Bharat Sharma: How the small retailer can tap grants to get online and selling

Whether considering getting into online commerce for the first time, or looking to get the best from an existing online platform, there is a lot of advice and Government aid available
Bharat Sharma: How the small retailer can tap grants to get online and selling

Bharat Sharma: We all know that online is destined to gobble up an ever-increasing share: there is even one forecast that by 2040, some 95% of purchases in the US will be facilitated by eCommerce.

With supply chains disrupted, stores closed, and many office workers working from home, the only chink of light for many businesses this year has been the promise of eCommerce, or selling online.

The whole orbit of digital and online selling is nothing new, and many companies had already embraced the technology to transform their businesses. 

For those who were not ready, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic was a double shock, requiring them to scramble to get online.

The challenge facing businesses, their employees, customers, and suppliers was to recoup lost revenues and, bluntly, to survive. 

In the UK, official figures show that in October, well over a quarter of all retail sales were transacted online. 

And in the US, figures from Shopify showed that retailers there sold $5.1bn (€4.2bn) over the Black Friday period on this one platform, while Amazon sold $10.4bn of goods and services on its Prime Day. 

And we all know that online is destined to gobble up an ever-increasing share: there is even one forecast that by 2040, some 95% of purchases in the US will be facilitated by eCommerce. 

Back home, the Government has provided tremendous supports in the form of Covid-19 grants to help Irish-owned businesses maximise and capitalise on the opportunity of eCommerce and online transactions during the crisis.

One of the most popular schemes has been the Covid-19 Online Retail scheme for Irish-owned retail firms that employ 10 or more full-time staff. 

Successful applicants get funding to support a maximum of 80% of eligible costs, up to a total of €40,000.

The Trading Online Voucher Scheme is aimed at helping small businesses with up to 10 people supported by the Local Enterprise Offices. It offers financial assistance of up to €2,500, with co-funding currently set at 10% from the business. It also provides training and advice to help small businesses trade online.

There are, however, a few things to consider first in devising an eCommerce strategy, and this includes the need to think about the long term and to give some thought to future trends such as customer demand for contactless home delivery and click and collect. 

And also be sure that there is an individual who takes charge of the eCommerce venture. Much like in planning a new store or small outlet,  the eCommerce site will be best run with someone taking responsibility for it and meeting certain performance goals. 

It is easy to be overwhelmed with the technology and all its terminology, which means the small business should take comfort from the fact that it can expand the technology in line with its objectives.

A website is not just about online sales. It is a new way of transforming even the smallest of businesses that help communicates with clients, customers, suppliers, and employees. 

There are retail technology services that provide a full range of product information, sales, and marketing performance indicators. 

If there is an existing site and it is being overwhelmed by long-lasting demand, there are a number of solutions out there that can help. 

Many eCommerce service providers offer ready-built, or what they call “accelerator packages” to help companies get up online and trading in quick time. 

But be sure to check that any such accelerator package meets the business goals of the business first.

Any new system will have to be to grow with the business and to be able to integrate with any existing computer, planning, and finance systems.

Whether the small business is considering getting into online commerce for the first time, or looking to get the best from an existing online platform, there is a lot of advice and Government aid available. 

• Bharat Sharma is chief executive officer at Monsoon Consulting

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