SMEs urged to tap into online shopping

18 Aug 2010

Irish businesses could be missing out by not providing an online space to sell their products, said Luke Buckley, country manager of Mamut Ireland.

While most SMEs have online presence, often their sites only supply little more than their contact information.

Buckley urged companies to make their websites more functional. By developing an ecommerce section, he said they could tap into the increasing market of people who browse and shop online.

“SMEs businesses have the most to gain from an online trading presence, even the local butcher or clothes boutique,” said Buckley.

“More and more people are researching their purchases online and having a strong website can influence purchasing decisions and sway a customer to buy from your company rather than the competition.”

E-commerce already accounts for 26pc of turnover for Irish companies. It is a huge opportunity here, compared to 15pc in the UK and 12pc across other EU countries.

Buckley provided numerous pieces of advice of SMEs wishing to grow into the e-commerce market. He first urged companies to ensure that their IT is designed specifically for business requirements.

“Small businesses in particular tend to buy IT which is really a slimmed down version that has been designed for larger companies leaving staff with overly complex solutions that require hours of training,” he said.

“Instead, check that the IT can be upgraded as requirements change and that existing information can be transferred easily without having to spend hours re-entering data or losing it altogether.”

He noted the importance of giving web customers the same level of service as they would expect in a regular store.

“Customers expect to find what they are looking for, and to find it quickly. It should be easy to find the answers to all questions,” he said.

“Information about returns and customer support should be highly visible, to help create trust. Provide customers with a personalised customer experience.

“Finally, ensure all commonly used online payment solutions are accepted; there is no excuse for losing customers at the final hurdle!” Buckley said.

He also advises SMEs to ensure that they have more than just price to compete with.

“If price is the only competitive advantage offered, services such as may quickly tell potential customers that someone else is best within this category,” said Buckley.

“Good selection, good service, and easily accessible, can also be important competitive advantages.”

Buckley said that the e-commerce solution must be compatible across the business.

“If conflicting systems break down against each other, it will wreck any online platform in one fell swoop,” he said.

“It is also crucial to avoid bottle necks in daily operations in order to fulfil orders efficiently and not let customers down.

“An online purchase is not complete when the customer has pressed ‘order’ online. The goods still need to be delivered, invoiced, and paid. Then the job is complete,” said Buckley.

Finally, Buckley advises SMEs to be search engine friendly and to consider web advertisements.

“As part of this, it is crucial to keep sites up to date,” he added.

“Outdated products and information will only make customers run to the nearest competitor.

“Furthermore, regular updates will further enhance internet visibility, as well as increasing customer confidence,” said Buckley.