For many Australians, digital disruption is overwhelmingly positive. Digital commerce has opened up a world of shopping where they can browse and buy what they want, from where they want, when they want.
Likewise, digital service delivery means quick and paper-free transactions that eliminate the need to queue and present documents.
But to take part in the digital economy, there are two necessities: internet access and a credit or debit card. Some people lack at least one of the two.
For these Australians, digital disruption comes with the risk that they will be excluded from these new services and experiences.
Lack of digital inclusion is a significant problem
According to an Australia Post survey last year, 9 per cent of Australians do not have access to the internet or have never used the internet.
Some simply cannot afford an internet connection or a smartphone, for others it is a lack of the literacy that allow for proficient internet skills, while a third group have a physical disability such as poor eyesight or lack of motor skills.
“We know from our research that low-income households are particularly affected. Certain age groups – particularly 65 plus – are affected by some of those things. People without a secondary schooling education tend to have a lower index in terms of digital inclusivity than other groups as well. And the retail network helps with all these groups, people with disabilities,” says Alex Plummer, General Manager of Data & Digital at Australia Post.
Along with the means and ability to access the internet, lack of trust in digital commerce is another factor holding back digital inclusion. Some people simply do trust that their credit card details will be safe if they use them for online shopping.
It is not only people who can’t or won’t use the internet who want a mix of online and in-person services. Australia Post research suggests that 90 per cent of people also want a person to transact with.
“It’s this crossover between retail and digital that is really interesting,” says Plummer. “I think there’s always going to be a mix between people who look to use both options, and for organisations that opportunity is providing choice.”
Driving inclusion across all services
Some people like to start a process online and then finish it off in person. An example is passport applications, where parts of the form can be filled out online before the customer physically goes to a post office to have their identity verified.
“All businesses are really trying to work through making sure that there’s a really truly omni-channel experience,” says David McNamara, the general manager of Australia Post’s post office network. “It’s really around giving customers the ability to choose and you’ve got to be seamless in how you do that.”
McNamara suggests organisations start by looking at the specific ‘journey’ a customer has to make to access a product or service and then evaluate it for digital and physical opportunities.
For instance, parcel delivery was once a purely physical service – the parcel was delivered to the customer and that was that. But when they evaluated the service, Australia Post found that some customers wanted the parcel delivered to their home, some to the parcel locker and some to the post office, and some wanted to be able to change the destination mid-flight with a mobile app or online tracking.
Using a similar mindset, it is important to be mindful of inclusion in both physical and digital assets across all services. Physical offices and retails stores should have the necessary amenities, and likewise websites and online services should meet accessibility requirements such as the global WCAG 2.0 standard.
This standard ensures content is available to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities and photosensitivity.
Helping rural communities remain viable
Inclusion also offers communities the services they need to remain viable, particularly in country towns where other services such as banks have closed down.
Consider other services such as access to broadband internet, and online shopping, which gives people in rural communities access to a much wider range of goods than they would find in their local town.
There should be no discrimination for those seeking these services.
“A lot of banks are closing down in rural areas and Australia Post is sometimes the last business in town. We’re still enabling people to have access to the services they need – both physically and digitally,” says McNamara.
McNamara explains, “Because technology moves so quickly, there is a risk that you’re leaving some groups behind. People with disabilities in particular have different restrictions when it comes to using mobile apps or desktops. We have to ensure that we’re continuing to bring them on that journey as well and that they’ve got products that they can access whether it’s online or offline.”