is affected.
But it can be hard to know where to start.
Businesses have many different needs and use energy in different ways. Let’s take the example of a coffee shop and a 24-hour fast-food restaurant. Both businesses are fundamentally food and beverage retailers, however, there are differences in the scale and use of equipment that set them apart.
The coffee shop, which is open eight hours or less a day, won’t have the same rate of resource consumption as the restaurant which functions for 24-hours each day.
However, installation of smart energy management systems has become more cost effective, with solutions that can be scaled to fit any size business, and are easily installed and monitored from a smartphone. The solution could include a range of innovations, from powertags that enable the wireless tracking of energy use across store appliances, to sensors in the fridge that automate refrigeration checks and alert you when the appliances are not operating correctly.
Outside of the economic drivers of adoption, there are a range of other factors encouraging small business to adopt smart energy management, mostly centred around the customer in an increasingly competitive operating environment.
Customer experience is more important than ever before and control over the HVAC within a store is a great example of an unexpected driver of customer experience. Happy and comfortable shoppers are more likely to stay in your store and spend more money. Another driver to consider is sustainability.
According to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand.
Implementing clear and visible measures, such as energy management systems that help reduce the overall energy consumption of the business and environmental footprint of a small business can help demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and increase positive consumer sentiment toward the brand.
Technology is faster than ever, and now is the best time for SMEs to invest and reap the many rewards that can be found through the integration of these innovations.The integration of technology can result in significant savings, positive brand interaction and improved customer/employee experiences. This technology, which was once only available to the top end of the retail food chain, is now accessible for small businesses.
Over time affordability has improved making installation more achievable but software has also improved, opening up access to intuitive apps and monitoring systems that make the technology user-friendly, even for beginners.
Laetitia Odini is the Segment Manager, Retail, at Schneider Electric.