Speed up growth, go online

30 Nov 2008

Ronan Harris of Google believes an online focus is vital for business growth in challenging times.

Businesses that focus more on online opportunities will have a greater chance of speeding up their growth during the slowdown and creating space between themselves and their competitors, according to Ronan Harris (pictured), director, online sales and operations at Google.

Harris said research shows that people are becoming increasingly value conscious as a result of the credit crunch, and  are choosing to go online to both inform their purchasing decisions and to look for the best value available. The result is they either purchase online or decide what they’re going to buy and where before visiting offline shops.

“We feel there’s a big opportunity for businesses to go out and really capitalise on the shift of people into the online arena,” Harris said. “This is particularly true within the Irish market, where we are behind other major European markets by a significant margin in terms of online commerce and in terms of the presence of some of the key brands and the key companies online. It’s not set up in a way that’s really harnessing the opportunity for them.”

Harris believes the best companies differentiate themselves during a downturn and cited Apple and Ryanair as prime examples. “Apple came out in 2001 when the world was falling apart the last time and released another MP3 player and everyone thought it was mad. But it felt there was an opportunity to go out and invest heavily in something and create a competitive advantage. And here it is, seven years later, and it has not only gone through 15 iterations of its iPod, but it’s also sold over two billion songs on iTunes.”

Ryanair, meanwhile, struck what Harris described as “a fabulous deal” for 100 Boeing 737s just months after 9/11. “As the market started to rise, he [Michael O’Leary] had a brand new fleet of aircraft at rock-bottom prices and was in a phenomenal position to compete in the European market, and we’ve all seen the success that he’s had over the past few years.

“That’s the opportunity that’s there. The big difference this time around is the economy is now digital. Consumers are going to go online, businesses are going to go online, and they’re going to do all the research and make all their purchasing decisions there, and that’s where companies need to be if they’re to capture that relationship.”

By Grainne Rothery

Read the full-length article on businessandleadership.com.