DHL Export Barometer reveals Australian businesses remain confident exports will recover in 2022

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This year, 69% of Australian businesses surveyed believe that their export revenue is likely to increase in the coming 12 months.

  • 69% of businesses surveyed are confident export orders will increase next year
  • 59% of businesses that experienced declines in 2021 expect export revenue to return to pre-pandemic levels by end 2022
  • Increased cost of freight cited as biggest challenge for businesses
  • North America overtook New Zealand as the most popular export destination in 2021
  • Continued growth in e-commerce, as 82% now generate export orders online

Sydney, 23 November 2021: The results of the annual DHL Export Barometer, released today, signal a strong recovery in Australian exports. This year, 69% of Australian businesses surveyed believe that their export revenue is likely to increase in the coming 12 months – this proportion is on par with 2019 levels following a 19-year low of 47% of exporters in 2020.

Businesses highlighted a range of reasons for expected growth next year, including increases in customer demand, sales and marketing activities, and the launch of new products or services. This optimism extends to the number of businesses that plan to hire new staff (48%) and increase wages (57%) in 2022.

COVID-19 impacts export revenue, but recovery expected in 2022

Reflecting on the previous 12 months, more businesses this year (45%, up 17% from 2020) reported growth in export orders. In terms of revenue, a third (33%) recorded a slight or significant increase, with large businesses and businesses selling to consumers more likely to report growth.

Although close to half of the exporters (48%) reported a slight or significant decline in revenue due to COVID-19 this year, the proportion was an improvement from 57% in 2020. Exporters based in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania were more likely to report a decline in export revenue. For businesses that experienced declining revenue in the past year, 59% expect export revenue to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.

New export challenges for businesses, with the increased cost of freight most highlighted

This year, more businesses encountered export challenges stemming from the pandemic. The increasing freight cost impacted 65% of businesses, followed by supply chain issues such as a shortage of products or raw materials (43%), and international travel restrictions (43%).

“Pandemic-related challenges have impacted more businesses this year. International travel restrictions that created a shortage in airline cargo capacity in 2020 have created flow-on effects to the cost of freight and the ability of exporters to visit business contacts and manufacturing facilities overseas. Furthermore, as consumers have taken to e-commerce, export orders and demand for cross-border delivery services have grown exponentially,” Gary Edstein, CEO and Senior Vice President, DHL Express Australia said. “However, Australian businesses have remained steadfast, and it is positive to see more businesses in 2021 reporting growth and 69% expecting further increases in 2022. The pandemic has proved how vital international connections are for sustaining global trade. Businesses with efficient growth strategies, considered target markets and the support of robust logistics networks such as DHL Express will continue to recover into 2022.”

Businesses concentrate focus on export markets, with North America now the main target

This year, the average number of export markets targeted by businesses dropped to 3.8, down from 4.4 in 2019-20. The most common export destinations included: New Zealand (targeted by 58% of businesses), followed by North America (52%), Europe (39%), and the UK (38%). Looking to 2022, the most popular destinations businesses plan to target in their export activities are New Zealand (21%), North America (19%), Europe (18%), and the UK (18%).

In terms of the main export destination for a business, North America took the top position this year, with 27% electing it as the main export market, surpassing New Zealand which ranked first in past years. At 25%, New Zealand was the second main export destination this year.

More exporters use e-commerce to generate orders

In 2021, coinciding with the move to remote work and growth in online shopping, a record 82% of export businesses used e-commerce to generate sales orders, up 8% from 2020. Small office home office-sized businesses were more likely to use e-commerce, at 86%.

Businesses that reported growth in revenue this year were more likely to employ strategies to drive online export orders. Looking to 2022, investing in online marketing (40%) is most popular, followed by improvements to website design (34%), fulfilment and delivery (29%), and customer service (26%).

About the DHL Export Barometer

Since 2003, the DHL Export Barometer has surveyed Australian businesses on their export experiences and growth strategies. The 19th edition was conducted by ACA Research, and surveyed 1,438 businesses from the databases of DHL Express Australia and the Export Council of Australia between 1 and 22 September 2021.

By location, businesses based in NSW/ACT accounted for 36% of the sample profile, followed by VIC/TAS (32%), QLD (18%), WA (7%), and SA/NT (6%). Small office home office-sized businesses of between 1 and 4 employees made up 46%, followed by small businesses of 5 to 19 employees (30%), medium businesses of 20 to 99 employees (17%), and large businesses of more than 100 employees (8%). Businesses which have been exporting for 5 years or less accounted for 47%, 6-20 years (34%), and more than 20 years (19%).

To view the full report, visit  dhlexportbarometer2021