According to Centre for Retail Research, E-commerce or online retail is expanding in Europe and North America in a rate that exceeded any other channels of retail trading. In the UK market, online retail spending showed 16.2 percent growth in 2015 totalling £52.25 billion. In terms of website access device, the same study has shown that 70 to 80 percent of users used mobile devices. These trends show that not only Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) have to have online presence, but also those already online have to take into account the shift in the means of accessing websites and e-shops so that to remain effective in their online marketing endeavours.
It is what common sense dictates that SMEs that have operated businesses offline would be interested in getting new business opportunities, customers and expanding their scale of operation and, consequently, make more profit at the very least. However, not all SMEs are readily making the transitions to supplementing offline channels of trading with with online ones. Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) and Sole Traders are still lagging behind when it comes to capitalizing on opportunities the increasing adoption of digital technology among the consumer public has created.
In light of the above points, a curious mind would ask why the lag happens and why SMEs are not capturing the ever expanding business opportunities?
Owners of small businesses and Sole traders do not have online presence for a number of reasons including, among others, the following:
Establish Business Identity - websites serve as full fledged business delivery channels as much as being a mechanism to complementing the offline business identity or reach. Website address, logo, business name, motto, memorable brand elements(signs, color palettes, etc), testimony from existing customers, sample products or services, etc can be used to create brand identity and awareness.
Acquire New Customers - With the increasing online market, consumers are searching for products and services using generic terms. Hence, meeting potential customers halfway by creating strong digital and online presence is crucially important to help consumers discovery of your brands.
Engage Existing Customers - SMEs business websites are also a convenient means of communication with consumers and potential customers. Websites can be used to engage customers, get product/service idea and reviews, nurture business image, get feedback and as a combined result of all these efforts favourably influence their purchase decisions by offering them solutions to their problem.
Create New or Expand Geographic Market Reaches - Websites enable SMEs to expand their business horizons and customer reach thereby creating more likelihood of purchase and revenue.
Networking - Online presence should not be confined to one's own website. It pays dividend to join business forums, selectively read on quality blogs and engage and/or network with potential collaborators. The benefits can be in the forms of skills exchange, learning new skills, business recommendation, word of mouth promotion, partnerships, etc
Improve Business Efficiency and Effectiveness - Technological advances in IT has also created tools and techniques of improving efficiency and productivity. Saving money and time in combination help to reduce cost and indirectly expand profit margins. Given sound business management, the enabling effect of technology for SMEs is huge.
User Behaviour Analytics - Online presence together with user analytic tools(often available freely) create an online medium of marketing that lends itself to analysis and quantifiable observations. This ability to observe and measure user activity on your business website is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the analysis outcomes provide much needed feedback highlighting problem areas and successful marketing/sales efforts. THe insights from the analysis is an input that guides our assessment of issues of interest such as product/service quality, customer satisfaction, and website user behaviour. Corrective measures and new initiatives can be guided with such insights.
Content Marketing - Online presence of SMEs enable them to use the power of content marketing to create brand awareness, establish strategic partnerships and as a combined result garner and sustain demand for their products/services.
Online Payment - Even if online payment a sub-topic in the general issue of online presences, it is particularly beneficial for sales and business revenue. Customers who seek online payment options are more likely at an advanced level of exploration and with stronger purchase interest and creating better customer service and convenience can only increase the chance of a positive sales closure. Online payment can create concern with security and complexity of business model as well as cost. However, if it is done with due consideration of volume of trade, number of potential customers and so forth, it can be rewarding by increasing sales.
Outsmart Competitors - Online presences can give SMEs a competitive edge and improve their market standing. It can also enable them ward off adverse impact and threats from competitors.
Going forth, if you are wondering what can be done, there are a number of things you can do as a start and that can be extended as it unfolds. Some of the potential ideas for action include the following:
Go On Local - Check locally available services to improve your digital skills
Do More Online - Support, advice and inspiration for growing your business